Back to School Night (well, sort of)

My wife and I just had Back to School Night (BTSN) for our 17-year-old son who is a junior.   The schedule was the same as in the past where parents follow their child’s daily schedule from Pers. 1 through 6 spending 10 minutes in each class.

Unlike in the past, it was a virtual BTSN from the comfort of our den.  Teachers had the option of holding a live Zoom meeting or posting a video.  Two of our son’s teachers had live sessions while the others videotaped their presentations.  Either way was fine with me.  A parent can easily get a glimpse of a teacher’s personality on tape or live. 

I found the live sessions stranger due to parents who chose to show themselves on camera with attention-diverting backgrounds distracting the rest of us.  The videos had more information allowing teachers to use more visuals economically, though one teacher displayed long blocks of text which she then proceeded to read each word out loud, not a good practice.

As a parent, I have always enjoyed BTSN, finding it exciting to meet the educators who will temporarily spend time with my child and help mold him into a more learned individual.

As a now former teacher, I can’t help but judge which teachers I think will connect with my son and which will not.  Not every teacher can connect with every child.

However, having done 11 weeks of distance learning, I recognize the challenges all teachers face in this anxious period of time in which we live.  We all have to be patient and have faith that in due time things will return to normal and children will return to school.  In the meantime, support your child’s teachers as much as you can.  Emailing a quick “thank you for teaching my child during these difficult times” can brighten a teacher’s day.

There Goes the Neighborhood

I am not a fan of California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

He lost my respect years ago when as San Francisco mayor he had an affair with his campaign manager’s wife.  Any earlier time in history, and such brazen adultery would have finished his future aspirations.

But standards and morals not what they used to be, he was elected governor two years ago with plans on moving on to the presidency.  God help us.

His political views are to the left of former Gov. Jerry Brown.  Many bills that Brown vetoed in 2018, Newsom signed in 2019.  “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” should be the theme song for Sacramento Democrats.

He signed a law for schools which emboldens bad kids to misbehave without consequences.  He continues supporting legislation that will destroy single-family neighborhoods.

Right now, if you live in California and own a house, beware.  Senate Bill 1120 is in the state assembly which, according to the Los Angeles Times, would allow “property owners [to] convert their single-family house into a duplex or demolish the house and in its place build two new single-family homes or a duplex.  Property owners could also split a single-family lot into two and then build two additional units, thus placing four homes where there previously was one.”

In other words, one household turns into 4 households.  Think of the additional cars, air and noise pollution that would impact neighbors’ standard of living.

What is driving this insanity is the wrong-headed thinking that if only more housing would be available, the homeless population would decrease.  Are they serious?

That is assuming 2 large illogical beliefs.  One, that many of the homeless are mentally normal people who are on the streets because they can’t afford the rent.  Don’t buy it.

Two, that by destroying the American Dream and making each street un-uniform in appearance, two duplexes here, one duplex there, one house, etc., those homeless people will be able to move into that neighborhood.  Wrong again.

Unless the government subsidizes the cost of the new duplexes below market value, those on limited incomes will still not be able to afford a duplex in a nice neighborhood.  Instead, developers will bid on homes, knock them down, erect duplexes, and come away richer than before, leaving in their dust a permanently damaged landscape for people who have lived in their neighborhoods for decades.  Unbelievable.

To add insult to injury, he has botched this state’s management of the coronavirus pandemic.  Back in March, his reviews were glowing as he was the first governor in America to mandate a quarantine.   This did work for a while, until in May when instead of reopening the economy gradually, he opened the floodgates, leading to a surge in the summer worse than the spring’s number of cases and deaths.

If you live in California and believe as I do, run don’t walk to your laptop, find out who your local Assembly member is, and fill out the “contact” form imploring them not to vote for 1120.

And when the next gubernatorial election happens in 2022, don’t forget what is happening now.

Otherwise, the theme song for many of will be “California, Here I Go.”

 

A Glimmer of Decency 3,000 Miles Away

The other day I was feeling terrible.

Terrible about the 5 ½ months of staying at home.

Terrible about not having to eat out at my favorite restaurants.

Terrible that I can’t go out of town and have a vacation.

Terrible about another video of police shooting an unarmed black man.

Terrible about a viral video showing a white mob bullying a white lady at a restaurant eating at an outside table, confronting her to raise her arm (she did not cave in to such intimidation—good for her).

Terrible that a 17-year-old has parents who would allow him to roam his community at night with a semi-automatic assault rifle that he had illegally, dangling around his neck like a piece of jewelry, calmly walking past police without being halted.  Do you think if that kid were  black he would still be alive today?

Terrible that the President of the United States ignores what most Americans have been going through for half of this year:  unable to send children to school, some unable to keep a job, unable to see family members, some even losing family members.  Doesn’t he get it?

Then, the next day, while on the phone with a Microsoft technical support representative, I met Francisco.

While waiting for the installation to fully download, I had a choice:  remain silent until the program was finished, or talk to Francisco.

So I asked Francisco how he was doing.  He told me that it was raining heavily where he was in Nicaragua.  I told him it was triple digits out in L.A.

I asked him how his country was managing the coronavirus.   He said that their president did not mandate quarantine which is why so many people he knows, including his father and himself, have had the virus.

I asked him if he knew how bad it was in the U.S. and he said yes.  He was also aware of the racial issues suffocating America.

I shared with him my recent retirement from teaching.  He told me that I am lucky to have the opportunity to positively influence young people.  He shares with me that he wants to push himself to speak better English.

“You speak English well,” I said.

“Yes, but I only use English at work, and at work only use computer-type language.”

“That’s quite admirable of you to be ambitious.”

I mentioned that he must have a lot of patience doing the job he has dealing with people’s software issues.   He told me it isn’t a problem.  The other day he spent two hours helping his father figure out how to access email on his phone.

“My father needed to know how to do this when he was sick from Covid.”

And as the download completed, I couldn’t help but think how serendipitous it was that of all the Microsoft tech support employees on that particular day, I connected with Francisco.  He not only solved my computer program, he temporarily restored my faith in decent people.

 

How Hard is it to be Quiet to Others?

 

I have never attended the Indy 500 to hear the roar of the engines.   But if you live in Burbank, you have an inkling what it might be like with the morons who abound with modified mufflers that make their cars backfire as if they are traveling 100 mph with fireballs trailing behind them.

I don’t know how concerned the Burbank police are about this nuisance that began less than a year ago, but I wish they would do something about it.

Surely, such modifications are illegal.  Of course, so is tinting the driver’s side of a car, not having a license plate mounted on the front of one’s car, or even not mounting a back license plate and driving around for 2 years with the temporary paper one to give the impression that one just bought a new car.

These anti-law individuals seem to increase in numbers as I get older.  Why can’t people just behave themselves for the good of others?

One main reason why this goes on is the same reason the mask controversy continues unresolved.   We have among us citizens who want the freedoms of America without the responsibilities.

If Joe Biden becomes the next president, I hope that he will bring back the concept of citizenship.

Schools used to teach civics classes as well as behaviors that exhibit the consideration of others, known succinctly as the Golden Rule:  do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

That stuff hasn’t been taught in decades.  Which wouldn’t be such a problem if parents did their job of teaching their own children these concepts.  Too many don’t.  The evidence is all around us. The decrease in people who describe themselves as religious also plays a role in the decline of selflessness.

Once in a while, I will see an example of how we all should behave.  During the months-long stay-at-home time, there is a family up the block from me with young children.  Daily the parents have their kids outside playing in their front yard.  I’ve never seen a cell phone or other electronic device in these kids’ hands.  The parents are interacting with them, flying kites, playing hide and go seek, often having a picnic.  And the parents as well as the children wear masks.  I wish I could give them an award.   The sad thing about this is, such behavior should not stand out, it should be the rule.

I want to believe that people I observe walking without masks, blowing through “stop” signs whether driving or riding bicycles, and shopping without social distancing are the minority.

But let’s face it—law-abiding, considerate people are in the minority.

The irony of this is that those who drive without stopping are counting on you to do it so that you don’t hit them.  That bicyclist going by in a blur at a 4-way stop is counting on up to four strangers in cars to make complete stops so his exercise is not paused.

Selfishness is rampant and I wish leaders in government would make it a priority to teach people through signs, public service announcements and social media how to behave as a normal, decent person.

“Gentlemen, quiet your engines!”

 

 

 

Regis Philbin–an Icon who was anything but

There is an old wives’ tale that famous people die in threes.   My sister and I will often text one another whenever an old movie or TV star passes away, then comment like “two more to go!”

Just this weekend Olivia de Havilland died at 104 along with John Saxon at age 84.  But when I heard about Regis Philbin dying at 88, it bothered me.  He is one of the few celebrities which I hoped would never die.

It’s incredible to think that when his morning show with Kathie Lee Gifford went into syndication in 1988, I was doing my student teaching.  Through the years of his show I got married, had two sons, and my mother died.  No wonder I felt attached to him—he was on the air nearly half of my life.

My favorite part of the show (I’m sure many of you would concur) was the opening chat between the hosts.  I liked it primarily for its spontaneity.  The unscripted segment was refreshing compared to all other TV talk shows which are meticulously pre-written and rehearsed.  It felt more real, more authentic.

What also made is pleasurable was Regis himself who never came across as a big shot, a host with a big ego.  He was natural not pretentious, someone you could imagine talking to at a coffee shop for 30 minutes in an easy way.

I saw Regis twice in my life, both times from afar.  One time he was at a Barnes & Noble signing his book.  The line was too long; otherwise, I would have done it.

The other time was at the 2002 Rose Parade when he was Grand Marshal.  Coincidentally, I was in that parade riding in a vintage automobile.  I was one of two teachers chosen from Glendale Unified School District for the honor.

As all the floats, cars and horses lined up in the dark on Orange Grove Boulevard at six in the morning, I walked around and saw him leave the Rose Parade Tournament House after eating breakfast.  I was so excited that I videotaped it.

Because I was embarking on my new career as a teacher, I was unable to watch many episodes of “Live with Regis and Kathie Lee.”  However, whenever I was home during a week day, I would make sure to watch the opening segment to see what Broadway show he and his wife Joy went to see or which restaurant they ate at because there would always be a story about some mishap that occurred in their evening out that would put a smile on your face.

So many famous people are phonies, but Regis was the real deal.

 

 

 

 

Dependence Day–What We Need on this July 4th

It is July 4, 2020.   Independence Day.

But what’s there to celebrate?

In terms of instant gratification, restaurants are closed, firework displays canceled, family gatherings shunned.

Covid-19 does not look at a calendar, sees a holiday and takes a day off.  In America yesterday, 53,000 people tested positive for it and close to 600 people died.  This virus remains untamed not so much in the whole world, but mainly in America.

Remember America?  The greatest country on earth.  The one place where people from all backgrounds can plant their flag and have opportunities nowhere else to be found.   Geographically, it is a land mass of 50 different states.  Kansas is not Hawaii is not Florida is not California.  Yet the name of the country has been the UNITED states for 244 years.

At no time in my lifetime has the United States seemed so divided.  The coronavirus has given a test to Americans:  can they roll up their collective sleeves and tame this malicious malady?  Can they follow basic ways to protect themselves and others by wearing masks, keeping apart and washing their hands?

After four months, the answer is “No.”   The 2020 version of the U.S. is not the 1941 version or the 1929 version where most Americans worked together for a common foe be it a financial collapse or a threat to democracy.  What happened to those type of people that used to be plentiful?

As a nation, we don’t all trust science.  We challenge scientists and doctors.  These aren’t politicians who have agendas.  These are intelligent people who study evidence and come to conclusions.  Too many people think they are wrong.

That’s a problem.  Because if we all can’t agree that Covid-19 is highly contagious, that if you contract it you will be very sick and depending on your biology could die from it, then we can’t agree that the sun is in the sky during the day and the moon appears at night.  Facts don’t exist.

But the most important fact about Covid is that the majority of people who contract it are asymptomatic.  They feel fine, no signs of illness.

That aspect of the virus is the cruelest because it gives people a false sense of security that they can beat this thing or, worse, that it is a big hoax.

When people think of the word “pandemic” they picture millions upon millions around the globe dying.   Thank goodness most people who have it won’t die.  But that doesn’t mean it isn’t out there.

Think of a serial criminal that has broken into several homes in your community.  Have you seen the criminal yet?  No.  Do you know anyone who has?  No.  So logic leads you to a wrong conclusion—the criminal does not exist for only one reason—he hasn’t reached your house yet.

Why do people allow themselves to be fooled in believing that if something bad hasn’t happened to them that means it doesn’t exist?

There is a worst disease out there.  It is selfishness.  That seems to be a trait common among many.  Is that how we define “united” these days?   Live one’s life any way you want, to hell with everyone else?   Because that describes many today.

Journalist Damon Linker who writes for TheWeek.com explains what is happening this way:  “It amounts to a refusal on the part of lots of Americans to think in terms of the social whole—of what’s best for the community, of the common or public good.”

Two trends over the past decades have contributed to the decline in people thinking of others:  one, the decline in parents teaching values, two, the elimination in schools teaching citizenship.

The old saying of reaping what one sows is happening in front of our eyes right now.   It has taken years for this to grow and it will take years for Americans to reset and learn not only what it means to be American, but what it means to be human.

 

 

Distance Learning articles published in Chicago Tribune and Zocalo Public Square

Here is my latest Op-Ed on distance learning published today in the Chicago Tribune:

https://www.chicagotribune.com/opinion/commentary/ct-opinion-coronavirus-remote-learning-schools-20200612-7u46fjns6zfx5ib7psywav5c7e-story.html

 

Here is my view on distance learning published this week on Zocalo Public Square:

 

After 11 Weeks of ‘Distance Learning,’ This Teacher Is Glad to Be Retiring

 

 

Noble the Nudge

There is someone I know who has had the time of his life during this Pandemic-driven shutdown of life.  His name is Noble.  And he is our dog.

Noble has always been one for deep, unblinking stares that burn your eyes. We have given him two nicknames over the 10 years we’ve had him:  Mr. Intensity and Personality Plus.  Age, despite the old adage, has not mellowed him.  Now with both my wife and I home 24/7, he has turned into Mr. Intensi-TY and Personality Plus Plus.

Lately he stares at me so long, he is probably wondering why I am still at home and not at work.  He can’t believe his great fortune!

He’s my shadow following me from room to room; even when I move from one part of a room to another, he must get up and be close to me.  To an outsider, this may seem loving and adorable, but after a while he becomes a nudge.

When I sit at the dining room table, he lays on my left foot so the rest of his body can rest on the warm area rug not the cold wood floor.

When I sit in a club chair and swivels outside of his sight, Noble moves to find my face.  If I cover my face, he makes anxious noises and swerves either to the right or left in order to find the piece of my face that is not covered.  I swivel, he swivels.  It’s like a one-on-one basketball game:  I’m playing offense and he’s playing defense.

Noble has his own schedule.  He waits for me to wake up so he can get his first of two feedings.

If on the off chance I sleep in past 6:30 a.m., Noble bangs open the slightly closed bedroom door, going to my side of the bed to poke his wet nose into the my body, usually my face.

When he goes outside, he will either bark to be let back in, or his favorite way of communication, an ear-splitting body SLAM against the screen door.

Once my wife wakes and eats her toast, Noble sits motionless like a Sphinx on the area rug in the living room about 10 feet away from the dining room table.  Often he resembles the old RCA Victor dog statue.  If my wife blurts out to him with a stern “leave it,” he comically swerves his head away, but the body remains cement-like.

When my wife gets up, that’s the signal for him to stand ready in the laundry room in case a corner of a crust inadvertently falls from my wife’s hand into his open jaws.

Next on the agenda is the morning walk between 10-11.  He always looks at my wife to make sure she’s joining us.

His afternoon feeding time used to be 3:00 p.m.  Since I’ve been working from home it has receded to 2:30 p.m. due to the elongated stares, and bellowing moans.   I refuse to buckle under the pressure to feed him any earlier than 2:20.

Soon thereafter, the last item on Noble’s to-do list is a ride in the car.  This is his E-ticket.

In fact, this is when he is at his loudest.  The wildest combination bark and howl I have ever heard bursts out of his body in immense exhilaration for what is about to unfold, so much so that he keeps bouncing from backseat to front seat and back again.

Funny how he reserves his loudest barks over the most enjoyable moments of his day:  his feeding, his walk and his ride in a car.

Finally, after sundown and three and a half revolutions on his oval-shaped dog pillow, Noble settles in for the night.

What a beautiful day in the neighborhood for Noble.

 

 

Breaking News: A Car Wash Re-Opens

Folks, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

A rainbow is on the horizon.

Carefully, gingerly, life is coming back.

Today my wife and I went to get our cars washed.  Not at a self-serving cement partition with a water wand, but a real full-service car wash with employees cleaning, vacuuming, shining our cars.  One of the attendants was amazed to see the size of our gratuity.

If it weren’t practically illegal not to mention unhealthy, we would have given everyone we saw there a wraparound, squeeze ‘em tight hug.

Hallelujah!  It almost felt as jubilant as the day we got married.

You mean, we can actually go to a place of business and do our business there, not take out, not have it delivered, but actually get serviced on the premises?

Yep!  Just as it used to be, just 9 short (not really) weeks ago.

It felt so liberating.  After months of limited our errands to markets, gas stations and takeout, going to the car wash felt like hopping on a plane to Hawaii.  A trip.  A journey.  A holiday away from the stay-at-home, lockdown, claustrophobic atmosphere that I still have not gotten used to.

What’s next?  Will our dog groomer soon open her doors?  How about a haircut?  Will a reservation be taken for a dining experience in July or June or end of May?  An overnight getaway?  I have already received an email from a favorite inn in Santa Barbara announcing their re-opening and at 20% off.

I can smell it coming.  I can sense the joy returning to life.

This 4th of July, which most likely will not be celebrated with special concerts, firework displays or large gatherings of people, should focus on not the birth of the country, but its re-birth, celebrating the liberty from sheltering in place.  Happy Birthday to America’s re-opening.

And whenever businesses slowly re-open, be sure to embrace it.  And don’t ever take it for granted again.

Teachers’ Makeover during Pandemic Nothing Short of Miraculous

Friday the 13th marked the end of the 2019-2020 school year and my 31-year career as a high school English and Journalism teacher in any practical sense.

Due to stay-at-home directives, school was out—literally.

When all the books and documentaries about the pandemic of 2020 are published years from now, at least one chapter needs to spotlight the heroics of America’s public school teachers.

All across America, distance or remote learning premiered in the weeks following spring break.

Like sending a man to the moon within a decade was monumental for NASA, to some degree enlisting public school teachers to learn a whole new way of delivering instruction within as little as a week deserves to be on the short list of amazing feats performed in record time.

Yes, Ford and General Motors in a matter of weeks retooled their factories to make masks and ventilators instead of Mustangs and Silverados, quite an achievement.

But imagine a workforce of 3.2 million retooling themselves, learning new online platforms such as Google Classroom and Zoom in a matter of days, not weeks.

With communication limited to emails, teacher training sessions went into emergency overdrive in just a few days, an all-hands-on-deck IT team recording and posting how-to webinars on various synchronous and asynchronous programs to assist faculty.

Lightning quick, schools organized their version of the Marshall Plan, handing out laptops and hot spots by the hundreds with the help of employees donning protective gear, echoing the Leave No Child Behind creed from the start of the century, ensuring that all children have access to virtual classrooms.

The reality that schools would not reopen for the rest of the school year hit district offices like a meteor, stunning them so that they didn’t have time to rollout training gradually.  Instead, they had no alternative but to entrust teachers to pick and choose which learning system they felt most comfortable using.

Once all systems were go, as if learning a whole new of way to teach from home was not challenging enough, teachers had to be creative and compassionate on how to keep students “tuning in” to their virtual classrooms.  It didn’t help that districts decided to freeze grades, i.e., final semester grades would be the third quarter grades unless a student’s grade increased.  Students who did not turn in work via remote learning would not be penalized, and no student would fail a class even if that was the third quarter grade.

The ‘A’ students have no motivation to produce work since they are guaranteed to end up with an ‘A’; the students at the other end of the spectrum have a free ticket as well as they magically will earn credit for doing no work.  In other words, all the work done in the final 25 percent of the school year does not count.

Yet teachers march on—posting videos, screencasting lessons, scheduling live sessions—all while working in the dark, not truly knowing if anyone is paying attention.

In a real classroom, I often have students read an article or watch a video then have them pair up with a partner and share their thoughts which leads to a whole class discussion, ensuring everyone will hear at least something.

In the virtual classroom, I post the material and create an assignment with no guarantee that students did the work themselves.  Even if I have them post comments, I have no idea how many will read their classmates’ thoughts.

Many jobs can be done at home or partially at home, but teaching requires human contact.  In all the ways I imagined how my career would end up, teaching at my dining room table was not a credible scenario.

And while car companies will eventually revert back to manufacturing motor vehicles, teaching may never look like itself again, at least for quite a while.

Already district personnel are holding emergency meetings strategizing how the reopening of schools in August will happen while maintaining social distancing.

Yes, schools will reopen.  No, they will look vastly different especially in the upper grades where students have several teachers in one day.

I often have up to 40 students in a classroom.  Measuring for six feet of separation would result in two empty seats for each occupied one.  So instead there may be 15 students.  Obviously the teacher workforce can’t be doubled in size, so time may be halved, 30-minute periods instead of 60 minutes, or some students attend school on even days, others on odd days, or some in the morning, others in the afternoon.  See the logistical nightmare ahead?

Yet judging how incredible districts quickly adapted on the fly to the challenge of no school, officials should be capable of working out a hybrid of in-person and online learning environments.  Such a model may last the entire 2020-2021 school year if the coronavirus returns in the fall or winter.  This will not please parents who will need to scramble for child care since students will no longer attend school all day, five days a week.

Never before has such an undertaking been done in the history of public schools.  Never before have I been as proud of our profession, one that I am exiting by mid-June.

That is why on May 5, National Teacher Appreciation Day, wherever you may be, stand up and applaud those who take care of America’s future.