Thursday, December 31, 2020

2020 Year in Review: Teaching Under the Banner of Covid

 Dr. Jennifer Kwan put out a call on Twitter for messages we wished to have sent ourselves a year ago. Then she added, 

Many wise people were prescient but unheard. And it's still happening. We have lots of excellent information to steer us in the right direction, but the powers that be keep ignoring it for their own benefit. I hope Ford is just an idiot and not actually genocidal, but the evidence so far could go either way. Apparently, in some places, vaccines are expiring before they could be administered. Nice. 

So here's what I screamed into the void this year: 

In January and February I was on about MLK and Chomsky and such, like I didn't have a care in the world!! 

Then, on March 11th, after reading everything I could find about what was happening with the virus in China and Italy, I used Pascal's wager to show why we need to shut things down right away:

I'd rather risk embarrassment [and cost some businesses money] and potentially save many of my citizens, than go with the status quo and risk allowing a spread of a virus that, while it only kills a small percentage of people, also ends up putting many more in the hospital, which sucks up resources from all other medical needs. This thread on the experience of doctors in Italy explains the ramifications of one disease taking all the time and resources from doctors and nurses throughout the hospital. Now experts are saying Italy shut down way too late.

At work, I emailed everyone to wear a homemade cloth mask of some type, and my message was countered that we should not wear masks because the medical professionals need them all. Even at the end of June, my school didn't insist on masks but did insist on wearing gloves. I don't understand why they're always so far behind the science on all this!! Don't they read??

Then March 15, I argued that teachers should be allowed to teach from home. We were told to stop teaching altogether, and many colleagues argued that we shouldn't teach online because that plays into Ford's hands. Instead, some insisted, we should just tack on another few weeks into the summer. I ignored the official shutdown and kept teaching, figuring this would last way longer than a few weeks (based on the trajectory it was taking in Italy), and students thanked me (they did so) for giving them something to do to take their minds off this deadly disease. And then when we started back up, we weren't behind at all. Even though marks couldn't decrease, I had almost all my students engaged until the very end of the year. Some people find this hard to believe, but many kids want an education.

And my most hopeful tweet at the time:

On March 21st, I wrote about every twinge feeling like a symptom, like it does in the days before going into labour:

Every little spasm in my belly set off alarms. Now it's not my belly any more, but higher. A little tickle in the throat, a cough from the dust, a twinge in the chest all have me super hyper-focused on my body: Is it here?? Is it time?? . . . Grocery shopping became like running across the trenches to deliver a message. Get in and out as fast as possible! Check down each aisle before turning a corner! . . . There are other precautions to take that people aren't discussing, like teaching the kids how to access emergency funds in case I succumb so they don't lose the house. What do you want done with your things? With your body? Garbage day is Tuesday. 

I told my kids this is a marathon, not a sprint, and to be prepared to deal with this into July! Ha!! This was at a time, however, when many thought it would all be over in a couple weeks. Now I realize I should have said July 2021, but even that's dodgy what with Ford's bungling of the vaccination protocols in Ontario. Again, incompetent or genocidal? Time will tell.  

By April, I started getting a really anxious about it all after reading about how people die from this: 

My concern is that when the numbers look bad, people will fall into despair and stop caring about taking precautions, and when they look good, people will decide they can relax their precautions because it's almost over!! Either way would be a shitshow. . . . A FedEx package was left on our porch, and it felt like a flippin' time bomb that needed to be diffused!. . . At one point I found myself googling Death with Dignity sites. Can we ask to be euthanized instead of ventilated??

On May 10th, I argued that we're re-opening everything way too soon:

Remember, just because you CAN go shopping again, doesn't mean you SHOULD! . . . Canada isn't flattening, and we're not nearly in a downslope yet; we're nowhere near over the hump!! New cases are still rising, and 85% of cases are from Ontario and Quebec. . . . Typically the trolley problem is whether to kill 5 people or 1, and we're asked to consider how much responsibility we have for killing one if we divert the train. It's a conundrum! BUT our scenario is clarifying that we're currently making a choice to kill 5 elderly people OR wear a mask at the store, and people are flummoxed by this very simple option.

And then, after reading that the most accurate predictor of when we should re-open in Ontario may be death rates (waiting for numbers to be in the single digits for over two weeks), rather than infection rates because we aren't doing any random testing, and after finding no death rate graphs anywhere, I started making and posting them until I got shouted down by a few guys on my social media feed who objected to my graphs with just this: "Why are you doing this?!?" I asked if they also asked that of the many other people posting graphs (all men if that's what counts), and got no response. But I was tired and easily beaten down, so I stopped.

Then on May 12, I wrote about the frustrations of teaching asynchronistic lessons in which nothing counts for marks:

Teaching online is like planning for an amazing party. You've got all the food and all the decorations done, and everything's perfect, but it's 9:00 and nobody's here. And you fret because you've gone to SO MUCH WORK to make everything just right, and nobody's here and you're just sitting alone staring at a document or a message board or a forum waiting for a sign that someone's logging in. Those three dots or a flickering tiny icon in the upper right corner.... Something.

My students were coming to class, but at all different times of the day. I argued that we needed to keep the school day schedule intact, that routine helps stave off mental health problems, but it all fell on deaf ears.

And then, at the end of May, I described exactly what a return to school should look like, and I stand by this part of it still: 

We shouldn't be opening the schools at all until we've got the number of cases WAY down - until it's actually safe to be out in public in groups. We need to follow New Zealand's lead on this, not Sweden's, and definitely not the United States. . . . Have one class each day (Monday is first period, Tuesday is second, etc.). . . . Alternate weeks in case of contraction and to reduce numbers. Have half the students come for one week at a time and then stay home for a week (5 on, 9 off), so there's about 15 in a class instead of 30. . . . Make school just 3 hours a day instead of 5, so we can eliminate lunch and prevent kids from eating at school. . . . Institute a full-on mask protocol for every person in the building, no exceptions. We got used to wearing seatbelts, and we can get used to this too.

Yet we continue to allow all students to take off their masks for a mid-morning snack even though they go home at lunchtime. When I recently asked if there's any possible movement on this, now that we know what we know, I was told by my union that we can't do anything to change it since Public Health approved the plan. If they say it's safe, then it's safe. That's today's Newspeak. Whenever I bring it up on social media, some bot is outraged that I suggest starving children all morning. It baffles me, but I was raised on 3 meals/day instead of a multitude of nutrition breaks (which were installed when my older two were in grade school, about 2003, to solve supervision issues, not for health reasons). Someone's installed a defensive troll to target the nay-sayers. Curious.

June and July were mainly taken up with policing issues and BLM and trans rights and climate change. I even did some painting! But then in August I was back at it, absolutely furious to see that our September school schedule includes a 45 minute mask-off portion in each day when other nearby boards do not. So it clearly wasn't a provincial mandate, but a board decision. And I really felt (and feel) like either they don't understand the seriousness of it all, or our lives don't matter to them. Ignorant or malicious, which is worse? In early September, I wrote anyone I could think of, the board, trustees, MPPs, to try to get it changed, but no luck. At this point, I believe they kept it in order to give teachers hall supervisions. It's all so inane!! They still keep us in the building for over an hour after all the students have left. They can't see the forest for the trees on this, and their bureaucratic thinking has destroyed their ability to focus on what's actually best for kids. 

On Oct. 4, I wrote about how exhausting it is to teach in this quadmester system, with one course for two weeks followed by another for two weeks, back and forth for 9 weeks, and, on top of the new system, we all had to learn a new web platform because of some contract the province signed with Desire to Learn. That was nuts!!

At no other time have so many teachers felt like they're not measuring up to expectations, felt like they're failing at their job. As much as we're trying to do the best for the kids, the kids are going to notice the stress and exhaustion taking its toll. A doctor on Twitter cautioned teachers about overworking, suggesting taking breaks and getting adequate rest. It was on par with telling an irate victim of an injustice to just relax. . . . Beyond the workload, it's stressful watching the province, the board, and our own admin follow rules that make our lives even more difficult - unnecessarily difficult. It's one thing to feel like we're all in this together, and, together, we're going to get to the other side of it, authentically supporting one another!! It's quite another to feel like we're the pawns that are being played and allowed to get sick and even die in order to provide profits in an inequitable economic system, supported with platitudes and links to helplines. . . . 

Schools are a perfect storm of conditions necessary for the spread. Anybody who doesn't need to be in the building should be working from home. Even worse than Ontario, Quebec teachers have been told to return to work while waiting for tests results if they display no symptoms even if a member of their household tests positive. And to think just before all this happened, we were actually marching up and down in the slush, fighting for better working conditions!! . . . Listen. Here's the thing. We're all really, really hard workers, and we're totally willing to take one for the team and step up and get our hands dirty in this mess, BUT not just because Ford started down this path and is embarrassed to retrace his steps, and not just because we've been told to do it. Forcing us to stay in cramped corners of the school to prep and mark and teach online has to be necessary to save lives or to help students or to something. But it's not. It's just a bizarre means of excessive control adding to a litany of stressors that are going to destroy far too many of us. They're not choosing to be unkind, and I believe they want us to feel supported, but what they're doing is dishonest and thoughtless. It's precisely Arendt's bureaucratic banality.

And I complained a bit about my teaching quarters cut out of the girl's bathroom. When I found out an LTO teacher got a portable to herself, exclusively from which to teach online, I was fit to be tied:

And then Oct. 12, I ranted about the schools adding to infection rates, and how much the hybrid method taught through schools mixed with online only taught through the board destroys community and student electives, but, in opposition to many teachers on social media (had a bit of a squabble there for trying to make the system work), I think the hybrid system itself might actually be our best option (but, for gods sake attach students to their home school!!). 

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. . . . Now that more parents are going fully 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. . . . 
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 teachers 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. . . . 
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.

I still don't understand why they don't have all students attached to their schools, and then kids at home would more than make up the online group in each hybrid class, and the in-school cohort can come every day!! Is it really that I'm missing some essential piece of the puzzle that I can't possibly understand as a mere teacher? Or is it more likely that none of this makes sense??

And then I fantasized about a world that allows teachers to actually make decisions that affect them!! 

And that's it. I could do nothing in November and most of December but prep, teach, and assess learning (except also write a few posts in a fit of rage and later delete them in order to keep my job). I have just one more long weekend left to watch movies and paint and play games with the kids and barf out some thoughts before we're back at it!! If I have two classes in February, like I do now, then I won't come up for air until April. But I'm hoping that is my schedule so I can, at least, get the worst over with and end with just one class and the all-but-useless prep time. 

I'll end by seconding Karl Marx's final sign off for the year to Friedrich Engels on Dec. 31, 1861:

In the meantime, may I wish you in advance every happiness for the New Year. If it's anything like the old one, I, for my part, would sooner consign it to the devil.


Your K.M.


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