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.

 

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.