Teaching during a pandemic is challenging.
And some teachers are facing more hardships than others. There are teachers who have been infected with Covid-19. There are teachers who have family members who have been infected and are currently fighting for their lives. There are teachers who have family members who have already died of Covid-19. There are teachers who are physically healthy but are suffering mental trauma from all that is going on. And, yes, there are teachers who have died — infected, some of them, in schools that should have been closed a week or two sooner.
One challenge that some teachers have is that they have their own children at home. Not to diminish the very real issues that teachers who do not have children at home are facing, but since this is the struggle that I am dealing with most, it is the one that I can address with the most detail. I have two children, 12 years old and 9 years old. My older child has adjusted pretty well to remote learning so far. My younger child has not. For me, this is my hardship and I’m lucky that, at least for now, this is the thing that occupies a lot of my energy. I could have much bigger problems.
This crisis has put a lot of people out of work. Certain jobs have temporarily ceased to exist — waiters, house cleaners, tour guides, contractors, for example. Some people are able to work from home and they are able to be nearly as productive. As a teacher, I find myself somewhere between these two positions. Yes, I can work, meaning that I can invest energy doing things. But me doing work and putting time into my job does not necessarily translate into the true goal of my work which is that my students learn the math I’m teaching them. Still, the better the job I do, the more learning will happen and given the different other issues I am dealing with, I believe I am doing a good job. I feel guilt sometimes knowing that, at least in theory, I could be doing more. I’ve thought that if I did not have a family maybe I’d be spending my day doing math lessons on YouTube live all day and invite the entire country to participate. So, no, I’m not a national hero, but I am creating videos, doing some live classes. I’m answering a lot of emails from students and also keeping track of who is turning in assignments. I know that I am lucky that I will continue getting paid and I want to be productive and feel that I have earned it.
The biggest dilemma I’m dealing with in remote instruction is whether or not homework should be mandatory. I know that some students are likely going through a lot right now. So for the first two weeks of remote learning, I assigned work but told students that there was no official due date, but that they should do the assignments if they are able. Only about half the students were turning in the assignments compared to nearly 100% before schools were closed. Having due dates is something that motivates students and also helps them keep organized, though, and I was concerned that this lenient due date policy, while humane, could have been leading to a lesser amount of learning. I noticed that my own children who are in 6th and 3rd grade had due dates for their assignments. But I also knew that these due dates were causing stress for them, especially for my 3rd grade son. I also knew that other teachers at my school were having due dates and that most students were meeting those due dates. I struggled with this decision, but I changed my policy and set up due dates for future assignments. I told my students that I would be flexible if they needed extensions, but that they should complete by the due dates if they are able to. In a sense, this wasn’t that different than the previous policy, but by making an actual due date, I now have about 85% of students submitting the work on time compared to 50% before. Does that mean I made the right choice? I don’t know. Maybe those 35% of students who are now completing the assignments on time now also have a lot more stress which they did not need right now. I hope not.
Every teacher in the country is struggling to find a way to make this work as best as they possibly can while also juggling their own issues in their own lives. I doubt there are many teachers dancing around in their underwear blasting Alice Cooper’s ‘School’s Out For The Summer.’
Teacher bashing has been a national past-time, especially with the rise of the ‘reformers’ in the last 15 to 20 years. With Michelle Rhee on Time Magazine and Oprah, Waiting For Superman, Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, Teach For America, and, more recently, the different think tanks and websites like The74 and Education Post, Betsy DeVos, teacher bashing and it’s sister, teacher’s union bashing, which is pretty much the same thing — it’s like saying “I love Jewish people. I just hate when they get together and go to temple.” — though the teacher bashers have softened their tone over the last two or three years, they have only done this, I think, as a political calculation.
A pandemic can bring out the best in people, so the way that teacher bashers act in a pandemic is pretty much the high bar we can ever expect from them. Based on some of what I have seen some of the most prominent teacher bashers on social media, I’m not impressed.
Andrew Rotherham is a cofounder of Bellwether Education Partners. So you figure he has some understanding about education. Here is what he tweeted about remote learning.
So, because his daughters are doing the remote learning quickly, his conclusion is that a lot of time is ‘wasted’ each day in school. I don’t think I need to say much more about this, like I normally would. The word ‘disgraceful’ captures it enough.
Michael Petrilli is the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. I have a good relationship with him. He’s been respectful and answered me when I’ve tweeted with him. He was one of only three people to have answered one of the letters of my open-letters series. Petrilli’s instincts about education are consistently off base. He constantly falls for the promise of the latest fads in education and when that one is revealed to be a fraud he seems to pretend it never happened only to fall for the next one. He is someone who would truly benefit from being a classroom teacher for about three years.
He wrote a Washington Post op-ed entitled ‘Schools should consider keeping kids in the same grade this fall.’
Depending on what part of the country a school is in, the school year was around 2/3 to 3/4 completed. With standardized testing, many schools were in, or about to be in, test prep mode anyway this makes the actual amount of true learning in the year even more. But he suggests having two kindergarten classes so there can be two kindergarten cohorts to make room for all the 5 year olds who will need to be left back by his plan. Now of course schools are going to need to adjust to what has happened. A fourth grade teacher will no longer be able to operate under the assumption that all her students mastered some of the material that is generally taught at the end of the year. But leaving back a large percent of kids causes so many more problems than it supposedly fixes. It’s like when someone says about an economic crisis “Why not just print up more money?” It is just something that sounds good to the uninformed.
About the experience of remote learning, he says “I could get used to this.” which really isn’t the thing to be saying right now, but remote learning is something that has been promoted as the next big thing and Petrilli is often eager. I think he really believes in the things he promotes, it’s a little like Trump with his Hydroxychloroquine.
Then, there’s the Education Post contingency. Chris Stewart, the CEO of Education Post, responds “Good work if you can get it” to a tweet about how in Milwaukee while they figure out how to handle remote learning, teachers will still get paid. Since the initial tweet is only an excerpt from a larger document, it is not clear what the time frame for this is. But the original tweeter is very upset that teachers continue to get paid until the district figures out a way that they can actually do work that helps their students.
As I said in the beginning of this post, some teachers are not in a position to give much to their students. Teachers that are in a position to do more surely will even if it is optional. But to have some kind of requirement in a contract that a teacher can get punished for during this pandemic would be unnecessarily cruel. Milwaukee public schools is providing printed packets for families to pick up since a large percent of students don’t have internet access. And according the the MPS website it seems that on April 27th, teachers will be required to work so this seems to have been a temporary relief.
This last one is from Corey DeAngelis. He is part of some ‘school choice’ foundation who does have a lot of Twitter followers. Here’s what he said about the Los Angeles remote learning guidelines.
So he is really upset that teachers are only required to do four hours of work a day. How many hours a day of work does he think should be mandated? As someone who is trying to do the best job I can each day, I can assure this guy that I wish more than anything else that my life right now would afford me eight hours each school day to work on remote learning.
During this national crisis a question that everyone is asking is “When can we get back to doing all the things we used to do?” I guess for the teacher bashers they haven’t had to be deprived of at least one thing that makes them so happy.