Many people argue it’s important for the social and emotional well-being of our students to be in school. That’s not even debatable. It’s essential to children and teenagers to interact with both peers and authority figures. They must practice skills to navigate our world.
It’s curious, then, that Mayor de Blasio’s reopening plan accomplishes none of the above.
Depending on how crowded schools are, most students will come to classes once every two or three days to allow for social distancing. At large, overcrowded schools like mine, they might come as little as once a week. They will sit far apart from one another. They won’t be able to interact with teachers or each other the way they usually did. It would become our sad duty to enforce not only physical separation, but masking as well. It’s hard to understand how we help students when we can’t even look at their work — let alone their faces.
The Department of Education offers an option for students to learn remotely full-time, and if my kid were still attending, I’d keep her home. The mayor’s plan is a mess, and he hasn’t considered some very important factors.
The worst thing about the plan is it utterly ignores students who aren’t in attendance. While I teach nine or ten students at a time in the building, what will my other 25 students be doing? If I repeat the same lesson for each group in the building, I won’t have time to cover even half the curriculum. With budget cuts, the city can’t afford to hire more teachers to do online what we do in class. To me, that doesn’t scream “equity and excellence” — the mayor’s mantra.
I remember the city’s miserable and inept approach to containing COVID-19 last March. I therefore have applied to teach solely online in September. At my age, 64, it would be inconvenient to get sick and die from COVID. Unsurprisingly, many younger teachers feel the same. They send me, their chapter leader, e-mails suggesting it would be just as terrible for them, their children, and their elderly parents and grandparents. This should come as no surprise to the mayor. Otherwise, why did he offer families the opportunity to opt children out of learning in buildings?
There are things worth fighting for, and things worth dying for. A barely thought-out, outlandishly stupid system that serves no one well is simply not one of them. If the mayor and chancellor were really concerned about giving students the best experience possible, they wouldn’t ask them to risk their lives and those of their families for no good reason.
Remote learning is far from ideal. It falls short of the rich experience real classroom learning provides. Still, it’s a whole lot better than what the mayor envisions. And there are some simple ways to substantially improve it:
Do real classes online. Have students show their faces instead of hiding behind avatars. Every teacher knows students who came to Zoom classes and never answered a question because they were sleeping, playing video games or otherwise occupied. And let’s make attendance (not just checking in) and class participation requirements.
Give teachers real training instead of wishing them luck and hoping for the best. Online, we can speak to all our students at once. We can break them into groups. We can see their work in a program like Google Classroom, and comment on it live. We can watch them take tests, rather than simply hoping their smart girlfriends aren’t doing the work for them.
Use the school buildings for real social and emotional needs. Let a limited number of students in to see counselors, nurses, doctors and social workers. Let them socialize safely, which they could not do in class. If technology or home conditions are difficult, let’s give students and teachers safe, quiet space in buildings to work online.
Chancellor Richard Carranza repeatedly says, “We’re building the plane as we fly it.” Let’s drop this slapdash approach and wait until it’s safe for all of us to go back to what we know and love. Premature returns to school have backfired in Israel, Hong Kong, Beijing and South Korea, where COVID-19 made comebacks. Following in their footsteps is a bad idea for New York.
Arthur Goldstein teaches English as a new language at Francis Lewis HS.
Source: Newzandar News
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