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: 

Hedges on American Psychosis

 Chris Hedges just put out a short video about American Psychosis, in which he explains,

We have blissfully checked out. Most people have no concept of how fragile their environment is. . . .  There's an emotional incapacity to understand collapse, even when it's facing you. I have covered, as a foreign correspondent, totalitarian cultures, so I know how totalitarian systems work. I know the dark emotions they evoke.  I know the mechanisms they use to shut down dissent. And, when I came back, it was utterly apparent that the country ha gone collectively insane in a very frightening way. . . . 

The critique will be that you're such a pessimist, that you're such a cynic, that you're not an optimist. Optimism becomes a kind of disease. It's what created the financial meltdown where you have this kind of cheerful optimism in the face of utter catastrophe, and you plow forward based on an optimism that is no longer rooted in reality. If hope becomes something you express through illusion, then it's not hope; it's fantasy

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

On Cuties, Euphoria, and Promising Young Woman

My social media feed is full of political scandals that I have no ability to affect, so I've immersed myself in movies and shows. Bechdel test for the win for this trio!

Film both reflects and affects society, like all forms of art but even more than most as it's a visual, auditory, and narrative medium. We sometimes see ourselves in the movies more clearly than in novels or paintings or songs. It's this reflection in the film Cuties, I suspect, that got thousands of people riled up enough to cancel their Netflix subscriptions and garner it an embarrassing 3.1/10 on IMDb. But beyond Netflix's many second rate sequels and unwatchable remakes, I'd argue that Cuties is one of the better films on the current marquee. 

Cuties is about an 11-year-old girl, Amy, who's new to town and trying to fit in with the cool kids. She's successful because she takes their competitive dance moves to the next level with sexy additions that she's seen online. Those dance scenes are what's driving the outrage, but it's the most realistic part of the film (which steps into the surreal from time to time). Kids are made to imitate what they see, and this is what's out there for real. 

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Ten Climate Change Items That Need Wider Reporting

Out of the frying pan, into the fire. A vaccine is here, hooray! But now let's actually take a good hard look at climate change mitigation.

This is from a thread of threads on Twitter by climate activist Ben See (9 min video from a year ago). We can't prevent a catastrophe because it's already started the tipping points. But we can slow some systems down IFF we can create a new global system that is focused on immediately getting GHGs down to zero. We're going to get some massive crop failures really soon otherwise. It's important to tell everyone, including children, the truth about the world. "One of the best ways to feel okay about this difficult moment in history is to actually take action and talk about it!"

See outlined a 10-point plan in need of reporting below. This is quoted entirely from his recent maze of posts, which is clearly cited throughout. In a nutshell, "Once the ice is gone, the Arctic Ocean will absorb more heat from the atmosphere, which will only make our climate predicament worse." . . .  Tropical Rainforests look increasingly unlikely to avoid collapse in the coming decades. . . . Food systems account for 37% of greenhouse-gas emissions. We must rethink destructive agriculture immediately. . . . Climate scientists expect 2.5- 3.5°C or even more by the 2090s (which would wipe out most species and likely put an end to organised human society. Over half of all species on the planet (which humans of course rely on for survival) will be wiped out by the 2060s without emergency action. . . . Tropics, subtropics and elsewhere will soon be hotter than the hottest heat waves of the past century, with many regions no longer able to support agriculture. . . . The world’s seed-bearing plants have been disappearing at a rate up to 500 times higher than would be expected as a result of natural forces alone. . . .  Deadly climate change heat waves will hit billions of people by the 2030s or 2040s (some literally unsurvivable without air conditioning) obliterating entire ecosystems and wiping out species. . . . This has been described as a death sentence for African countries. . . . Sea level rise is already causing havoc for some and will rapidly get worse.  

"Whatever else is happening in the world, is just chess pieces on a board compared to the effect of climate change."

Friday, December 25, 2020

Unforeseen Custody Issues: Who Could Have Predicted THIS?

I'm generally a worrier. If my kids don't text back after a few minutes, all sorts of images bombard my brain. Sometimes they don't text back for hours, and it always ends up being because they were sleeping or - back in the good old days - at a movie theatre with their phone actually off! So there's the voice that says, "They're dead in a ditch," but that's always being countered by the voice that says, "Don't be silly. This happens all the time, and it's always nothing!"  

But now Covid has ramped up that negative self-talk to 11.

I was finally able to relax a bit knowing that high schools are online only for three full weeks after the break. Just one week in the building, and then I expect to be teaching distance learning for the rest of the year! But then Christmas brought its own obstacles.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Hannah Arendt in Lego

 @EthicsInBricks posted this lovely tribute to Hannah Arendt on Twitter last October, in honour of her date of birth, October 14, 1906, and I want to save it in the month of her death 45 years ago, so here's the thread all nicely cited and EIB's quotations in bold:

Sunday, December 13, 2020

How Is Hybrid Teaching Going?? It's Complicated.

We've recently been told that next semester, starting in February, will operate the same way as this semester did: running quadmester terms with in-school students attached to each school in a hybrid model with a rotation of half at home and half in the classroom, and online students being taught through the board office, completely unattached to any school. After calling each parent to update them on midterm student progress, a new task that took me about four hours to complete, it has become clear that the general public still doesn't understand what any of this means or the implications of it all. So let's break it down:

Hybrid System:

We teach students in the room as well as students at home, at the same time. I started with two laptops, one to teach from and one as a monitor to be able to read the chat happening as a backchannel during the lessons and discussions. Some would raise their hands in front of me, and others would raise their hand in on the meet, so I had to watch everything at once. I also wore a mic to be heard above my mask, and had the meet attached to speakers so kids in the room could hear people at home, but then I had to remember to turn off my volume whenever someone in the room spoke on the meet or it would reverb like crazy. I needed another half a brain to manage all the buttons. So, just last week, I started teaching only through the meet, without a mic or speakers or second laptop. Now I sit at my desk and just focus on the entire class over the meet regardless who is in the room. It honestly feels a bit ignorant to barely make eye contact with people in front of me, but I just can't do it the other way - it's too much for my brain to manage and be on my toes to answer questions about the curriculum. When I see how poorly others manage tech during meetings, I feel like I made the right call on that one!

Quadmester Schedule:

A quadmester schedule means two courses over 9 weeks with two full weeks of one class,  5 hours/day (basically one day = a former week of lessons), followed by two weeks of the other class, then the first class for 12 school days and then the second for 12 school days, which ensures we meet the provincial target of (22 days x 5 hours/day) 110 instructional hours/course. Got it? At the end of every day, I'm blown away by how exhausted I am. If I sit on the couch for a second, I'm out like a light.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Mental Illness in Covid Times

For me to stop teaching in a physical classroom, because I don't feel safe in there, I need a note from my doctor indicating that I have a mental illness that prevents me from working and then take a sick leave. It can't just be a note that says I can't work in the building, that I have a situational anxiety that prevents me from working in an unsafe space; it has to be a note that says that my illness is so debilitating that I can't work at all. It was made clear to me that that's how anxiety works: Either you don't have it and you can work, or you do have it and you can't. Period.

Except that's not how anxiety works at all.  

Anxiety can get triggered by specific aspects of a situation. Someone might be unable to write a test in a room full of people but be completely fine to write it in a room alone with the teacher. Some people can't present in front of 30 people they don't know, but can really excel in front of a choice of three friends to bring along as their audience at lunch time. Teachers have been accommodating students with anxiety like this for years. Just IMAGINE if we told students with anxiety that if they really have it, then they have to take a leave from school, that it's impossible for them to do any work in any other way. 

Saturday, December 5, 2020

If It's Not One Thing, It's Another

I had a very sick kid here on the night before the last day of the last quadmester. My little one felt shaky and dizzy and came downstairs to get the pulse oximeter because they felt so faint. They promptly barfed in the kitchen sink. Of course it was full of dishes. After they slumped to the floor, I gave them a bowl to clutch and slid them away from the cupboards. Then I donned PPE and cleaned the sink and dishes and everything with bleach.