Friday, July 31, 2020

NY Times Education Reporters Don't Read the NY Times

There were a few important stories yesterday. One is right in the NY Times, home of anti-union, anti-teacher ideologues posing as education reporters.

Waddya know, those goshdarn kids can carry the virus after all. Personally, I'm not sure why that was a secret to anyone. It certainly wasn't a secret to my students, many of whom wore masks and compulsively used hand sanitizer.

“But one takeaway from this is that we can’t assume that just because kids aren’t getting sick, or very sick, that they don’t have the virus.”

So no matter how many temperature tests you give, no matter how many asymptomatic students you have in your classroom, you really won't know who is and is not carrying the virus. But on the brighter side, you have this:

That measurement does not necessarily prove children are passing the virus to others. Still, the findings should influence the debate over reopening schools, several experts said.

So maybe they aren't contagious, and maybe you won't get sick, and maybe you won't pass it on to your more vulnerable family members. That's heartwarming, isn't it? Why don't I drink a bottle of scotch and get in the car for a drive. Maybe I won't kill anyone.

I guess that's why it's easy for Times reporters to stereotype us as unwilling to work under any circumstance. One of the great things about stories like that is the NY Post Editorial Board can simply reword them and hit us again. Sometimes you read about loony stories appearing somewhere, getting picked up by Fox, and then hitting more mainstream media. This time, it starts in the Times. Go figure. Let's support the kids and let the grownups all drop dead. Who really needs parents or grandparents anyway?

Here's another story Times reporters haven't read, in Politico. Evidently, school openings have not been working as a rule. It appears that where they did, it entailed a whole lot more planning and preparation than we've seen in the United States. In New York City, as the mayor and chancellor trip all over themselves producing increasingly desperate last-minute attempts to look less like bozos, it's extremely hard to trust their attempts at opening buildings.

Now here's something that's worth paying attention to:

Teacher unions have typically been involved in planning school reopenings in Europe, which is critical, since teachers are the most viable enforcers of new safety rules. “There's a great deal of trust in authorities because we know that we can always sit down and talk about things,” Dorte Lange of the Danish Union of Teachers said.

That's a novel thought. Instead of demonizing teachers for wanting to protect their lives, maybe we could, you know, work with them. Maybe teachers are a positive influence on students. Maybe teachers, by showing concern for their own lives, are modeling something worthwhile. My little dog jumps when he hears loud noises. He doesn't want to get hurt. I don't want him to get hurt, and I don't want children to get hurt either.

Hey, if NY Times reporters and Post editorial writers feel differently, that's on them. Maybe they'd be comfortable pushing their own children out of airplanes without parachutes. Of course, that would put them on par with dangerous criminals.

Make no mistake--that's exactly what they are.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

NY Times Trashes Unionized Teachers, Presents Barely Researched Nonsense as Fact

I'd like to say I was startled by this remarkably unresearched piece of reporting in the NY Times, but alas their agenda is plain to see. The NY Times, the paper of record, has decided to tell the world that unionized teachers a. do not want to go back into schools, and b. don't want to teach online either. The claim itself is pretty spectacular.

Unions are threatening to strike if classrooms reopen, but are also pushing to limit live remote teaching. Their demands will shape pandemic education.

Wow. Those teachers are so unreasonable. They don't want to do anything. This, in fact, is no different than recent claims made in the NY Post. Here's the difference--the Post, at least, ran it on the editorial page, while the Times runs it as a feature. While I don't like either story, at least the Post seems aware of what is and is not opinion.

How they come to conclusions is a little tougher to determine. It's certainly not based on verifiable fact. Perhaps the two (!) reporters on this piece came to an opinion and sought out to prove it. Perhaps they feel their case is valid. However, it isn't.

Let's look at their first assertion--that unions are threatening to strike. Here's what they say:

On Tuesday, the nation’s second-largest teachers’ union raised the stakes dramatically by authorizing its local and state chapters to strike if their districts do not take sufficient precautions — such as requiring masks and updating ventilation systems — before reopening classrooms. Already, teachers’ unions have sued Florida’s governor over that state’s efforts to require schools to offer in-person instruction.

I'm not entirely sure that's anything so drastic. The fact is Florida is exploding in Corona virus. Deaths just spiked to a record high. The MAGA governor claims students are at less risk, so therefore teachers at more risk must go back. I'm puzzled at why a lawsuit against that is radical in any way.

As for the rest of the country, considering that school reopenings have failed as Corona surged in Israel, South Korea, Hong King, and Beijing, I'm curious as to why strikes to preserve lives and health of not only teachers and their families, but also students and their families, is extreme in any way. In fact I heard Randi Weingarten say that strikes would be utilized only if nothing else worked.

Let's look at the other half of the Times' assertion, which I'd color categorically untrue. The Times claims teachers want to limit online teaching. Their evidence is ridiculous, and they don't remotely understand what online teaching is.

Some critics see teachers’ unions as trying to have it both ways: reluctant to return to classrooms, but also resistant in some districts to providing a full day of remote school via tools like live video — the kind of interactive, online instruction that many parents say their children need after watching them flounder in the spring.

This is the kind of argument we regularly get from President Trump--people are saying this or that. Which people? Trump never says so, and neither does this pair of Times reporters. I used live video every day I taught, and so did most teachers I knew. There were issues with it, of course, but I see no evidence these reporters even know what they are.

Here are just a few things the Times reporters failed to consider:

We had no training and were told to just do this. This was not an easy thing for me, or for any teacher I know. Though I'm fond of technology, though my laptop and I are almost joined at the hip, I had never used Zoom or Google Classroom before. I was lucky to find a young teacher who gave me a crash course just before we left. Not everyone was so lucky. I have still not seen or heard anything about substantive training. While it was great the DOE provided for three days of it in March, the fact is that school administrators who provided it, for the most part, knew as little about it as I did.

We don't live in classrooms. Some teachers are simply unable to broadcast from home. We don't all live in 1950s TV show conditions. I know teachers who have disabled children who have violent tantrums. I know teachers who are homeless. The NY Times doesn't know teachers like these because they talk to "some critics" rather than real live teachers. An easy solution to this would be to provide real training and open school buildings to teachers (and students) who lack safe quiet places and/ or technology.

Online instruction is not simply going online. I don't give a lot of difficult homework. Mostly, I'll give exercises that take ten or fifteen minutes to do, and go over them in class. While students are writing them on the board to review, I'll walk around and check for completion. While these assignments don't make a high percentage of the overall grade, I'll give 100% for completion, 50 for partial, and zero for nothing. I can't walk around a virtual classroom checking work. I end up grading everything, and it's really time consuming. That's not to mention more substantial assignments, like essays, that come in all the time. I grade them as I see them, and it takes a lot longer than sitting with a stack of papers that I collected.

Furthermore, we are in touch with students via email on a regular basis. This goes well beyond school hours. We spend a whole lot more time chasing after students who don't show up or do work. While I'd be able to talk face to face quietly with a student in my classroom, or pull the student out in the hall during normal circumstances, I can't do that in a virtual classroom. Sometimes I can address students directly in the chat, but a whole lot of the neediest students aren't actually reading it. Which brings me to this--

No demands are made of students. The reporters at the Times fail to note that many students didn't show their faces online. They have no idea what it's like to call on a cute kitten avatar and get no response. The Times reporters, intent on vilifying unionized teachers, don't know that students are playing video games, sleeping, or doing whatever during class time. They don't understand that students were asked to "check in" rather than participate. That has to change for online instruction to improve.

I remain amazed at the shoddy, incurious reporting that passes for "all the news that's fit to print." It leads me to wonder--if the education reporting is this bad, how sloppy and misleading is the work on subjects with which I'm less familiar?

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Blogger's Day Off...

...but you can read my new piece in Gotham Gazette about how Mayor de Blasio's reopening plan fails from not only the perspective of health, but that of pedagogy as well.

Monday, July 27, 2020

NY Times Education Reporter Eliza Shapiro Doesn't Know What Teachers Do

Every day I'm surprised. There's just never a bottom. A man can get up and say the most vulgar things you've ever heard and get elected President by every possible measure (except votes cast). That same man can then spend four years indulging in the most juvenile insults, outlandish conspiracy theories, and tell so many untruths it becomes impossible to count.

The NY Times, though, is something altogether different. They see things from a far more exalted plane than the rest of us, and come down from their pedestal every now and then to let us know important things we won't find in any other paper. For example, amidst a crushing pandemic, the Times is there with a vital story on how Americans are so threatened they need to turn second homes into primary homes. What an ordeal (and what a comedown from going to the Cape, or renting that chateau in the South of France).

NY Times education reporter Eliza Shapiro is focused on whether or not teachers are childcare providers. While it's true a lot of children spend their days with us, we simply are not. Our job is to support children and help with with education, not to watch them while mom and dad go to work. Our absence from school buildings doesn't help anyone, but the fact is we too have children, and we too have to worry about where they are and what they're doing.

We live in a country that doesn't much value childcare. When my daughter was very young, it was so expensive that it made a lot more sense for my wife to stay home than for us to pay for a service. It's also true that the people who do the actual work aren't compensated well. Instead, the companies or bosses who hire these people make the money. That's the American way, I suppose (and that's another issue altogether).

It's upsetting, nonetheless, to see this from someone who's ostensibly an authority on education:

This, of course, is an attack on our union. We are demonized because we have the will and ability to fight back. That's not a bad thing, Eliza Shapiro, and rather than attack us, you ought to work toward empowering these lower-paid workers of whom you speak. (As a matter of fact, Ms. Shapiro, and the NY TImes, UFT represents some childcare workers. You ought to know that.)

Furthermore, this tweet has the effect of pitting us against whatever other union reps childcare workers, which we are by no means attempting. By standing up for ourselves, you might think, we are somehow hurting others. That's preposterous. I'm bone weary of hearing such nonsense, and it's worse when it comes from a faux-authority like the NY Times.

Furthermore, it seems to endorse the argument put forth in the embedded tweet, that we ought not to argue we aren't childcare providers. This tweet takes the argument of one teacher boasting of her master's degree, and stereotypes all of us as suggesting we're superior because of our education level. As recently as yesterday I wrote that all jobs are important, and that less prestigious jobs are often more important in fundamental ways.

In the backyard behind mine there's a childcare facility. Before the apocalypse I'd see children playing there all the time. Often balls and toys would come over our fence. Every now and then they send some forlorn little kid to ask if she can go into the backyard and retrieve her ball, or doll, or whatever. Frequently they'd inadvertently pilfer my dog's toys and have the children play with them.

Okay, I'm not crazy about these people. I don't like seeing my dog's toys stolen. Beyond that, I don't think I'd want my kid to play with toys someone else's dog is using. Regardless, their job is not my job. It doesn't make me better than they are, even though I don't go around stealing doggie toys.

However, it doesn't make me worse either. I've watched for decades as media has vilified unionized teachers for the crime of devoting our lives to teaching America's children. The Times is right there with the Post and the News when it comes to attacking us and supporting blithering nonsense like Common Core and junk science evaluations for teachers.

I remember, decades ago, reading an outraged commentary in the Times about how teachers had a February break and it was tough for parents to find childcare. Evidently, no one had bothered to tell the Times reporter that the DOE was proposing not to have classes, but rather to force teachers to come in for PD that week. That was my first critical look at NY Times education reporting. I'd argue that both the News and the Post do better jobs of reporting city education, and by a wide margin. While the Times does great stories now and then, I don't look to them for regular coverage.

I'll agree on one thing--there is a child care crisis in this pandemic. I can tell simply by looking at the empty backyard behind my house. The answer, however, is not to put childcare workers at risk, and the answer isn't to put teachers at risk either.  The answer is something closer to have a government that's responsive to the needs of working people, rather than the whims of criminal demagogues.

However, there's something fundamentally unsettling about a reporter from the so-called paper of record not being able to differentiate between teachers and child care workers. That's beyond the pale.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

The Hybrid Model--Essential Work or Political Hackery?

I’m vain. I think my subject, English as a new language, is the most important my students have. As such, I want them to understand structure. Teaching grammar, though, bores my kids to death. I have to find a better way.

One of the things that makes me crazy its the use of the present tense. When one of my students says, “She go to the store,” it makes me want to jump out a window. I’ll feign a heart attack or something to draw attention to my displeasure. I look for novel ways to practice this structure. One activity is a game that replicates an old TV show called What’s My Line. Students pretend to have one job or another, and we practice asking questions to figure out what it is.

Do you work in an office?
Do you need any special diplomas?
Do you work outside?

These are all good questions. I point out others that might guide their yes/ not questions toward an educated guess:

Who works in an office?
Who needs a diploma?

There’s one question I get that I object to, though.

Is your job important?

Grammar isn’t everything. I try to show students that all jobs are important. When I was their age, I worked as a dishwasher. I don’t know about you, but I find it pretty essential to have my dish washed before I eat off it. I’d argue, in fact, that some of the jobs that have the most prestige are ones we’d miss least.

For example, as a teacher, don’t show up to work, and there will be a direct effect on students. If the chancellor takes a sick day, they won’t notice the difference. While every job is important, it’s often those with the least prestige that affect us the most. Who should spend a week in Tahiti right now—your lawyer or the guy who collects your garbage?

We talk a lot about who essential workers are. Are teachers essential workers? Perhaps not in the sense of how it’s generally used, but education is indispensable. We didn’t just throw up our hands and give up last March, and we need to figure out the best way to deliver instruction in September.

There were a lot of things we could’ve done better. For example, had the mayor closed the schools when Broadway went dark, we could’ve spent a week or two preparing for remote instruction (and spread less disease). Instead, we  had three days in which we were supposed to be trained by administrators who’d never tried remote learning before. They did exactly as well as expected.

We now have tens of thousands of teachers with experience in remote learning. Some are better than others. I’m in the middle somewhere. A first-year teacher I know is much better at it. He knows how to give assessments via Google Classroom, and how to break students into groups on Zoom. In fact, there are programs that specifically monitor testing. Colleges use them, but I’ve thus far heard nothing about DOE picking them up.

Meanwhile, the city is prepping for “hybrid” learning, some online and some in person. Basically, you get in person instruction somewhere between 20 and 50% of the time, depending on how overcrowded your school happens to be. I have no idea how that’s remotely equitable, but I don’t work at Tweed. Doubtless someone over there will poop out an impressive-sounding rationale.

Even when they do, there are bigger problems. If teachers serve students on an alternating basis, who serves them on their off days? Also, how exactly do they expect classroom routine to be productive with everyone social distanced and masked? There’s no group work, no pair work, and the teacher can’t even approach the students to check their work.

As it happens, they could do all those things remotely.

It behooves us to give our students the best instruction we can. With this virus threatening their very survival, not to mention that of their families, it’s very hard to see how a hybrid model has advantages over a remote model.

If anyone without a MAGA agenda can argue otherwise, I'm all ears.

Friday, July 24, 2020

How Many People Have to Die Here?

In Israel, the reopened the school buildings. A 64-year-old teacher died of Coronavirus after having reported that parents failed to quarantine students with the virus. Could that happen in a country where a President generally pretends the virus doesn't exist? Could someone be unfamiliar with the symptoms and assume it's something else? Could someone decide to wear a MAGA hat and ignore it altogether?

If NYC and other districts get to open public schools. it seems like people are going to die. It could very well be that parents send infected kids to school. In the highly unlikely event that the DOE manages to take every precaution, and screen the temperature of every student, what about those who are asymptomatic? Even if teachers somehow manage to socially distance, they could spread the virus to other students, who can spread it to their older family members. 

Hey, how clean is your school building? In mine, every time a custodial worker leaves, no replacement is sent. Mayor de Blasio's policy appears to be to get staffing as low as possible and hope the Keebler elves come in an finish the job. Ordinarily, a policy like that would result in dirty school buildings. These days, we'll have to trust that somehow schools are deep-cleaned, or whatever exactly the de Blasio deep cleaning entails.

Do you think your school buildings will be sufficiently disinfected to preclude bringing a surprise virus home? If they are, do you think young children and teenagers will socially distance sufficiently to avoid infection? After that happens,

The DOE, in its infinite wisdom, is now denying schools an all remote option. It doesn't matter if the faculty, students and parents all want it. The important thing, to the mayor and the chancellor, is to give the appearance of equity and excellence while providing neither. We already know that there is little equity, if any, in the mayor's half-assed hybrid. We know that some students can go to school buildings every other day, while others can go as little as once a week.

Let's look at the excellence in the mayor's plan. The notion that students will benefit from being socially distanced, in classrooms that preclude normal interaction is absurd on its face. That's not to mention the fact that much of what students can't do in these hobbled live classrooms is entirely possible online. That's not to mention that neither the mayor nor the chancellor have focused on making online learning better, let alone providing us with tools to do other things, e.g.  giving an assessment securely online. That's not to mention the utter lack of focus on substantive training.

But hey, let's play the mayor's game. Let's ignore all that an focus on the basics. UFT members died because de Blasio failed to close the schools. Family members died. That's true also of family members of our students. And that's not even figuring all the people who've gotten sick and spent weeks in hospitals. Has de Blasio learned anything from the blood on his hands?

It's good to see he's backing off of his idiotic pledge to open the buildings. Yet no one knows which way the wind will be blowing in late August.

How many people have to die here?

None, if it's handled correctly. Only time will tell.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Today in Flip Flops--de Blasio Comes to His Senses, Maybe

It's hard to say which mayor we want to see. This notwithstanding, I'm going to opt for this week's mayor. A few weeks ago, Bill de Blasio was telling the entire world that New York City schools would be open for business in September.

That was a remarkable thing to hear. After all, NYC hasn't even opened indoor restaurants yet. Broadway is still dark. But somehow it was okay to open up schools with 1.1 million children.

In fairness, de Blasio isn't some MAGA lunatic declaring we're gonna open at 100% capacity, or stating that kids would just get over it, so the hell with all the older people with whom they come into contact.

No, de Blasio had a plan. We would do a "hybrid." That is, some kids will come in, and others will not. Teachers will see ten kids today, ten tomorrow, and rotate until all the students show up. What will those who don't come be doing on those days? No one knows. Why bother to figure that out when you can just dump the problem on 1800 individual schools and hope for the best?

Honestly, I've not seen a single "hybrid" plan that seems practical. De Blasio claims he came up with this based on the unsecured internet poll he put out, but that's nonsense. No unsecured internet poll is regarded as valid, and it appears Hizzoner juked the stats on that one anyway. This notwithstanding, he appears to have come to a much more reasonable conclusion sometime in the recent past:

De Blasio also indicated that full-time classes won’t resume until the development of a coronavirus vaccine.

“The day we get to the vaccine is the day we’ll really go to full, five days a week normal instruction in our schools,” he said.

That's been my conclusion for months now. I'm glad the mayor has come around. Of course, we still have a whole lot of schools that seem to be using the poorly-thought-out plan advanced by de Blasio and Carranza. I'm just a lowly teacher, but it's evident to me the holes in that plan are big enough to drive a truck through.

I'm glad to hear the mayor making statements that are not insane. I would very much like to see him not only embrace this way of thought, but also expand upon it. I understand there are essential services. I saw my doctor last week. She looked like a martian, all covered up with not only a substantial mask, but also a face shield. She was also wearing a gown of some sort.

There are a few differences between doctors and teachers. Doctors are increasingly offering tele-conferences. I'm absolutely certain my doctor would do them exclusively if she could. Alas, taking blood pressure, blood and physical examinations cannot be done remotely. We're a little different. In fact we can perform most services remotely. No, they aren't as good as in person, but no one will get sick and die from remote instruction.

De Blasio's hybrid idea is a lose-lose. Because school is in session, people can and will get sick and die. Because the in-person services are limited in so many ways, with teachers unable to approach students, groupwork out of the question, and inane limitations imposed by the state, they are less effective than remote services,  The fact is, even if de Blasio's poll were valid, no respondents understood just how terrible the city's plan was.

In fact, we'd all be better off sticking with remote learning until there were a vaccine. Education is vital, but putting it off a few months won't kill anyone. Opening the schools, on the other hand certainly will. Exactly how much of that is acceptable to you?

For me, a single death is a miserable and unconscionable failure. If de Blasio or Cuomo opens the schools before we're ready, they'll most certainly have blood on their hands.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

UFT Town Hall Tuesday, July 21st

by special guest blogger Mindy Rosier-Rayburn

3:15 UFT President Michael Mulgrew: There's lots to discuss and there are lots of challenges we are facing. Today, I'll do a quicker report and focus more time for your questions. Right now, there are too many questions and not enough answers. I've been doing lots of media lately and City Hall wasn't happy. Too bad.

We don't have a plan in place and everything is being worked on. However, we will not return unless it is safe. We are the glue that helps keep the city together but we are not babysitters. The Mayor has finally understood this and he needs to deal with this, not us.

What we are looking at; The Heroes Act.
We can't open without this act. Thanking all who helped with this vigorous campaign.  Looks like the democrats and republicans are fighting over who does more for education. We know where we stand. We stand for safety, our profession, and our livelihood. Amything less is unacceptable. 

State came out with their opening plan.“Creating a framework to reopen New York’s schools has been an undertaking of paramount effort, made even more difficult by the devastating impact the pandemic has had here in New York State,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa. “This framework and the guidance which will follow allows schools to plan for the upcoming school year under three different scenarios that aim to keep our children, educators and school personnel safe and encourages equitable access to high-quality services for all students.” Districts need to have plans ready by Aug 7th and submit them to the state for approval.

Florida is suing to not open their schools. They are at a 21% positive rate. We are at 1.17%. It's really bad out there.

The numbers are lower here but we have no final plan for safety. How do we deliver instruction? How will be safe?

Medical accommodations have started and parents received an email, regarding opting out of in-school instruction.

Two things we are planning for. For in-person instruction, how will we make each building safe? With remote instruction, how will it be delivered?

If we do not open, we will be 100% remote. If we do open, we are looking at approx being 60% remote factoring those with medical accommodations. 

Remote instruction needs to be built out. Central system will not be a mandate. It has shown to not work right. Each school will  need a platform. 

In-person; Six feet apart, masks, extra PPE on top of the mandated amount may be necessary, hand washing, etc. Thanking the nurses again for all the training of the effective basics needed. Ventilation is a very big deal. Certain schools won't be open because of air flow and ventilation issues. We are checking all the schools. We are making sure schools will be getting all the needed cleaning supplies and we'll be changing all filters in the schools.

There are no agreement on COVID testing yet. Should all be tested? I think it is something we need to do. Recommendation from a doctor we work with, is that there should be random intermittent testing moving forward and everything should be monitored, even the neighborhoods.

I understand the sentiment of why are we planning to open. If you ask should we open right now, I would say no. We must plan and be prepared. Majority of the teaching will be remote. Now we have medical accommodations that are meant just for the member, according to the law. We are trying to work on something for those with vulnerable household members.

How do we coordinate instruction with the live teacher and the remote backing force? We need to have the scope and sequence to ensure a continuity of instruction. This is a real issue and challenging issue.

We have offered different suggestions. There are all these questions with school based folks and district based folks. How do we coordinate? TIme spent right now, should be coordinating and nothing else.

You heard me rush this report. There's still so many unanswered questions. More unanswered questions for safety. We have no money, but on paper the plan meets safety demands but how will it be fully implemented? CSA is very frustrated because there's no real guidance from the DOE.

My answer right now will be NO to opening the schools. We must plan to be fully remote. We must plan in case we do open. We must be ready for all scenarios. 

Right now, there's no trust, no faith in City Hall and the DOE. We still have a ways to go to even say it will be safe to go back. This is not easy stuff. We never faced anything like this before and hopefully we won't ever again.

My biggest fear right now, that because of the rest of the country not doing what it's supposed to, that it will come back here and we will have to shut down again. Safety, profession, livelihood...these are our priorities.

We've been working with parents and now it has shifted on to the Mayor to work on childcare for them.

This is the damn worst summer of my professional career. We must keep preparing for both scenarios. We admire our childcare providers for all the work they do. We are teachers and we are prepared to move in any direction to help our students. This is about us too. There's lots of fear and anxiety, like in so many of you.

The call to question (about opening or remaining closed,) will be called on the last week of Aug and then we will see where we are at. Lots of things that must be done to get there, if it gets there.


Q- Medical Accommodation;  If you have a condition can you be denied? If granted, will you be attached to your school?

M- When you accommodate you are attached to your school. If you have one of those CDC medical conditions, it should be granted. Haven't heard of any denials. There will be NO excessing! Been hearing this rumor going around. There will be no excessing if you get approved for a medical accommodation.

Q- What progress has been made for all schools having a nurse?

M- We are not opening without a school nurse in every building. End of story. They said now that  they would after lots and lots of discussion. I want to thank all of the nurses on this committee.

Q- Surveillance system trackers for nurses can help document what's going on with the families in the school and have access to data that would show what's going on in the school community.

M- Contact tracing is still being discussed. Things should have started to be planned a long time ago. We are also now too far out to see what's going to happen in Sept. Overall, they didn't seem to understand our safety needs. This is very important work.

Q- Today at our remote staff meeting, our principal said kids don't have to wear masks.

M- NYC has been very clear. We can adjust PPE based on the needs of the child. Still a district's decision. Principals you work for, works for the NYC & the DOE. She follows our guidelines.

Q- Will buyouts happen?

M- Buyouts are being discussed, but MLC won't do anything, until they see what the government will do. All budgets have been decimated. This is why the Heroes Act is so important in upcoming years. The MLC is clear, not at this moment. Not holding my breath. If it happens, I'm sure people will take it up.

Q- In person, will you be responsible for both live and remote teaching?

M- No. Your 30 kids will be 3 classes. We are not going to allow them to overload teachers with being remote too . This is why we need a scope and sequence. In HS may be a bit different.  There should be live only teachers or remote only teachers.  No combos.

Q- What about childcare for teachers on Long Island? How will we be able to follow each other remote/live?

M-  Remote teachers must be able to coordinate with live teachers and vise versa. The coordination in this is a mess. This is where my anger is coming from. The DOE wouldn't start creating a plan. It's been months.

Q- If I tested positive, would this affect my CAR days? Remote?

M- We are sticking by the rules we already came up with, that if you test positive your CAR won't be affected. A period of time would be needed for after quarantine to return.

Q- If I have no AC in the classroom, are we all expected to wear a mask?

M- Yes. Air conditioners can be a negative for air flow. We are on air flow like a laser. Different buildings have different issues. We are testing the air flow now in all of the buildings.

Q- Who will be responsible for temperature checks and background checks of who was positive? Students can be remote or live, will we have that same option?

M- Every school building must create a building response team that will make sure that every role is handled. If procedures aren't followed, people will be put at risk.
Safety has to be assured when doing any of this. Every school has to come up with their own plan for safety. DOE, CSA, & UFT will all talk together to work things out. You can get a medical accommodation. We streamlined the process to get the answers quickly. As of now, if you don't get approved for a medical accommodation, you can take a leave….if we open.

Q- I don't trust the DOE nor the Mayor. I can see them saying "you're going back" and we are saying "no." Then what?

M- I will just say this, I am preparing to do anything I can to make sure we are safe. This is all I will say on this call.

Q- I went to get a test today to visit my vulnerable dad. Right now there's a 14 day turnover. What pressure can the union do to increase the turnover? City MD

M- Because of what we went through, NYC started building its own capacity to create their own labs. National labs will take 14 days because of what's been going on everywhere. There are two day labs in the city. They assured me that every member can be tested. They will be able to do it over a ten day period. We need these results in 2 days. Critical.

Q- Will I be required to teach out of subject if I get an accommodation because I'm a specialty theater teacher.

M- I've seen amazing work remotely from theater arts teachers. Our students will need this. This creative outlet is very important.  Remote teachers should coordinate.

Q- Based on the models; this will make it difficult to complete the curriculum for the year.  Will we be expected to complete the curriculum for the year? Penalized if we don't?

M- Everything has to be adjusted. We have people working on this now. State education is also recognizing this now.

Q- Shouldn't parents have to submit a medical note for no masks for their children?

M- There has to be a doctors' note as to why the child cannot wear a mask. The Mayor is saying 75% wanting their kids back. Misleading. Parents are on the same page as us. It's got to be a disability or medical reasons with documentation.

Q- In Oct, we are supposed to get the last lump sum of our retro. Status?

M- It's there. Everyone was concerned about our raise, we got it. If the Heroes Act comes through, we will need to see the details. Right now I don't see how we could get through the next two or three years without layoffs without the money. It becomes, "what's the devil in the details." As for our retro pay, there's no reason to touch it. It's there.

Q- D75; We want to know what your take is on severe students, with biting, hands on, toileting masks, etc?

M- These are the things that we are dealing with, with the nurses. A lot of those students have underlying medical conditions. PPE in D75 would be different from general ed. Until a plan is put in front of us, school based nurses have clearly shown us that there are smart ways in fighting this virus. Whatever happens, if we get back to any kind of in-person teaching, we will all have serious training.

Q- D75; Our main office has 8 to 10 people. How will we be protected?

M- Masks and plexiglass. That's where everyone stops in. Main office staff must be protected. Airflow check-ins are for every single room.

Q- Are we still negotiating the days from spring break? Parents need to go to work, kids come in medicated, how do deal with those sick children?

M- Nurses need to be in every school. Child is sick, they see the nurse. Three unions involved, and we are negotiating full pay for those seven days.

Q- I'm a 33yr veteren, teach PE in small HS that's shared with two other schools. What is the protocol for PE? Normally I teach 30-40 kids at a time. I'm their sole PE teacher.

M- PE teaches in a gym with windows open, they know what to do. We do not have protocols yet for equipment.  Lots of cleaning will need to be done. Coordinating with the other schools to see how you can make it work is very important. The DOE will have to make it work.

Q-How long is the medical accommodation?

M- Period of health crisis.

Q- Plan for custodial accountability each night? Chancellor answers were very vague.

M- We have been in meetings, in person, all of us, with our masks on and social distancing, with the custodians, and buildings...we need to know exactly what the protocols will be. They've been sent backpacks of covid killer spray. We need those cleaning protocols in place. No deep cleaning took place months ago like the Mayor said. Everything is about safety. There must be a check and balances. One phone call, we can get a remediation done very quickly. We have to prepare and plan for everything.

Q- Deadline for the application for the accommodation is for July 31, what if you find out you're pregnant after that date?

M- We are telling people to apply by that date to fast track. You can apply anytime. Federal law.

Q- D75; Schools may not be able to accommodate early drop off or after school. Trying to figure out my own childcare and travel to a school which is not close, has been so frustrating. What can we do?

M- I have issues with the Mayor and the Dept of Health and of course the DOE. They have been good lately in trying to take things into consideration. Teachers will be teaching everyday, it's not just about childcare. We also helped each other during the pandemic. Hopefully these conversations will continue. It looks like it will come down to the end. Try to work out as much as you can in your school in case.

Q- Remote vs Classroom teacher, separate teachers but need to coordinate.  Where will those remote teachers be coming from?

M- Teachers on medical accommodations. Average classrooms will now be at approx 12 and we would need to at least double the staff if in-person. Medical Accommodations will be for remote. We don't have the capacity to meet the needs with the hybrid plan. We will not have 60 in a remote class either.

Q- Schedules?

M- Cohort schedules, 4 periods, lunch, coordination time with the remote instructors. This is the idea right now. There's so many challenges. We are trying to get the best instructional approach for each school. Again, recreating the old school day may not be the best way to go.

Q- If remote, will we be teaching our own students? How will I be able to teach my advanced students with limited time? How are we planning remote teaching as being a viable option for the regents?

M- Not even looking at evaluations.
We are talking with the state about the standardized tests. This isn't going to be easy but we would have to work on coordinating with others to fulfill the requirements. In regents and specialty classes, this will be a challenge. There isn't an answer for every question but we are trying to get them.

Q- How can we support parents? Can an individual school opt for remote only?

M- Schools can't say they will be fully remote. They need to submit a plan. If we open, there's a real possibility we will be remote. We made some progress in terms with where we were months ago with the Heroes Act. Still need more safety answers. There will be more Town Halls before the start date. Your questions help guide the work that is being done. Let's work with the schools, they know what they are doing. The DOE original plans weren't going to work.

When it was announced that schools were going to close, everyone jumped up and down, but we knew we had a lot of work ahead of us. We thought we needed two weeks and then the virus beat us down. We knew what we had to do. We were there for the parents. We started getting some relief, took a lot of damage, but we learned how to be disciplined.

Moving forward; School will be in session, I don't know if the buildings will be open. Nobody knows. If there had to be a decision right now, I would say no. We love our profession. We also need to take care of our own lives and family.

Thank you everyone for being on and asking questions. There will be more Town Halls with more question periods. We need to talk to each other. I like talking to you all because you all understand the safety needed. Take time, find that time to relax, deep breaths, and take time for yourself. Challenges are coming, and we need to take care of each other. We will figure it out.


Monday, July 20, 2020

Those Zany Madcap NY State Guidelines--Up Against the Wall, Teacher

They say you should watch your back. Well, you can't really watch your back without mirrors, and you won't have any of them anyway. But your students will be watching your back very carefully. On page 29 of this document it states the following:

Turn desks (including teachers) to face in the same direction rather than facing each other to re-duce transmission caused by virus-containing droplets (e.g., from talking, coughing, sneezing);

Think about that a little bit. While your backside may or may not be a thing of rare beauty to be cherished and admired by all, it will be what your students look at in COVID-time classroom settings. This is odd, because a lot of teachers develop eyes in the back of their heads so as to preclude paper airplanes, eggs, and what-have-you making it up to the board, or their bodies, or thereabout.

There are a lot of limitations in the hybrid classroom. You are all masked. The students are socially distanced, and you may not approach them. You may not correct their work privately. They may not work in groups or pairs. Normal socialization seems impossible.

Here's what won't be impossible. While you have your back to the students, they can text one another. They can play video games. They can photograph their test papers and circulate them. They can come to a consensus on which one are correct and which ones are not. Maybe, for the composition, they can each write one paragraph, circulate them, and paste them all together. There are a lot of options in this classroom.

Now sure, you can place your desk in the back of the room and look at your students' keesters, rather than having them look at yours. This will probably solve some issues. You can see them using their phones, for example. You can ask them to put them away. Of course, you can't approach them and confiscate them, and neither can the dean, because, you know, social distancing. Also, forget about using a board.

You could, of course, get a laptop and post from there to a display in front of the room. Here's my question, though. If you're going to do that, what exactly is the advantage of being in a live classroom?

Here's another gem from the list. Here's what schools need to provide for students:

1 disposable mask per week per student (to supplement the cloth masks provided by par-ent/guardian).

Wow. So we're assuming, for no reason whatsoever, that parents will provide cloth masks to students. Have you worn a cloth mask? They can be pretty uncomfortable, and I'm not sure parents would provide them anyway. I wear disposable masks myself, and I've yet to find the one that lasts an entire week, Of course, I don't work in Albany, and who knows exactly what they put in the gala luncheons out there?

I haven't yet read the whole thing, as it's kind of tedious. I suppose it could be used on a Common Core English exam, to show kids how to hate reading. Nonetheless, those are just a few plums I pulled out. Should you find more, feel free to share in the comments.

In better news, today's NY Times features a piece suggesting we ought to go remote and use buildings only to support social and emotional growth. It's good to see the Times feature a viewpoint about education that is not blatantly insane.

I'm encouraged about the future.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

The Safest and Best Education for Our Students

If you read my NY Post piece yesterday, you know I'm less than bullish on Mayor de Blasio's opening plan. In that piece, I give some suggestions on how we best approach September. I'll expand on them here.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong's in its third wave of Covid, closing its Disney Park and movie theaters. Chancellor Carranza and Mayor de Blasio appear determined to set us on our second wave.

I've got an inbox full of messages from teachers freaking out over going back. I'd argue a rational fear for your life in a time of elevated danger is healthy, and something worth modeling for our students.

The whole risking your life in order to provide third-rate instruction is not going over well with teachers anywhere. And for those who cheerily say that young people don't pose much risk (even though that's highly debatable), the fact is they have not only teachers to consider, but also families. (Not only do we have them, but our students have them as well.) While advocates for opening buildings stick their heads in the sand, I'm going to lay out an entirely different program.

The notion of seeing ten kids at a time while ignoring the rest is simply unworkable and ridiculous. I'll give it a mention later, but let's look at how we improve the online experience.

1. We need to show our faces. In April, I was pretty surprised to find all the students hiding behind photos of puppies and anime characters. Now don't get me wrong--I love puppies and I'm good with anime, but I'd rather see you. I had one student who never answered questions until someone texted her. Then she'd write, "I don't know," in the chat. She may as well not have been there. She got an NX, but should have failed. We need to make technology available to all, and we need to use it.

This is going to be exacerbated in September when we meet new students. I can't imagine spending an entire semester teaching pictures of kittens and rabbits. I want to see the kids. They see me, so I need to see them too. Of course it won't be as good as seeing students face to face, but it will be an improvement over not seeing them at all. I don't know whether this is regulated on a school level or a city level, but regardless it needs to be fixed.

2. We need real training and real resources. I went in the last three days the DOE mandated in March. I went to a bizarre meeting led by the principal. He didn't actually do anything bizarre, but it was the first time I'd been in a socially distanced auditorium. Others watched remotely in the building or at home. I later tried to get into an instruction meeting on how to use Zoom but it was full. Luckily, I went into an office where a first-year teacher spent a half hour teaching me the fundamentals of Zoom and Google Classroom. That was enough to get me started.

There are, though, other things you can do with Google Classroom. Sometimes when I'm in there checking homework I can see students writing it, My first-year teacher friend says I can do the same with assessments. I haven't yet figured out how, but it would be great to be trained. If I could do that while monitoring their faces I'd be more confident they were actually doing the work. Of course, they could be texting one another answers as I watch, but maybe there's a workaround there too.

I understand there are programs that will catch plagiarism, and immediately identify when students hand in identical papers. I believe they're available with Google Classroom, and I believe the DOE should pay. In fact, colleges use programs that are specifically designed to preclude test cheating. The DOE needs to provide us with programs like that as well. If buildings are little utilized, they'll have money available to do this.

3. Say no to nonsense. It's a nice idea to teach a few students at a time. We break into three cohorts. We teach our classes as we regularly do, except some students are there while others are not. Maybe I won't win teacher of the year this year, but I'm not going in, teaching some students, then going home and teaching the rest. There is no way the mayor is paying me or anyone else to do double work.

In a room in which students are socially distanced, I cannot approach them physically. There is no way I can help them individually. I don't know about you, but when my students are engaged doing anything whatsoever, I'm walking around the room quietly giving tips to those who need them, and obnoxiously hovering over who are disinclined to do any work.

We know that our students are inclined to be social, we know that's their nature, and putting us in the position of policing them is an undue burden both on us and our students. I teach English, and my goal is tricking students into loving speaking, listening, reading and yes, writing. It borders on unnatural to love writing. The socially distanced classroom is like a ball and chain.

4, Let's provide not only real social and emotional support, but also safe social and emotional support. Instead of creating ineffectual classroom or tutoring sessions that are of service to no one, let's use our buildings to support our kids in their time of need. In my school, we could theoretically place 240 teachers in classrooms to serve a thousand students. We could trust that these students would respect social distancing, or cohorts, or staying in whatever prescribed groups the mayor or school sets out for them. We can hope against hope they won't seek out their friends, lovers, or even favorite teachers.

I'd say if we have to use the buildings at all it should be on an extremely limited basis. In our school there are about a dozen guidance counselors and social workers. If they are able and willing to come in, give them classrooms. Let one or two students in at a time. Instead of a thousand students in our building, we could have fewer than a hundred. Instead of minimum social distancing requirements, we could triple or quadruple them. We could make school buildings less risky than supermarkets.

We can offer space and technology, as well as a quiet and safe place, to students and UFT members who need it. 

We could use schoolyards, weather permitting, for limited meetings or sports groups. Let the DOE use yellow buses, regularly disinfected, for all students and save them from the public transportation system.

4. Happy teachers make happy students. I don't know what's in your inbox, but I'm chapter leader of the largest school in Queens. I have multiple messages from teachers with extreme anxiety. I have queries about taking unpaid leave so as not to infect their parents, children, or other family members. I have questions about whether the DOE will retaliate for requesting accommodations. There's a level of mistrust and broken morale that neither the mayor nor the chancellor has addressed, let alone considered during COVID. (This, alas, is what happens when you fail to clean house after a demagogue like Bloomberg.)

Safety is an overarching priority for me and my members. Teachers aren't military and didn't sign up to risk their lives. And even if we had, the cause here, the mayor's ridiculous plan, isn't worth investing a dime in, let alone a life. Let's skip the nervous breakdowns and go straight to a well-planned, much improved online experience.

5. Your ideas. What do you think will be the best experience we can provide our students in September while keeping them, us, and all of our families safe?

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Blogger's Day Off...

...but you can read my Sunday NY Post piece today, about Mayor de Blasio's plan to open schools, at no additional charge. Here's a sample:

There are things worth fighting for, and things worth dying for. A barely thought-out, outlandishly stupid system that serves no one well is simply not one of them. If the mayor and chancellor were really concerned about giving students the best experience possible, they wouldn’t ask them to risk their lives and those of their families for no good reason.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Teachers Fear for Their Lives

You can't really blame us. I saw my doctor the other day, and she told me if she didn't have to come in, she wouldn't. Of course there's not really a substitute for medical care. She does teletherapy too, but you can't give blood over Skype. Not many teachers ask their students to give blood at all, as far as I know.

Of course, this feeling isn't limited to teachers or doctors. Most people I know value their lives. My little dog jumps when he hears loud noises, when he senses danger. He doesn't want to get hurt. Every time I turn on the TV I see Joe Namath telling me to stay safe and buy into privatized Medicare.

I get a lot of email from teachers, rightfully concerned with survival. I'd say that makes them pretty good role models. There's really nothing we want more for our children than that they grow up without being killed. It's our job to set an example even in something so basic and fundamental as that.

Teenagers are at a very stressful time in their lives. They're learning who they are and how they relate to other people. They're figuring out what they're good at and where they fit in. Call me madcap, but it doesn't really seem the best idea to set them up with teachers constantly on the verge of panic attacka.

Now don't tell that to Mayor de Blasio. He wants to open the schools in the worst way, and from everything I've seen, that's exactly the way he's going to do it. I just read an article on Chalkbeat about what school openings would look like. Now I'm a little more critical of Chalkbeat than other publications, because they take money from opponents of public education and give us every nuance of the many sides of Moskowitz. However, they're no different from other publications in that they fail to give you the full picture of what NYC is doing.

I got a message from a teacher telling me the principal wanted to cut 50% of the Regents curriculum for next year. Now don't get me wrong, I'm no fan of the Regents or their crappy exams. Still, I've taught Regents prep courses, and while I hated doing it, I recall pretty clearly my job was to help kids pass the tests. If I'd taught them only half, and they all failed, I'm not at all sure my principal would've been calling me in to tell me what great work I'd been doing.

In a way, that school is lucky. They have enough time to teach half a curriculum, so students must be going in half of the time. Maybe other principals are only offering 40% or less. And for this, Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza are willing to risk the lives of 1.1 million children and their families. Unless they don't want to. Mayor de Blasio, in his infinite wisdom, knows that some parents don't think it's a good idea to bring a deadly virus home to Grandma, so he's giving them the option of keeping children at home.

It would be one thing if there were no other possibility, and the only way to provide education was to send children into the building. The fact is, though, that we can do this remotely, and we can provide 100% of the curriculum. Anyone who thinks socially distanced students wearing masks and unable to approach one another is going to satisfy their social and emotional needs is dumber than a bag of rocks. And anyone who thinks children and teenagers will respect social distancing in a country where the President of the United States essentially denies the existence of the virus is not too bright either.

Many teachers are now placed in the position of being penalized for being healthy. I should've started smoking ten years ago, they're thinking. I should've indulged my fondness for eating fifty hot dogs for breakfast. Why did I waste all those hours in the gym? Now they're fit, and they don't know how to apply for an accommodation.

Catch 22 was a tough situation for the protagonist. He had to drop bombs on people from an airplane, but every time he did that, the people he was bombing would try to shoot him out of the sky. He went to the doctor and said he couldn't fly anymore because he was crazy. The doctor said all he had to do was be crazy to stop flying. But once he came to the doctor and asked not to fly, he couldn't be crazy because he'd shown he valued his life and didn't want to be shot out of the sky. Catch 22 was the best catch there was.

A lot of teachers are now in a catch 22. They're healthy, but they're being penalized for it. They don't want to go into buildings. They've never seen these buildings cleaned and they don't believe the people who never cleaned them before are going to clean them now. They don't believe little children won't cough and sneeze and vomit and lose their masks. They don't believe teenagers will refrain from kissing and talking and getting close to one another. I don't believe it either, to tell you the truth, and I highly doubt the mayor or chancellor do either.

Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza may be indifferent to our survival, but they aren't stupid. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Letter to Staff

In case you did not receive the email from Michael Mulgrew, you may now apply for an accommodation to work from home right here. You may do this if you are over the age of 65, or if you have underlying medical conditions as set out by the CDC. You may need documentation from your doctor.

I encourage you to apply for whatever reason you can think of. One high risk activity, for example, is smoking. Maybe, whenever you are in the comfort of your own home, you like to spend your time chain smoking. People do stranger things.

Here’s what I do know—it would be highly inconvenient for me, at this point in time, to get sick or die from COVID. It would be further inconvenient for me to sicken my wife, my child, or even my little dog. Mayor de Blasio understands that students and their families might find it inconvenient to get sick and die, and has offered them all a chance to opt out.

The mayor, however, does not appear to similarly value our lives or those of our family members. I find this curious, since he wishes us to risk our lives to perform “hybrid learning.” This is when you go to work each and every day to teach a small portion of your class. What happens to your other 25 students? Who knows? It’s all part of life’s rich pageant, I suppose.

Mayor de Blasio is not going to hire tens of thousands of additional  teachers to serve students who aren’t in school that day. I suppose we could cut our curriculum by 60-80% and repeat lessons. Alternatively, we could hope that students not in the building just feel the vibes, or read their magic 8 balls, or ask their friends to recreate lessons.

Some will say that students need to make social and emotional connections, and that’s not even debatable. How exactly they are supposed to make them while socially distanced, masked, and prohibited from approaching even you, the teacher, is a mystery to me.

Furthermore, the chancellor has said that he doesn’t want to treat failure to wear a mask as a disciplinary issue. I don’t know about you, but I’d absolutely enforce mask wearing. I’ll risk a letter to file over COVID any day of the week and I won’t hesitate to deny entry to a student who is unmasked. It’s my primary duty to protect the health and safety of my students.

In any case, to support you even further in these tough times, Mayor de Blasio has killed Teacher’s Choice. So if you were planning to use it to buy the fast internet access you needed to use Zoom properly, forget it. Here is my feeling—screw Mayor de Blasio, screw Chancellor Carranza, and screw a system that thinks it’s worth risking our lives to give our students awkward, incomplete, poorly thought out slapdash nonsense posturing as education. I see no way that the mayor’s “hybrid” can serve our kids, and we could certainly improve upon remote learning until such time as we can safely come in and do our real jobs.

I urge you to apply for an accommodation, no matter how remotely your condition affects you. I applied. In fact, I would apply if I had a hangnail, and contend the hangnail makes it inconvenient for me to get sick and die. No one should get sick or die, and shame on City Hall for waiting until someone does before making up their minds on a safe way to proceed.

As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me with questions or concerns.

Best regards,


Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Do We Need to Open for Student Emotional and Social Well-being?

I hear we need to open the buildings from a lot of people. Some of them, in fact, are people I respect. Alas, most are not. But the argument, that kids are missing something really important, is not even debatable. The flaw with that argument is this--even if we open the buildings, kids aren't going to get what they were missing.

Let's look at the de Blasio-Carranza plan, such as it is. From what I've seen, it entails kids sitting social distanced from one another. This is not how I wanted to be with my friends as a child or teenager, and I doubt much has changed since then. In our school, in fact, we can't even remove the desks from rooms. We have no place to put them, so there will be a pile of unused desks in every classroom. (You can see me interviewed on this topic on NY 1 right here.) Maybe we can use them for climbable sculptures in PE classes.

This is going to be uncomfortable for all of us, but I think our youngest students will be hurt most. Imagine coming out of quarantine, coming out of being shut off from the very social contact that makes you a kid. From there, you're placed in a corner somewhere and told not to move. If you're getting your hair done these days, you'll notice there are plastic curtains between customers to avoid the spread of COVID. Let's say that de Blasio gets embarrassed enough to provide this protection.

So there you are, six years old, in a corner surrounded by the kind of plastic you'd usually have to visit a garage to see. You're wearing a mask and so are all your friends. Or maybe they aren't your friends and maybe they never will be. After all, there's no recess. There's no play time. Just sit in your corner and do the work the teacher can't come over and help you with. The teacher needs to let the papers sit for 24 hours so as to preclude contamination, so you won't be getting them back for a while.

Once you do, you'll have more work to do, since the teacher was unable to help you in class yesterday, and can't do so now either. Hopefully you don't need too much extra help in this class or others, because you ain't getting it. There will be some variation with older students. Maybe they'll be a little less depressed. Maybe they'll be a little more depressed. In fact, maybe they'll be a lot more depressed. Bill de Blasio's prescription is not going to help children of any age who feel alienated. In fact, it's more than likely to exacerbate the situation.

Let's take the focus off the kids for a moment. You , the teacher, are the one who's going to have to tell the kids to sit in that corner and not move. Do you think that will inspire the kids as much as it would it you helped them read and write, or taught them skills that could improve their lives? I don't.

Who's gonna tell kids to put their masks on and keep them there? Well, that will be you too. Do you think kids of any age are going to love or respect you for making them wear uncomfortable masks that may, in the case of some students, inhibit their breathing? I don't know. I've been binge-watching ER for the past few weeks, and I've noticed that breathing seems a really important thing.

Could you get a letter in your file for forcing some kid to wear a mask? In fact, before you get the letter, will you be able to force a kid to wear a mask. That's hard to say. Mulgrew says it's non-negotiable, but I read somewhere the chancellor doesn't want to make a big deal our of it. It won't be a discliplinary issue, says he. I don't know about you, but I'm not going to allow any student to put my life and those of my other students at risk. I don't really want a letter in my file, but I'll risk a hundred of them before I'll risk the lives of humans in my classroom.

No one is going to be happy in the bizarre classroom with little or no natural interaction. No one is going to learn anything worthwhile in this unnatural gathering. It's like a particularly depressing chapter of The Twilight Zone. But hey, maybe parents will hate politicians just a little less for a few weeks.

Until, of course, people start getting sick and dying. Then they'll close the buildings right down again, just as they should've done in the first place.

Monday, July 13, 2020

De Blasio to UFT, CSA, DC37, and 1.1 Million Schoolchildren: Drop Dead

It's really hard to outdo the outrageous lack of planning that went into the DOE's hybrid instruction plan. Nonetheless, Bill de Blasio and Richard Carranza have once again outdone themselves. I was interviewed for this piece in NY 1, suggesting that equity and excellence is yet another carefully orchestrated DOE mirage. I'm in one of the so-called outlier schools, and we'd need five cohorts rather than two or three to meet their recommendations.

That's pretty goshdarn inconvenient for City Hall. How can they defend a system that ignores the largest school in Queens? How can they face up to the fact that they've neglected us for so many years? Can they go any lower than meeting minimum standards, already so porous you can drive a Mac truck through them? Of course they can.

Our school has been fighting overcrowding for over a decade. In fact, we had an agreement with Tweed to lower enrollment. When I became chapter leader, I ran around like a madman making sure our outrageous overcrowding got press coverage. I wrote in the Daily News, and we were covered multiple times in the NY Post. We even got a feature in the NY Times. By the time we were covered on television, Joel Klein and Michael Bloomberg had to acknowledge us.

UFT arranged a meeting at Tweed along with CSA and our School Leadership Team. We agreed to multiple measures to lower enrollment. We went down from 4600 to 4000, and were on our way to go below 200% capacity for the first time in years. Bill de Blasio failed to observe our agreement, and we're now somewhere around 4500, back to square one. Thanks a lot.

How does the DOE deal with an issue like that now that they're hyping a hybrid plan? Evidently, they want to make minimum social distancing guidelines recommended rather than enforced. I'm told that CDC recommends 65 square feet per student, but DOE wants to reduce it.Evidently if students can't be six square apart, that's just one of those things. It's pretty remarkable to see someone like Bill de Blasio so closely in sync with Donald Trump.

This is unacceptable by any standard. The official UFT position is that this hybrid system can work only if there are guaranteed safeguards. We're not saying recommended safeguards and let's hope for the best. We're saying that we want everyone to be safe, and yes, we want that even for administrators. I'd go as far to argue that the CSA President, Mark Cannizzarro, is not insane. He wrote a beautiful letter about stepping into the unknown. I'd be happy to work for someone who thought like that.

I'm not at all happy, though, about working for someone who jukes the stats and bends the rules to make his poorly conceived plan look a little better. I am not a compulsive rule follower. I understand the need to be flexible. I'd argue that differentiated instruction largely entails treating different people differently, and being able to adjust to their particular personalities. I might give more leeway to one kid than another. Sue me.

However, as regarding human safety, there's absolutely no basis for compromise. We're already on a slippery slope. I've actually read arguments for us returning to buildings suggest we'd probably have to close them again anyway. This means those people fully expect those of us who work and study to get sick and likely die. I don't see how even that is acceptable.

To suggest that we go back without observing minimum safety standards is not only unacceptable, but blatantly unconscionable. I have no idea how Bill de Blasio sleeps at night, but that's not my problem. My problem is keeping everyone who works and studies in schools safe.

Wake up, Bill de Blasio, We need a mayor who shares that concern, and we need that mayor right now.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

King Solomon Meets Bill de Blasio

You may have heard the biblical story about King Solomon. Two women claim a baby is theirs. King Solomon the wise says cut the baby in half and let them share it. One woman says sure, go ahead. The other says no, give it to the other woman. King Solomon then gives the baby to the second woman, since she is the only one concerned with the baby's welfare.

Of course, the notion of cutting a human in pieces is barbaric and unthinkable. Perhaps in those days it wasn't such a big thing. Who knows?

Here's one thing I know--Were Bill de Blasio sitting in that chair he'd have cut the baby into 2, 3, 4 or even 5 pieces. That way it could multitask, and the mayor seems to highly value that ability.

Otherwise, why would he be pushing a program that has teachers breaking their classes into multiple cohorts but teaching only one at a time? Let's not get extreme here, and point to outliers. Let's be conservative and point only to schools the mayor acknowledged, with up to three cohorts.

Let's say I have a class of 34. Let's say my classroom is 680 square feet. At 65 square feet per human, I can fit ten in that room, with 30 feet left over to frolic and romp in between periods. That would mean, actually, that I would need to break my class into four groups. Of course, there is always the possibility that some of those students would choose to utilize remote learning. If 20% of my students choose to do that, I've got 26 or 27 left, and I can see them once every three days.

Let's say I teach 5 classes of 45 minutes every day. That means I will see about 8 students per class, leaving one spot for a paraprofessional. What are the other 18 students doing during that time? If I am to give them the same instruction, it means they receive instruction only once every three days, and I will deliver only one-third of the curriculum.

On the other hand, perhaps the mayor thinks that I will be delivering the other classes online, working twice as much, and that will solve the problem. Maybe the mayor thinks some other teacher will be delivering that instruction. Actually, though, when you consider the students on all-remote, it would take two other teachers to do that. I don't know about you, but I haven't heard the city say anything about reducing class sizes during this emergency.

And let's look at the students who've actually shown up. They will be socially distanced and masked. They will not be able to interact normally. I will also be socially distanced and masked. I won't be able to approach them or check their work. I won't be able to see what they're doing. For all I know, they could be sitting writing their lovers' names over and over, and drawing little hearts. And when they get on the bus with said lovers, will they be socially distancing?

Personally, I'm absolutely mystified as to how this system improves upon a well-thought-out remote learning system (as opposed to the slapdash, improvised one we've been using). Before we even look at what that entails, a remote learning system allows us to continue the downward spiral of COVID we've managed to achieve. I'm very happy that, at Executive Board meetings, Mulgrew no longer has to read us names of UFT members who've passed.

We jumped into this with no preparation whatsoever. The DOE has shown us no leadership whatsoever over the last few months, making decisions at the last minute. The plan they put forth last week is so shallow and poorly thought out I'm amazed they mustered the audacity to make it public. They think opening the buildings, no matter how poorly they do it, represents a victory.

We now know ways to improve remote learning. The most obvious fix is to insist students show their faces. Every teacher knows students who hide behind their avatars. Every teacher has called on those students to get no response. Sometimes their friends text them and they return. Sometimes they don't. Sometimes you get responses in the chat that say they've lost their sound.

It's on the city to provide not only technology, but also safe and quite places for students to do remote learning. That's a good use of school buildings and libraries. In fact, one of the reasons some teachers give for not wanting to do synchronous learning is they don't want people to see their homes. Another is their homes are too noisy. The city could provide those teachers space in the school buildings as well.

Another thing we could use is real training. Google Classroom has a lot of capability I haven't explored because I don't know how. So does Zoom, and so does every other platform every other teacher has used. I learned Zoom and Google Classroom from a first-year teacher, and if I go remote in September I'll press him to teach me more before I get on. However, that's one more job that the city has failed to do. Sending us back for three days to be trained by administrators who'd never done this work was a ridiculous exercise.

I'm not seeing any King Solomons in the DOE or City Hall. I'm seeing an outright pathetic attempt at trying to rehabilitate the public perception of their blithering incompetence, and they trip all over themselves every moment. I'm a lowly teacher, and I could run the school system better than those currently doing it.

That's not much to brag about, though. It's hard to imagine anyone running it worse.

Thursday, July 09, 2020

UFT Executive Board July 9, 2020--Riding a Hybrid Safely

 Roll Call 2:50

UFT Secretary LeRoy Barr welcomes us.


UFT President Michael Mulgrew--You all saw mayor's "blended plan." In April, after multiple models, there were two options to open safely. Either we triple classrooms and teachers, or have one third of students present. We are okay with the model as the way to go. The type of schedule is problematic. We would like to limit the number of models to those most schools could use, but offer flexibility.

Doing something else, though, does not mean you ignore safety rules. That comes first. Next phase is safety and developing protocols. We will enforce masks, not just talk to children about it. Everyone in school will have to wear a mask.

Medical accommodation process will be going out on July 15, along with ability for parents to opt their children out of live instruction. We believe 20-25% will opt out, if we stay on current trajectory of virus. We expect results by August 7th. We are not sitting around and waiting. Almost 1300 schools did walkthrough. We are engaged in this.

Blended plan yesterday is step one. We're looking at health and safety, and working conditions. We will need a temporary agreement for these conditions. We will have remote and live teachers, and some who do both. All of these things have to be negotiated. There are many outstanding safety issues, including physical proof that shields, masks, cleaners and protocols are in place, with personnel to make sure it's done.

This can't be like March. We will have to walk to each school and make sure this is all in place. Talking to infectious disease doctors, will talk to DOE and CSA about testing regimen. We will recommend that everyone, especially living in NYC, get an antibody test. Will be very important if you come into contact with virus. Thinking about a program to offer this to UFT members. Talking with hospitals and health care providers about this.

You should keep these results.

We will discuss process for children who won't wear masks. In our rec centers, kids wore masks. Different challenge for special ed. students. What kind of PPE will various positions need? We have to work this out by August 7th.

We are on the attack against mayor about child care issue. If children aren't in school every day, what will parents do? We had a parent town hall last week, and hopefully by next week we will be demanding a program.

APPR--This year no one is getting a rating. We need to make sure there is no harm. We don't want it to hurt anyone's tenure, and we don't want first or second year teachers to have it held against them.

Investigations--trying to get those started, want to get rid of false allegations. We are negotiating with DOE, who doesn't get back to us.

What will APPR look like for remote and hybrid teachers next year? How does this and PPE fit in with Danielson?

Leaves--What's a medical accommodation vs. a family leave? We are trying to clarify for people.

We are working on these things right now. As I told you, fear and the virus are our twin challenges. We're moving ahead, and despite all protests, there's been no bump in NYC. We are more disciplined than people in other parts of the country.

Some people think there will be another bump here, as we see them everywhere. We are concurrently planning remote instruction. Assuming state will come out and say something in August, but it may not be definitive. If virus bites we know what will happen. We've learned a lot and will need more of a framework.

Summer school has been a fiasco, and that's tied to their new platform. Chancellor was clear there is no mandate for any school to move into new platform. People have to be comfortable and ready. Anyone teaching summer school can tell you about all the problems they've been having.

Mike Sill--What will remote instruction look like this year? It will have to be different. We will have to have more of a schedule so as to preclude conflict. There are issues with ratings, people with TIPs or people frozen at salary steps. What will PD look like? Will it be remote? Probably. What about SBO? Parent teacher conferences? Each decision ripples throughout the contract. Focus groups have been helpful. Best info comes from membership.

Mulgrew--These are new situations, and we'll have to have a temporary agreement along with a process to figure out things that aren't covered. On health and safety we have a team working.

Elly Engler--We have a team working with UFT and DOE and we have a team with parameters for HVAC system. Working with HVA to make sure they're operational. Without good ventilation rooms will not be used. We need operational windows, which can dilute ability of virus. Electrostatic cleaning will be done, will be machines. If they're using this it means dust won't be cleaned, but virus will be destroyed. Will not look as pristine as proper deep cleaning. There will be a list of things available to all schools, PPE and cleaning supplies. If all guidelines are followed we will be okay.

Mulgrew--We also need procedures for medical issues. We no longer trust this administration anymore. Working on something so we can have checks and balances. Not good enough to take people's word when we already know it's no good.

Questions--(or answers)

Students can opt out. Teachers can ask for accommodations or take a leave.

Equity of schools split into five as opposed to two or three--Will do best we can. Will be discrepancies, but we can't have a cookie cutter approach in this system.

Concern for paras, AP decided to put one with two or three students, not safe for anyone--We will work on a regimen about paras.

There will be different patterns, and that's why they moved to these general models. D75 students will suffer more with lack of continuity. If school wants to use different model they can advocate.

Where is school calendar--DOE scared to pull it out. Wants to start September 10th, but not sure. Will be a lot of training on how schools run differently. Has to be real training, not just a PowerPoint. We will need a scope and sequence in place for each subject in each school for this year. This can't work otherwise. Remote and in person teachers have to be in sync.

We will be involved in safety discussions. Still not sure safety officers will be in DOE, and not this year anyway.

Districts may have remote learning teams. Some schools may have more accommodations than others. We have not figured out how observations will work.

Many things will be addressed at SED level. Blended learning has to be compliant.

Will there be teletherapy in the fall? Probably. Will be combination. What's right PPE for people doing speech and OT/PT? Will coordinate with hospitals to find out.

We are short teachers already. Even with federal package, which would put safety measures in place. We will never have enough teachers. We now need three teachers for thirty students. Chancellor wants to redeploy every DOE person as a teacher this school year. There are some contractual issues with some of these things, but we will discuss it.

Is there any discussion about mandating live synchronous instruction? Will be some sort of expectation for everyone of live synchronous instruction. We are not recreating the school day.

President Trump wants all schools open, no guidelines, says CDC is crazy. We heard that. If CVC changes anything based on politics rather than medicine we won't abide by it. This is ridiculous. Betsy DeVos, who lives in an ivory tower, says everyone takes risks.

Masks are non-negotiable for us.

We don't believe cameras in classrooms will work. Perhaps we can experiment, but we think separate teachers will do remote.

We are moving toward a blended learning model. Not sure why we didn't talk about it in April.

Mulgrew--Do we do a Town Hall, and should I pursue antibody testing for UFT members? 

Member suggests Town Hall would be a good idea, and that testing would be helpful to UFT members.

Ellen Driesen--Agrees.

Mulgrew--City can mandate us to have Covid test, but not antibody test. Professionals are recommending it. Last week a new Covid test came on market, a less invasive nasal swab. There will be something in place, but not sure what it will be yet.

Member suggests there are more questions than answers now, and that we should delay Town Hall. 

Member suggests general Covid tests for UFT members as well. Says some testing sites are screening for who is more at risk, and insurance companies are requiring doctor to tell you to get tested. We should make it easier for members to get both tests and get through red tape.

Mulgrew--Many national labs are now swamped. Once we start school, Covid tests and contact tracing will need to be available. Will need to be immediate.

Will think through Town Hall. We will have these meetings periodically through the summer. We will have to check deeply and carefully in every single school.

Thanks us for coming, and wishes us all down time. 3:53