School Reopening

My school district decided to re-open last week.

Last year, when the powers-that-be laid forth the myriad of hurdles and quagmires and golden-shower handshakes required before schools reopened, I boldly claimed that schools would never reopen. Like, not even related to COVID. If we were required to keep students six-feet apart in well-ventilated rooms, y’all best get used to Zoom calls.

In my defense, I was totally right about the failed educators and wannabe politicians in charge of the average district failing to get their heads out of their collective asses to make the changes necessary to meet those reopening metrics. What I failed to account for at the time was that Herr Commandant Newsom, who once thought the best COVID plan was to close every business in the entire state except for his hairdresser, decided to “slightly amend” it to, “Everything open, now and forever, because now the president is in my party instead of the other party, and this is looking bad for both of us.”

Okay, he didn’t really open everything. Not until June 15, at any rate. Not sure why a guy who “follows the science” knows, sixty days in advance, the exact date COVID will be beaten. Is Astrology one of those sciences he follows?

So his “school reopening” changed slightly. From “only reopen if your county has less than one COVID case per month, AND you can ensure social distancing in all classrooms, AND improve your ventilation, AND masks and desk shields and a rectal thermometer in every asshole!”

Sometime in late January/early February (again, TOTALLY not tied to a new presidential administration), his reopening criteria checklist switched to: “Here’s $6 billion. Reopen or you get none.”

It’s a subtle change. Did you notice it?

And to get this out of the way early, despite what you’ve heard from multiple “pundits,” that money is not required to be spent on anything relating to COVID or reopening. Nor is it “going to the teachers unions.” Sure, some districts might “share the wealth” with their employees. But that is not a requirement for the money. 

Nor is it a requirement that the money be spent at all. My district loves reminding its employees that they have $100 million in reserves. Part of that $100 million came from a cost-of-living adjustment the state gave them to pass along to us two years ago. Basically, the state gave them enough money to cover a 3% raise for all their employees and our district said, “Meh, how about we keep it in our bank account instead?” 

So it should come as no surprise that when the state, and then the federal, government waved another $100 million in front of them to reopen, their response was, “Teachers, get the fuck back to work.” Next year they’ll be touting having $200 million in reserves. They’ve gotta be the only school district who proudly proclaims that they DON’T spend money on your child’s education.

My union’s response to my district’s directive to return to work was, “Wait, you can do that? What about Herr Kommandant’s precious color-coding? What about this Memorandum of Understanding that we negotiated back in September? Have you thought about any of the logistics?”

Their response, in order of our questions: “1. We don’t care. 2. We don’t care. 3. Are you even listening?, and 4. We give absolutely zero fucks and/or shits about logistics. We’re getting $100 million, so get the fuck back to work.”

We responded with a futile, “Can we have some of that hundr…” but we couldn’t finish the question over their laughter. 

So again, the next time you hear that it’s the teachers unions preventing schools from re-opening, bear in mind that most of our contracts state that if school is open, we must report. Most school districts could order their teachers back tomorrow. But why would they do that when they can blame us for all the problems?

To be fair, there are some local unions that will strike, but in my district, it takes three weeks of voting just to decide if we want coaches to get a stipend. I don’t know how many unions can concoct a strike vote in the ten days we were given between announcement and reopening.

In all honesty, a lot of us were ready to go back. Distance learning is a monumental pain in the ass. Something that takes me five seconds to say takes me a couple minutes type out. Multiply that by forty asinine questions a day. Maybe you’ve heard that there are no stupid questions, but obviously you’ve never had to respond to “What are we doing?” two minutes after getting off a thirty-minute Zoom entirely devoted to what we are doing.

Or “I don’t understand the assignment.” To which I reply, “Where in the video instructions I posted did you get lost.” “Oh, I didn’t watch the instructions.” So glad I remembered to record that at 11:00 last night so that it would be fully rendered by this morning.

Grading digitally sucks, too. Twenty years into this profession, I can wield a red pen like the finest foil, swathing and slicing through a written test. Something as simple as a “-1” now requires me to highlight the text in question, hit the little “Comment” button. click on the comment space, type in “-1″,” then hit save.

Add in the fact that we’re all vaccinated and, sure, sign me up for a return to school. But should we maybe discuss the logistics of the transition? No? What about the students, who aren’t vaccinated and decide they want to stay on Distance? No plan? Cool, cool. And is it too late to ask about some of that hundre…

Ring the bell. Schools back in session, sucka!

And that’s about as fast as it happened. The Board of Education met on a Tuesday, we went back full time thirteen days later. 

Yes, full time. Did I forget to mention that?

For most of the past six months, we’ve been under the impression that if we went back to school, it would be in some funky hybrid scenario with only 30-40% of our students on campus at any given time. And by “we,” I mean everyone. The teachers, the students, the administration, the parents. The last week of school before the Board of Education made its ruling, they made the teachers return to school for a week, teaching distance learning in the morning and “preparing our rooms for hybrid learning” in the afternoon. Then the following week, they told us that, ha ha, just joking, we hope you didn’t waste too much time prepping your class for hybrid learning.

What’s the difference? Allow me to illustrate:

My second period class, has 42 students. 

I have 36 desks in my room, plus a couple of tables.

 I was supplied with 17 desk shields. 

If the maximum number of students I’m going to have in a particular class on a particular day is twenty, that’s doable. Instead of placing my desks side-by-side, I turned them toward each other in “pods,” with one desk shield (basically a three-sided partition like those old cardboard science project boards, only made of clear plastic) every other desk in a zig-zag pattern. So either you have a desk shield in front of you or you have the “outsides” of three desk shields surrounding you on all three sides. And while the desks to your left and right aren’t “socially distant,” only half of them will be used at a time.

Oops.

Unfortunately, we weren’t “given” (aka ordered) more in-class preparation time after the announcement that all 42 students would be coming into second period. I could have used my own time. I could have done my last week of distance learning from my classroom,  moving all my desks back to their original location. But honestly, if the district wanted to half-ass their decisions, why should I go out of my way to ensure it’s implemented well. If I keep polishing their turd, they’ll keep giving me turds.

The other problem with preparing to return is that I had no idea what the classroom setting would actually look like come Monday morning. This was now the fourth time they’ve “given us a week” to prepare (last April, the beginning of this school year, the week before the hybrid that never happened, and this 13-day period between announcement and student return).

 Each time, I’ve felt the optimal use of “prep” time would be to do it for a week, THEN take a week to adjust. Otherwise, whatever we prepare for won’t fit the reality. I’ve been teaching for twenty years and I can assure you they problems never arise where we think they will.

For instance, it might shock you to learn that, on that first day back, I did not have all 42 bright-and-bushy-tailed teenagers excited to reignite their passion for education. The real number of students in my class last Monday was in the low twenties.

To be fair, some of them weren’t  supposed to be there. The district allowed them to change their mind about distance learning. Big hearted, since the original designation was established back in August. A wee bit’s changed since then, yesno? Ya think some people might have changed their minds about the best options between then and now?

Oh, and when families made those designations back in August, they were talking about hybrid. Would your answer to whether you’d send your child back to school change if they were expected to be 42 in their class instead of 21?

If so, you obviously don’t have the “failed educator and wannabe politician” mindset, because my district expected “only a handful” of students to change.  

Instead, it was droves. Hundreds at each high school.

And of course, they all waited until the last minute to sign up. 

When I got the first email notice of a student going on distance learning, I figured no problem. I’d send her some packet work. 

Then a couple more dribbled in. My plans started to morph. 

Then on Friday… nothing. The calm before the storm?

Still not sure. I shit you not, here I sit, fully vested in my second week back, I still don’t have a great handle on who is supposed to be in my class on a daily basis. They don’t show up any differently on my role sheet. In some cases, I get a notice from a counselor or assistant principal. Other announcements come from the students themselves. 

Some of those student emails say they requested distance learning and are waiting to hear back. Others write me the much more amorphous, “I’ve decided to stay on distance learning. Please don’t mark me absent.” Umm… does anyone outside your house know of your decision? What about the other people in your house? Because that sounds suspiciously like a “Don’t tell my parents I’m not in school.”

And yes, I’m supposed to teach both the students in my room and at home the same content at the same time. If I can ever figure out who is who.

It continued after school restarted. Students have completely forgotten how to do the whole process. I get emails from students saying they don’t feel well so they didn’t come to school. I tell them they can bring a note the following day and have the attendance office excuse the absence. Y’know, like school’s been working your ENTIRE life. Last twelve months notwithstanding.

Another student emailed me that she wasn’t coming to fourth period. She came to the first three classes but decided to “do distance learning the rest of the day.” Um, okay. That’s called ditching. Thanks for the email.

We now have fun new debates like whether or not classroom doors should be open. On the one side, ventilation! But lockdown protocol has required them to be closed for the past few decades. Although on the plus side, we’ve gone over a year since the last school shooting!

And what about those precious desk shields? Twenty minutes into first period, the students asked if they could take them down. I allowed it as long as they put them back up when class ended. Second period: same process. By my afternoon classes, I was telling the students where the desks shields were if they wanted to grab one.

Just one more expensive paperweight throughout my classroom. All sorts of fancy wastes of money went into this ill-thought return. We have webcams to teach all the hybrid students at home, back when we thought we were doing hybrid. And a tripod! What the fuck are we doing, filming porn?

We also got electronic pencil sharpeners to replace the one I bought for myself a decade ago after I was told there was no way in hell the school would approve such a frivolous purchase. If you want sharp pencils, use the broken mechanical ones! 

Oh and we all now have alcohol-based hand sanitizer despite still taking annual trainings in the fact that those are not allowed in our classrooms. Too bad Glade air fresheners don’t kill COVID, because those are still verboten. And let me tell you, when you’re not allowed to open the door in a room full of 42 teenagers, it would be really nice to be allowed air fresheners.

But my favorite new waste of money is the electronic three-hole puncher. Every single classroom got one! Because we all know that those manual hole punchers are veritable Typhoid Marys. 

Do they think we push down on them with our tongue?

But hey, they spent some money! Not well, mind you, but at least a penny or two of that hundred million are going into some classrooms instead of the district coffers.

Anything to avoid giving the teachers a raise, huh?

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