Monday, March 16, 2020

We Need Online Instruction in the Worst Way, and That's Exactly How We're Getting It

How can the mayor and chancellor continue to show their indifference to the health of UFT families? There's always a new way, and the chancellor's email this morning didn't disappoint.

I'd argue they've outdone themselves once again. It appears we will be asked to come into school buildings and use the filthy, never cleaned keyboards in our offices and libraries. I've carried my own laptop for over ten years now, precisely so I wouldn't have to do that.

The mayor and chancellor's indifference to our health is mind-boggling, and continues unabated. The moment I heard Broadway was closed, I knew the schools needed to close too. The mayor of New York City decided that Broadway theatergoers needed to be protected but 1.1 million students and their families, not to mention staff and their families, somehow merited virtually no consideration whatsoever.

Now the mayor who threw us all to the dogs is in charge of online learning. What does the chancellor know? He's the guy who wanted to hear from 108,000 epidemiologists before closing the schools. Has he consulted 108,000 online learning experts? Probably not. I'd wager he knows nothing.

He's not alone in that. I don't know anything about it either. I'm a language teacher and my classes revolve around student interaction. Without that, I have no idea what to do. I suppose I could model after the many terrible teachers I had in high school. Sit and do this. Sit and read that. I'll sit on my ass and wait for it to be over. As for me, I could lecture. Except I don't.

In Ohio, they're moving toward online learning, just as we are here. There are widespread cyber charters, and you'd think that might be a model to be replicated. You'd be wrong, because cyber charters are so abysmal that no one wants to use them as a role model. Of course, cyber charters are driven by a combination of blind reforminess and greed, so you wouldn't really expect them to be something to which any educator with a conscience would aspire.

Closer to home, we're the largest school system in the country moving toward an online model. My school, along with the rest of the city, has been frantically planning for an online parent teacher night. Alas, we should've been focusing long-term, but we were saddled with Mayor Bill de Blasio, dead set on keeping schools open at the expense of the health of students, staff and their families. Staff health was and still appears to be priority number zero.

As though their indifference to our health isn't enough, we're now dependent on their instructional leadership. De Blasio's DOE told principals that instructional leadership entailed them doing whatever they hell they felt like, appointing teams of anyone they felt like, and absolutely ignoring UFT input. Given that, the educational philosophies of de Blasio and Bloomberg don't seem all that different at all.

I've got a different approach. I think my students need to be active participants. I've got kids who've been trained all their lives to sit down and shut up, and a big part of my job is turning that around. I can't do that when I'm not in the room. I can't trick and seduce students into talking, let alone loving English or reading from a computer monitor. I can't do what I do remotely. I'm now gonna be trained by people who have as little experience as I do.

Remote learning is always problematic For example, I 'm wary of homework. I give homework, but usually things that can be finished in ten or fifteen minutes. I give credit for homework, but not nearly enough that any student can pass without understanding the material. I'm acutely aware that students copy homework, and it's evident nowhere so much as on tests. Students fail tests after doing the homework perfectly. Students who really understand the homework pass tests.

Not only that, but I don't love writing assignments that are completed at home. When I've taught classes that revolved around writing, I could always detect the voices of my students. This was unfortunate for some, because when they brought in assignments they hadn't written, I'd know immediately. Sometimes I'd ask them what a word means and they wouldn't know. How could you use it then, I'd ask. Sometimes they'd tell me their sister, brother, or tutor did it. There's no value in that. If I give suggestions on work you didn't do, it won't help. I eventually made all or most writing and rewriting done in front of my face, the one no one will be close to for months.

We talk about putting our children through school. I know a woman in Canada who doesn't speak English. Her kids put her through an online degree, even though neither was yet out of high school. Good on those kids, but not a good look for mom. Sadly, lots of kids will do exactly what that mom did. I wouldn't trust a remote online assessment. Any lazy kid with a smart girlfriend won't be doing the work himself.

I'm sure a lot of people have ideas. Personally I remember high school as an almost complete waste of time. In four years, I had only one teacher who revolved a class around discussion and valued our ideas. I think the class was called sociology. I don't really remember how much sociology we discussed, but I loved that class. I was happily surprised in college when many of my classes followed this model. We were actually part of these classes, and our teachers routinely interacted with us. I never loved school until college.

Here's what I've learned from cyber charters--They're a cheap shortcut, an we're taking a big step backward with online learning. We have no choice, but I'm doubtful that the inept and bumbling DOE can train teachers to do anything worthwhile in three days, let alone three years. I'll go in and do the best I can. But color me skeptical at best.

If we're doing remote learning, and kids aren't coming into our buildings, our custodians will have a lot less to do. Maybe it would be a good idea to do real deep cleaning, as opposed to scrubbing surfaces, or what Mayor de Blasio calls deep cleaning. Maybe we should clean all the dust. Maybe we should clean the frigging filthy computers. Maybe we should've been doing that all along.

But what do I know? I'm just a teacher, and neither the mayor nor chancellor gives a golly gosh darn what teachers think. After all, they have schools to run. Why waste time consulting teachers?
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