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.

 

I’ve Got the Covid-19 Blues; Whiteboard Jungle welcomes Glendale News-Press and Burbank Leader readers

NOTE TO READERS:  Now that the Los Angeles Times folded the local newspapers, the Glendale News-Press and the Burbank Leader, my column, The Whiteboard Jungle, will continue on my Crosby Chronicles blog.   Thank you to all who read it.  Please send your comments.

It has been 7 weeks since I last taught a class, 7 weeks since we have been in the Stay-at-Home mode.

And in 6 weeks, I will be officially retired from teaching.

With nearly two months of living this way, one would think a pattern would arise, a schedule take hold.   But why hasn’t it?  Because I feel that I am in a holding pattern.

I keep waiting for me to get into some kind of groove.  Instead, I feel aimless, waiting

for . . what . . . the country to reopen, for me to reopen?

There are only a few certainties in my daily life right now:

  1. 6:00 wake up and feed dog
  2. 6:30 walk for 45 minutes
  3. 7:30 post lessons
  4. 8:30 shower
  5. 10:00 walk the dog
  6. 12:00 make lunch
  7. 2:30 feed dog
  8. 4:00 take dog for ride
  9. 5:30 make dinner
  10. 6:30 my wife and I watch our usual “Dateline” or “48 Hours”

The above list may seem that I am indeed on a schedule.   But, quite frankly, the bulk of the time between 9-5 feels empty.

  • I should be doing more writing, but I’m not.
  • There are many parts of the house which could do with a floor scrubbing, but I have not done it.
  • The same thing with our cars. Haven’t washed one, not even vacuumed the inside. That’s 2 months and counting of dirty cars.
  • I finally bought a shredder to start throwing out boxes of old financial records from the garage. I discovered that having a shredder means spending time feeding it a few sheets at a time, and that the resultant scraps of paper take up a lot of space in the trash cans.  Shredding does not mean disintegrating.  So  I am no longer that excited about that little hobby.  It’s faster (and just as safe) to just throw everything out in the non-recycling trash can.

And so, I do a lot of waiting around for the next item on my To-Do list to arrive.  I am allowing the clock to run my life, to dictate what I’m doing, instead of me living my life and occasionally looking up at the clock.  It also means a lot of walking around the house and going into the kitchen, drinking more coffee than I should, eating more snacks (chocolate mainly) than I should.  Even laying down in the afternoon, drifting off for a ½ hour while listening to an audiobook.

I can’t wait for things to return to normal.  At the same time, I have to frequently remind myself that my life is slowly ending.  I now have 7 fewer weeks of life than I did back on March 13.   During the lockdown, that time hasn’t been put away in a bank’s safety deposit box, waiting for me to claim it once Gov. Newsom waves the green flag.  No, the past 7 weeks is just that—in the past.  So if I wasn’t that productive, the onus is on me, no one else.

I am amazed watching my wife who has the self-discipline of the sun sit at the dining room table, our default office, and not budge from her seat.  She even remains sitting when I give her lunch.

I, on the other hand, can’t sit still for long periods of time.  One problem (or excuse) is that I am not totally comfortable doing work at the dining room table because it is slightly higher in relation to the chairs, causing arm strain.  I have no desk in my bedroom, but my sons do.

Son number one’s desk is unusable because it is hard to locate it with all the stuff strewn on it including clothes and phone charger cables.  Son number two’s desk is better since it is orderly and I do use it occasionally, but the window faces me as I sit there, meaning the backlight bothers my vision.

And then there is the constant laser eyes of my dog starting around 9:00 a.m. and lasting until 7:00 p.m.  He probably can’t believe that his Alpha Male pal is around all the time all of a sudden.  If he is not staring at me as I eat, he is laying on my left foot underneath the table.  Often, he barks to be let outside, then a running slam against the screen door alerts us he is ready to come back in.

I hope that I can get more done with the next several weeks until the economy reopens in a new-normal world.   More worrisome:  what will the new-normal of myself look like.

 

The Birth of Remote Learning

As I write these words I am completing the first week of teaching in a completely new way—without students.

Over the coming weeks I will share with you my successes and pitfalls teaching in a virtual classroom.  Right now, my head is still throbbing with how quickly the world has changed in just a few short weeks.

Recall that old Chicago song, “Does Anybody Really Knows What Time it is?”  That’s how life feels like:  is it morning or afternoon, Wednesday or Thursday, and does the word “weekend” mean anything anymore.

Have you noticed how quiet it is in your neighborhood lately?  Eerily quiet.  Cars are parked in front of houses but there are no people, reminiscent of the first Twilight Zone episode, “Where is Everybody?”

Social distancing hits older folks harder.  Those under 25 have been practicing social distancing most of their lives through texting and apps like Skype and Face Time.  In fact, they are more comfortable not speaking over the phone or seeing each other in person.  Can you imagine how people would have dealt with social distancing just 20 years ago?

Never before has the use of technology been so vital than during this shutdown of America.  Parents who used to shudder at the number of hours their children spent on their devices now view those electronic menaces as lifelines, especially as they scramble how to do their jobs at home.

However, no workers have had to revolutionize their occupations on such a grand scale as have teachers.

Welcome to the birth of remote (or distance) learning which has kicked off all across America this week.

Teachers, students, parents, and school officials are all experimenting with a brand new form of learning all at the same time.  It must be what astronauts felt like when first going into outer space.

Imagine doing a job you have been performing for several years and being told you have one week to do the same job in a completely new way.  It is a humongous undertaking.  New York City Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza described it well, telling the New York Times that “we are literally flying the plane as we’re building the plane.”

One of the negative aspects of the teaching profession that I have addressed frequently is the lack of trust school officials have in allowing teachers to determine how best to serve their clientele, the students.  Too often top-down education trends are forced down the throats of educators with little input.  Teachers are supposed to behave like good soldiers, following the orders of their superiors.

Since this online revolution came out of nowhere so suddenly, education officials were clueless how to proceed.

Credit goes to Glendale Unified School District for stepping out of the way and allowing teachers to decide how to teach remotely.

The district provided teachers with a panoply of webinars and other resources from which an educator could pick and choose which ones to use.  For those with an advanced case of technophobia, the district gave teachers the option of handing out printed materials even though that meant figuring out how and when to deliver them to students.

Never before in all my 31 years have I been so entrusted to make professional decisions on what is best for me in reaching out to my students.

Well, teachers, I hope you are paying attention.  Take advantage of a situation which may never come your way again.   Everyone—students, parents, even principals and superintendents—are counting on you to teach kids in a way that has never been done before.

Once this health crisis is over, and school officials see how heroic teachers met this challenge, hopefully teachers’ stature will rise.

Let’s show everyone what we can do.  Make the country proud.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living through a Pandemic

Incredible how our lives teeming with jobs, errands and recreation can be instantaneously wiped clean, filtered down to only one concern:  “Do we have enough toilet paper to get us through the week?”

Going to work and school, eating out, attending movies and concerts, celebrating birthdays and anniversaries, observing religious traditions—all halted.  Freeze frame life as we know it.

And the places that remain open such as grocery stores are scenes from a bad end-of-the-world Netflix show.

My son and I have traveled to market to market to cobble together meat, eggs, and peanut butter, standing in lines, standing apart.  We drove by two gun stores in Burbank, each with a line of people outside.  Just what kind of world are we living in?

One where terms like coronavirus, COVID-19 and social distancing have been added to our existence.

It is dizzying to think how much has transpired in the past week.  Gov. Newsom said on Tuesday that schools are unlikely to reopen this academic year.

Funny how the last school day was Friday the 13th.  At that time, it was clear that schools would not resume soon after spring break.  As my students left, I joked to them “Happy Fourth of July!” not knowing how prescient that was.

State testing has been cancelled, the College Board plans on administering Advanced Placement tests online, and graduation ceremonies—well, who knows?

Never before will so many people have to rely on technology to keep them connected to their work and their loved ones.

Glendale Unified teachers scheduled to return to work on March 23 most likely will remain at home, watching webinars on how to design online lessons to salvage the remaining weeks of the spring semester.

A life without doing whatever we want is unchartered territory for all but those old enough to have lived through World War II and the Great Depression.   They remember rationing of tires and sugar, meatless meals and gasless days.  It was not uncommon to ask Americans to sacrifice for the greater good.

The closest most people alive today can relate to any kind of sacrifice would have been the rationing of gas during the oil crisis of 1973 when drivers were only allowed to buy gas based on the odd/even last number on their license plate.

So the idea of giving something up even temporarily is a habit alien to most.  That partially explains why some people, mainly young ones, are not heeding the advice of government officials to stay home unless absolutely necessary.

While we want to believe that during a crisis people’s better parts rise to the occasion, toilet paper hoarding proves otherwise.  How many 24-packs of toilet paper do people need?  Thinking of other people is an ancient practice it seems.

There is a scene from “It’s a Wonderful Life” when the stock market crashes and people run into the Bailey Building and Loan to take their money out.  George pleads with his customers not to drain the limited bank’s money supply, but to only ask for small amounts to get them by in the short-term.  While some take all of their money, others think about George and other customers by limiting their withdrawals.

That’s the kind of neighborly attitude we need right now.

If we are to get through what possibly may be the worst pandemic since 1918 when over 675,000 Americans died out of 103 million, we all have to sacrifice for the greater good.

As I tell my students, the one comforting aspect when studying disasters in history is that we know when they ended.   Yes, the Civil War was horrible, but it was only 4 years long.  But those alive in the 1860s had no idea how long that tragedy would last.

Not knowing how long the current health crisis will last creates anxiety in us.  We don’t know what the coming months will bring.

The one constant that has helped my family cope with this health crisis has been our dog Noble.  He doesn’t care about COVID-19, only that his bowl has food, he has a walk, goes for a car ride, and plays with rope toys.   How delightful to be blissfully ignorant of the dramatic changes we are all enduring.