next year

Warning: I may swerve a little bit out of my lane today.

What is the plan for next school year during the COVID19 pandemic?

I was thinking about my current teaching assignment at an alternative high school: the school was built in 1991, and from what I understand has had a shifting history (like most districts/schools). Currently, the schedule is as follows:

  1. There is a “learning center” function – large classrooms with a few students, teachers who monitor online course work
  2. Day school — (where I teach):
    1. Four classes a day, about 75 minutes each
    2. Each class period per quarter gives a ‘traditional’ semester credit
  3. Off-campus options with access to teachers, counselors, etc.

From what I hear some of the day school faculty is that teaching a semester’s worth of content in a quarter is challenging. Students that come to my school already have found a variety of obstacles to their learning. And what they give up by coming to an alternative high school is deeper than a traditional school environment: “they” don’t make movies about alternative high schools unless it’s a white-savior teacher trope. There is a stigma associated with alternative high schools, and it’s a shame, and unnecessary.

Since we are still battling, and losing, containing the spread of COVID19, we must respond now in our planning for next year. Many groups have weighed in, from the APA to districts, etc. Yes, a lot of people are weighing in, but not offering much by means of financial support.

Teachers: Refuse to Go Back to Campus

“The legend of the self-sacrificial teacher is a fantasy that lets you pretend we were summoned by some higher calling to lives of poverty, endless toil, or martyrdom. It obscures how elected officials leverage teachers’ visceral concern for our students, because they know that teachers will spend the little time and money they have to cover much of the difference between what governments are willing to pay for and what students deserve. It glorifies teachers whose unpaid labor fills gaps in underfunded public services that should have been filled by other professionals, such as academic counselors, therapists, after-school program coordinators, coaches, or custodians. Like the fantasy written to sacrifice nurses and grocery store workers to COVID-19, it lets you off the hook for failing to protect and support the workers you depend on. And during this pandemic, it lets you pretend we signed up to die in service of you.”

One thing I do know: the current president and his supporters are not going to help us. They are not equipped, don’t have the capacity, and this may be part of their agenda. The divide in our nation is insurmountable: but those of us who are working together, trying to come up with actionable solutions, we must do this work ourselves. And most days, I believe we can.

We are in a mess. The destruction of unions, loss of infrastructure (and I include unions in that infrastructure), the current Education Secretary whose continued destruction of the support for all our nation’s students goes unchecked. We don’t have support for working families. Our economy has tanked. (Note: the stock market ≠ economy). People are out of work, and were already living paycheck to paycheck. Every corner of our nation is touched by crisis and disaster: childcare, killing and harming immigrants who come to our nation seeking safety, healthcare, housing, military, education, and now this virus. This virus: stirred into the foundation of anti-scientists, anti-intellectuals and incurious blowhards creating an acidic frothy mix of toxic denial. Many of us have become a Cassandra to our friends and family, crying out a warning that no one heeds but other Cassandras. And we’re getting hoarse.

But I must remain grounded in hope, too.

So, next year: I hope other schools look to what alternative schools have done for years. Look at the goals of learning- what can be done, what is most important, and what can fall away? What can be chosen from a menu, what standards are worth it, and how will we develop assessments that are valid and meaningful? Be efficient in instruction, and even more organized in the feedback and progress. Students have a huge cooperative role to play: look at how small group and partnership teams can help mitigate and encourage learning (but do not make any grade dependent on the “whole”).

I suggest this is a time for PLCs to work harder than ever to create and maintain “school” to be more flexible, team, coordinated and accountable to students and families. Family connection and support is a priority, which serves two-fold: teachers have to watch out for their own health as well as the health and security of their friends and families.

This task feels overwhelming because it is. We have a Federal government that aggressively and actively denies the harm, has surrendered, and does nothing to stop the death tolls, and in point of fact, seems to be working with the personified virus to kill Americans and encourage its spread. But we have coalitions, we have the numbers: the NEA is a national organization, and they need to start acting like it. In the meantime, work with your admin, colleagues, and families to see what we can do.

My wish: we would begin cooperative childcare, every family and individual would receive a stipend of $2500/month if they make under $200/k per year, rent would be paid, student loans waived, past and present, and we would be focusing on a vaccination. A girl can dream, can’t she?