Monday, October 12, 2020

Does Teaching Effectively Under this System Legitimize Ford's Plan?

What Doug Ford's team is doing right now reminds me of Bojack Horseman, from the end of the first season on, when absolutely everybody just starts saying "Hollywoo" after the 'D' in the big sign goes missing. It becomes the accepted reality. So many are openly just accepting that kids and staff in schools will get sick, but it's not enough of them that we should actually act on the concern. According to their press conference on Friday, kids don't transmit the virus, and they only bring it in to the schools from elsewhere - they don't get it from the school. That was said shortly after the BBC's "Science in Action" reported on a study that concluded, "children more than any other group are transmitting the virus both to other children and adults" and another that pointed to rapid testing as a means to dramatically reduce transmission rates. But we'll just keep acting like it's not happening. 

Williams & Lecce from an early September bit of propaganda h/t @parentaction4ed


For obvious reason, I'm hyper-focused on schools and the ridiculously ineffective plans being implemented. But, funny story, after a couple of boards suddenly shifted to a hybrid model of teaching (teaching both in class and at home at once) due to the number of parents pulling their kids from physical classes, I ended up on the other side of the argument. My attempts to commiserate and then offer support to affected teachers on Twitter failed dramatically, and I have incurred the wrath of several for, essentially, sleeping with the enemy.

My board has been running this hybrid model (half in class and half at home at once) since the start of the school year, and it was a really difficult thing to implement, but now, from what I've seen, many teachers are figuring out what works, and I dared to share that revelation. I compiled an amalgamation of a whole bunch of opposing views to get to the crux of the issue here:

Affected Teachers: "Trying to run in-person and online classrooms at the same time results in the worst of both worlds."

ME: "Yes it is horrible! But it's possible. Mainly focus online - so everything's in a meet, and type on a doc instead of using the board, as if the kids in class are a live studio audience who can look at the projected screen instead of laptop. Does it suck? Yes! But can we make it work? Of course we can."

Affected Teachers: "This 'we'll make it work' hero/martyr mentality of teachers may be starting to go too far. It just leads to us accepting more and more compromises that we know are not good for students. . . . It literally shoves students through the cracks. . . . I'm not risking my well-being and my family life because the government and the school board can't figure it out/fund it. . . . We allow ourselves to be treated this way by giving far more than we should to make these asinine plans work. We should be doing our own personal versions of work to rule. . . . The only real way is to only work our paid prep time. And do what we can in that time and nothing else gets done. These plans only work because we are all giving up so many hours of our personal time and sleep to make it work. . . . Stop buying everything for your classroom."

ME: "Absolutely it's not a good plan, but what's the alternative? I'll walk if you do, unfortunately, we're offered no direction down that path! . . . What else can we possibly do?? So, we work day and night to make it happen then try to catch the pieces as they fall. . . . What does a personal work to rule LOOK like? I've been fighting for months, but just ended up focusing on making something work for the kids in front of me. I sincerely want to know the alt-plan!"

So, right off the bat, it's clear I missed doing enough of that reflective listening thing. I did it a bit, but not nearly enough before adding in solutions. But I HAVE SOLUTIONS!!  I understand, though, that people are really not ready to hear them when they're still reeling from the horribleness of the sudden change. It's like when I first started dealing with lymphedema, a side effect of cancer treatment. Some people, doctors even, said it's not that big a deal, and it's way better than having cancer! But it was a HUGE DEAL, and their eye rolls weren't remotely comforting. I wanted people to sympathize with me, not to dismiss my rage at this misfortune! Now, three years later, I see how manageable it is. It's still something I wouldn't wish on anyone, but it's not the monster I thought it would be way back when. But it took a long time for me to get that. And the sudden reshuffle of classes NOW makes it all worse for these teachers (despite how manageable they might find it later). 


The implication in the middle of it all that teachers who take the time to make it work for the students are actually the cause of the problem is a concern. 

Blaming teachers for putting in the extra work lets Ford and Lecce off the hook way too easily. They caused this problem; let's not forget that. If someone starts a fire, and we put it out, it doesn't mean we're allowing fires to be set. It means somebody has to be there for to fix the situation. We want to make sure that our kids' education isn't compromised despite the incompetence leading the way. 

I get where they're coming from, the angry teachers. Sometimes it is the case that gregarious teachers cause a workload creep, which is why, for instance, we're cautioned to count supervisions and refuse any that are beyond our contract instead of just being nice about it. Being 'nice' and taking on extra duties just shows we can and are willing to do extra, which makes it difficult to maintain current limits during negotiations. BUT this is a different kettle of fish. Working beyond our legislated prep hours through this mess won't mean we'll continue to be asked to do that when it's all over. We are in a real crisis, and there's a certain amount of stepping up involved.

It's exhausting, but, as I tried to convey, I'm getting the hang of it. It's getting easier because I'm finding ways that it can take less time than it did a month ago. I stopped pre-recording videos and just record audio while I teach, warts and all. Turning off my camera completely took the pressure off to try to maintain eye-contact with a little green dot, so the only visual shared is a doc where I type notes as if I'm using a blackboard. I lowered my standards for how nice my docs look, too. I all but stopped using the newly mandated Brightspace in favour of my old system, just keeping up a homepage there for show (which is saving me oodles of time!!). It's like I went from a first year teacher to about year five over the course of a month largely from ignoring all the new bells and whistles that can make it all amazing and just focusing on delivering content and developing skills. 

Some hyperbole was in the mix with concerns about webcams in the classroom filming kids without their permission, 

ME: "Some teachers pre-record lessons; others screencast just their screen. No webcams of classes, though. We argued about the system, but their endless rhetoric placated us into disgruntled submission. Curious if Peel will pan out differently. But we also have online only kids educated through the board instead of their own schools, which means they don't know anyone in their classes, which is doubly isolating. I'd much prefer if they could stay part of their home school instead."

So far, we have hybrid classes through the schools, but we also run full online classes through the board office, which is a mix of students from every school. Now that more parents are going full online, I predict we'll have fewer classes in the hybrid model, and fewer electives offered, as kids will no longer be part of their home school. It's hard to get class cohesion in the full online classes when kids are from all over the region and don't know a single other person from their neighbourhood. 

My concern, however, is not just that effective teachers can't be blamed for the problem, but that, if we refuse to put in the extra time it takes to put things online - and it still takes a bizarre amount of time to post my lessons - it's not going to end this hybrid teaching scenario during a pandemic. It's really not. I argued with the board directly and wrote angry letters to the ministry, and tried OSSTF and Trustees and got nowhere. Refusing to allow the system to work is just going to make for some weak lessons for some classes. In my board, my prep time is all at once during one quad (right now - which is why I have a moment to ramble on here in a break from prepping my next quad's classes which I might never even teach because everything changes so often!!!), so my next quad has two classes with zero official prep time in it. If I refuse to work outside school hours, then....  Then what? If I take the advice of these tweets, without spending extra time or using my own tech, if I just work during school hours, then when my students sign on in the morning, I might not have more than an hour of work for them online (out of a daily five hours of teaching). They'd have to just listen to my garbled voice over a really bad chrome book mic, and take notes, and they'd get nothing in the way of timely feedback. They wouldn't learn much, and I'd feel completely ineffective. I think I'd be completely ineffective.

Yes, I also use my own tech!! The school gave me a chrome book, but it can't run meets and show videos online without lagging horribly or freezing. It also comes with unchangeable settings that make it shut down during meets if I don't touch the mousepad often enough, which makes it look more and more like a frisbee to me. So I use my mac, which I've been using for classes for years. AND I bought speakers for my classroom because the ones they were willing to give me crackled and cut out annoyingly. I don't want the kids to be frustrated with the tech. It doesn't prove anything or add to arguments or change a bloody thing if everyone is annoyed at the end of the day. Many students and parents are SO understanding of it all that they're not going to complain when they struggle to hear me anyway (if that is, in fact, the hoped for result of using board-issued tech)! 

Absolutely we need to take care of ourselves and our families, and many of us can't afford to take a leave of absence or don't have anything that can be clearly deemed a medical condition to allow for a sick leave. The house is a mess. The garden is overgrown. We're eating a lot of sandwiches and canned soup. But I think my lessons are making sense and actually teaching kids something. And I still have time for the listening and talking part of parenting and in other relationships. My kids are older now, but twenty years ago, I was given all new preps and had two little ones to tend to entirely on my own. It was a difficult few years, but we all made it through. We can make it through this, too. 

I admit, though, that I am a tiny bit excited by the thought that people will refuse to teach outside of school hours and refuse to use better tech and the rebellion will take hold and school boards will buy us excellent speakers and laptops and Doug Ford will be forced to double the number of teachers so we each teach half as many kids!! But I really don't think that will be the end result of refusing to try to make this system work. We don't like the idea of being taken by the board - being pushed and bullied. So we want to resist. But once we see there's no movement there, then it must be up to us, on the front lines, to make things easiest for the kids, to actually provide the best education we can for them. 

It's just not a job where you can not do the work. If you're told you have to give a speech, you can refuse to prepare, but it's still YOU at the front, unprepared, telling the kids, I guess, to take any complaints to the board office. Doing the least amount of work possible to teach this way necessitates working outside of our allotted prep time, which is hard to accept. But there's no way to screw over the ministry without screwing over the kids. And it exacerbates the rich/poor divide if public school teachers don't try to make it work for kids as wealthier parents will just move their kids to private schools or pay for home tutors.

So what about just walking out?

Apparently there have been 1000s of illegal strikes across the U.S., as reported in Australian news, so we might be ripe for a walk out, but can we even agree on the conditions we're fighting for? What is the best solution? I think high school kids should all be learning from home, but some parents think their kids won't do anything in their rooms, and they need the socialization school offers. But when I wander the hallways, kids aren't doing a lot of socializing during classes. They're still free to learn from home, then get together, outside, after school, but there's been a curious shift that many rely on school for socializing right through adolescence. Furthermore, I'd also like all the kids to be taught from their home school, so we can keep all the electives and make sure people know a few other familiar faces in each class, but that means that hybrid model, which many very obviously despise. Some people want to follow Sweden's model, with everyone in regular classes, business as usual, except Sweden actually closed all high-schools and universities. The current system is horrible, but I actually wonder if we could all agree on a better option.

If Ford and Lecce don't care that kids are getting sick, if they're willing to ignore studies that show children can spread the virus, and they're willing to look the other way at the number of schools with reports of illness, then they're not going to save the day with more staff or tech. We can help the kids learn the best ways we know how, or we can stubbornly refuse to allow this system to work, but we have to pick one. This inane system that shifts gears on a dime with far too few resources is the fault of the people at the top making really stupid decisions for us all, but the worst thing that can happen now is for teachers to slam other teachers for working too hard in a "crabs in a bucket" mentality that ends up in a race to the bottom.

Finally, a big concern with not doing the work is that Ford will just use that failure of the public school system to justify the rise of the privatized school system. There's an implication in statements like, "Teachers working outside the school day are just too soft-hearted, and care too much about the kids to actually try to change the system." It suggests, obviously, that we're not thinking logically, and it pretends to be saying something kind about us, couched in a back-handed insult. However, it is perfectly logical to fight to keep the public system working by making it actually work. 

1 comment:

Owen Gray said...

It is a HUGE deal, Marie. But, as is so often the case, lots of people haven't figured out how huge a deal it is.