Teachers are Cautious, Fearful and Anxious to Teach in a Safe Environment: Will NYC Schools Open on September 21st?

You toss and turn, can’t fall asleep, why is the clock moving so slowly, tomorrow is the first day of school.

No matter whether you’re a first year, a fifth year, tenth year or a seasoned veteran that first day brings apprehension.

You go over classroom procedures, be welcoming, get those routines in place, make lists, say something nice to the principal, and on and on.

This year is one like no other.  In a flash you moved from an ordinary day to remote instruction. From checking Facebook every few days, to texting friends to mastering Google Classroom and Zoom, from preparing for the State Standardized Tests to figuring out how the engage kids from afar, how to make sure they log on each and every day, online grade meetings; Town Halls with parents, and worrying, really worrying about yourself and your family.

Members of your church have lost parents and friends, you see too many people without masks, you miss the kids, and you worry about returning to school.

Will my school be “safe?”   Will my kids come to school “healthy?” Can I catch COVID from my kids? from other adults in the school? Do I qualify for a medical accommodation? 

I love my kids; I watched them fall further and further behind as the year progressed. Four siblings sharing a Chrome Book, families without WiFi, the inability to connect with families, one day the kids is online, the next not online.

Teachers feel guilty and fearful.

You stand online and take your COVID test, and wait, and wait for the results.  You have fashionable face masks; whoever would have thought that as you decide what to wear to school you have to decide which face mask to wear?

As the opening day came closer the union and the mayor clashed, and, finally, an agreement was reached; however, the city appeared to be struggling to comply with their own procedures.

Would kids actually start schools on September 21st?

UFT President Mulgrew said   if the DOE can’t enact a safer protocol in time, he would not support reopening schools on September 21st.

We had dozens of confirmed cases in March where the city would not confirm them because of their bureaucratic process,” he said. “And if the city is going to follow that, we’re gonna probably not open our schools on the 21st.”

Frustrated and fed up, in a message to members, the president of the United Federation of Teachers blasted the city left and right.

“We’re angry, we’re frustrated, we have anxiety,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said.

He says the organization is upset that the COVID test results of many teachers haven’t come back in the 24-48 hours promised.

“We’re doing our jobs, you do yours,” Mulgrew said.

While the Department of Education is struggling to implement the regulation they agreed to, the COVID positive testing rates across the state and the city remain below 1% for the 35th consecutive day.

COVID rates across the nation remain high with “hotspots” popping up especially in the Deep South, Southwest and other large urban centers.

The agreement between the union and the city is specific: Read the agreement here.

The issue is the ability of the Department of Education to carry out the specifics of the agreement in the 1800 schools scattered across the city.

The hybrid instructional models will result in class sizes of 10-12 in elementary schools, maybe even less; a rare opportunity to teach children in a low class size settings.  How do the in-person and remote teachers collaborate? How do schools comply with the mandates of children with Individual Education Plans (IEPs), i. e., Students with Disabilities? How do in-person and remote teachers of children who are in English as a New Language (ENL) classes collaborate?  Secondary schools have more complex issues, if a Chemistry teacher has a medical accommodation and is teaching remotely and you have no other Chemistry teacher what are the options?  and on and on.

The union is addressing the staffing issues,

While moving from instructional models to actual instruction is complicated, really, really complicated and safety issues, as they should, dominate the discussions.

Schools are faced with decisions – assuring the safety of staff and students and minimizing the learning loss that accompanies remote instruction.

“The risk of coronavirus outbreaks has been the primary concern. But shutting school and going remote will also inflict a serious cost, borne by students: a loss of learning and social-emotional development.” 

The New York Times reports,

   ,“Once schools shuttered in the early days of the pandemic, educators quickly discovered the possibilities and limits of distance-learning technologies,” notes Justin Reich, director of the M.I.T. Teaching Systems Lab and author of the book “Failure to Disrupt: Why Technology Alone Can’t Transform Education,” which will be published this month. “Months later, it is obvious that the bright points of learning tech are substantially offset by the loss of schools as places for camaraderie, shelter, nutrition, social services, teaching and learning. Many things that happen in schools simply cannot happen at a distance.” 

The most vulnerable children are faced with learning losses,

 “Two-thirds to three-quarters of teachers said their students were less engaged during remote instruction than before the pandemic, and that engagement declined even further over the course of the semester,” Matt Barnum and Claire Bryan wrote for the education reporting site Chalkbeat in June. “Teachers of low-income students and students of color were much more likely to report that their students were not regularly engaged in remote learning.”

This week teachers and school leaders will work on their instructional models, will communicate with parents and students, will set up the routines, and, maybe, begin the hybrid school year on September 21st.

Hopefully the city and the department will comply with the safety agreements.

Some teachers and parents argue we should wait for a vaccine, the wait could be months; could be until the next school year? We don’t know anything about the efficacy of the yet to be determined vaccine.

Fewer than half of American received the annual flu vaccine last year, a vaccine that lasts about six months and must be reconfigured each year.

Will a COVID vaccine mirror the flu vaccine?   We don’t know.

How many of us will refuse the vaccine?

Can states mandate COVID vaccinations for students and school personnel? Maybe … Read here.

Teachers are fearful, cautious, they want to teach, and, they want to be safe.

UPDATE: The agreement that defines the role of in-person, remote and hybrid teachers, Read here

2 responses to “Teachers are Cautious, Fearful and Anxious to Teach in a Safe Environment: Will NYC Schools Open on September 21st?

  1. The decision to open schools was a clear example of “shoot first. aim later.” The City (DeBlasio) and the DOE needed to begin planning for this reopening in April of last year. That the DOE cannot deliver PPE supplies to many of its non-school locations calls into question their ability to know what they have and what they are doing. It doesn’t seem an insurmountable task to get a list of all the sites where D75 and D79 students are instructed and develop a shipping list that includes those sites. Nonetheless, when buildings opened this was done, and the DOE offered as an excuse that these were not their buildings. But they are the DOE’s students and staff, so how does that square with Chancellor Carranza’s commercials promising that safety is the first concern (except for those staff and students in non-DOE buildings?). This is not a new problem. The DOE is a large bureaucracy but in this health crisis excuses and bureaucracy can cost lives. No one should find that acceptable.

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  2. Carranza is not an effective chancellor any more than DeBlasio has been an effective mayor. What remains to be seen is how good a union leader Mike Mulgrew is or will he join the others in risking the lives of teachers, students, parents and grandparents for an instructional ideal that can never be realized in the midst of a devastating pandemic.

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