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.

 

 

Foul-mouthed Teens Pollute Learning Environment

Where I work, teachers are encouraged to stand outside their classroom doors to greet students every day, every period.   While I usually do this, more recently I end up inside my classroom with the door shut, shielding myself from the barrage of vulgarities vomiting from high school students.

Just the other day as I stood outside my door, a couple of students were shouting the s-word repeatedly.

As the boys walked past me, I asked them to watch their language.  So what did they do when rounding the corner?   Shouted the expletive even louder.

Welcome to high school 2020, where incalcitrant students run amuck and the adults have lost control of the school campus.

With the erosion of school discipline comes the rise of student misbehavior; neither fear nor shame of consequences or punishments inhibits it.  There isn’t a hair of a hesitation in some students saying whatever they want whenever they want.

I have mentioned before, the environment on public school campuses will only get worse once Gov. Newsom’s new bill kicks in on July 1 when defying a teacher will barely register a disciplinary action.

Each new law limiting schools doling out suspensions is emboldening hooligans to wreak havoc in and out of the classroom.

Smart teachers know not to engage with students who are not their own.  If a teacher chooses to interact with students misbehaving, the situation quickly devolves into a high blood pressure scenario where confrontation and defiance is the rule, and thuggery thrives.  The bad kids go unpunished while the attentive teachers who try to hold students accountable go unsupported.

Students who don’t even know me, see a man as old as their uncle or grandfather, dressed formally in a sports jacket and a tie, who clearly is either a teacher or an administrator, yet my appearance does not matter.  Respecting one’s elders or authority figures is not a behavior practiced in the home or elsewhere.

These foul-mouthed teens don’t care about the feelings of their peers who may not want to hear f-this and f-that all day long at their school.  Oddly, there is a small patch of greenery on campus called the Peace Garden.  And it is there where one will find some of the raunchiest language on a daily basis.  So much for the peace.

It doesn’t help that we have a president who is foul-mouthed, saying “bull—” on live television without concern that children will hear his words.

Schools have cracked down on bullying and sexual harassment, but need to ensure that all disrespectful language is intolerable.

During my conference period recently, I noticed two male students walking ahead of me, brazenly walking past the open gate to the staff parking lot and exiting the campus.

Not one but two security guards were there.  One of the students said “have a nice day” as they exited the campus.

I asked one of the guards if those students just cut class.

He said, “Oh, yes.  They do it all the time.  But our hands are tied.  We are told not to approach them.”

If schools don’t hold the high standard that their campuses are safe havens for non-threatening words and actions, similar to places of worship, then schools fail.  Often it is the one place where they will learn how to be decent and empathetic and kind.  Foul language pollutes the atmosphere of learning which all schools should aspire to.

Once they graduate high school, the opportunity to teach young people how to behave civilly will have vanished, and they will march into society at large, less humane than earlier generations.

 

 

Reflecting on Joys of Teaching

Sometimes one has to admit that life’s glass is half-full not half-empty.

This week I was asked to participate in a promotional video for Hoover High School.  I reluctantly agreed to do it, reluctant because for years I have been an outspoken critic of my own profession.

Playing the cheerleader role is not typecasting for me.

However, the more I thought about being on camera to talk about the place where I have worked since 1989, the more I realized how proud I would be to talk about what makes my job meaningful.

When I first became a teacher, I never thought I would be in the classroom this long.  After doing computer work for 12 years, I figured I would teach for about 10 years, then go on to do something else.  I assumed that was going to be my life’s pattern—changing careers every decade.  Never did it cross my mind that I would devote the bulk of my adult life working with children.

In the blink of an eye, here I am, one of the oldest teachers on campus, not knowing what happened to the past 30 years.

I did not recognize it much back then, but as I approach the sunset of my career, I can see how blessed I have been to work with young people and have the opportunity to help them in their life’s journey.

To prepare for the video interview, I was given a couple of questions to think about.

“If you were a parent of a student, why would you be excited to send your child to Hoover?”

For the non-academic classes.

While there’s nothing wrong with our English, math or science classes, taking marching band, culinary arts or journalism enriches the day for students where instead of sitting in a chair passively, they have the opportunity to do, to get involved, to make learning come alive through playing an alto saxophone, baking a bundt cake or posting a video to Instagram called Humans of Hoover

In my journalism class, I give students the responsibility of running a business.  They create the work, manage the work, publish the work.  They teach each other desktop publishing and editing programs that enable them to do their jobs.  Such independence reveals what matters most to them and their peers.

Being self-reliant is something all parents desire, and being self-learning is something all teachers desire—both happen at Hoover.

“What do you love most about coming to school every day to teach these students?”

In short, not knowing what questions or comments students will have.  Some may view such unknown variables as nerve-wracking; I find them stimulating.

There is a duality to teaching:  spending hours developing lesson plans timed to the minute, but being prepared for the spontaneous reaction of students.

You never know what provocative question or profound connection a student may formulate.

Then there is the student work—the writing, the speech, the video—that reveals their thinking and learning.

Yes, some students fall short demonstrating their knowledge, but many succeed.  Especially gratifying are the non-A students who hit a home run once in a while.

Just the other day, a boy who has struggled most of the year gave a moving speech, better than everyone else in the class.  I was so proud of him knowing that he was the same young man who had tears in his eyes last semester when he botched his first oral.

Doing this interview gave me pause to reflect.  When you work day after day, year after year, you lose track of the big picture.  Stepping back to look at the large mosaic built over time is quite illuminating.

Once in a while it is okay to view life’s glass as half-full; in fact, right now, the cup runneth over.

Wanted: Teachers

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

A question asked of all children numerous times throughout their growing up years.

Firemen, doctors, video game designers.

What kids don’t want to become is teachers.

Teaching is the one occupation that all students job shadow—13 years of it, 180 days a year.  Yet it is still not enough of an appeal to pull in quality candidates, a career choice not even on their radar.

Is it because they are simply tired of school, and the idea of continuing to go to school for the rest of their lives is unbearable?

I asked some of my students if they have ever considered becoming a teacher.  Some had, but few will.

The positive reasons they give to go into teaching include connecting with students and preparing young people for the future.  One student elaborated that a teacher “can impact, guide and inspire children especially those who may be struggling.”

I then asked what would change their minds.  Nearly every student mentioned that a higher salary would attract them.  Many also added that they would go into teaching only if they taught to disciplined, respectful kids.  “When I see all the work teachers put into just having to get students to quiet down, it seems stressful; students can be very disrespectful to teachers.”

Clearly, enough negative experience is absorbed by students that by the time high school graduation arrives, most will never return to a public K-12 school except as parents.

College freshmen majoring in education is the lowest it has been in nearly half of a century, 4.2 percent in 2016, according to the UCLA’s Cooperative Institutional Research Program.

The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing reported a decrease of 55 percent of those students entering a teacher training program from 2008 to 2012; a 70 percent drop in the last decade.  In 2015, California needed 22,000 teachers, yet only 15,000 students earned teaching credentials.

Schools can’t find enough qualified candidates which means there are plenty of jobs to be had by those who are not properly trained.

In order to fill vacancies, districts hire people who are not fully prepared to enter the classroom.  These individuals bypass coursework and actual teaching practice, then are given the keys to a classroom to teach to young people.  As a parent, are you okay with that?

Would hospitals staff operating rooms with surgeons who did not finish medical school just because of a shortage of doctors?

Several steps should be taken to make teaching more attractive, which future columns will explore.

However, clearly students can see on their teachers’ faces that teaching, too often, is not fun.

This finding was confirmed in the most recent MetLife survey of teachers in 2012 which revealed that only 39% were very satisfied with their job, a 23-point drop from the satisfaction rate of 62% in 2008—troubling to imagine where that figure would be today.  And teacher shortages are on the rise across the country.

Teachers as a group have a golden opportunity to plant the seeds in their students’ minds of joining the ranks of educators.   No other profession has such an inherent advantage in showing youngsters how wonderful it is to teach.  Sitting right in front of them every day is a prospective employment pool.

But when so many obstacles are present in schools, it is challenging to overcome them and share one’s passion for learning with youngsters.

One of my few students who plans on entering the teaching field said “I hope that more individuals will enter the teaching field and raise our education system from where it is now.”

We need more than hope right now.  We need an army.

Make Teaching Attractive Not Ugly

If one wants to attract the best talented people to teaching, the recipe is to make teaching attractive.

But that recipe concocted by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing is not what is happening in teacher training programs.  Gordon Ramsay, where are you?

This week I drove out to CSUN for a three-hour late afternoon meeting with other cooperating teachers (those who work with student teachers), a rare chance to share triumphs and challenges of assisting up and coming instructors.

Instead of having a forum with free-flowing conversations, we were corralled into three separate pullout sessions on new strategies introduced in credential courses.  One was on how to differentiate instruction, one on how to incorporate UDL, and another on MTSS.

What, you don’t know what UDL and MTSS stand for?  Neither did I until that evening.   The initialisms stand for Universal Design for Learning and Multi-Tiered System of Supports.  Has quite a ring to them, as in “my head is ringing with more education gobbledygook.”  Now I know what my teaching has lacked over the past 28 years.

Instead of recruiting vibrant people to the profession, allowing them to flourish with their natural ability, credential programs often tamper that energy with endless training on the latest learning strategy du jour.

They keep demanding things of teachers that sucks away the joy of working with young people.

More of “be sure you to do this, this, and this” instead of exploring the wonder of working with kids.

They keep laying on more work for the student teacher to do, as if it isn’t stressful enough to require student teachers to work for nothing for a whole year while taking several courses in the evening.

When I asked what requirements were removed to make room for the new ones, the facilitator looked stumped.

The demands of the profession rise as positions in math, science and special education remain vacant.

Much of this nonsense is coming from the state.  In fact, there is a new mandate from the Commission that all cooperating teachers have 10 hours of training to ensure they are qualified to work with student teachers.

So, for those of us who have been doing it for years, none of that experience evidently counts.

Funny how that was never a requirement before.  In fact, usually the way a credential program finds cooperating teachers at school sites is by contacting the districts who then email the administrators who then email teachers with an “anybody want to do this” query.  Experience and quality not necessary.

Here is where the state should step in and expect that the cooperating teacher has a certain amount of ability working with or training other teachers.   But to come up with a random 10 hours of training along the lines of UDL and MTSS is BS.   Even the credential folks are at a loss on how to pay people for the required amount of training.

Frankly, I can’t see how a young person full of beans survives intact after going through the shredder of a teacher training program without losing heart.

A teacher who sparks learning in young people does so not because of MTSS but because that individual connects in a human way that can’t translate into a topic on a college syllabus.

I asked my current student teacher if she is getting any sense of enjoyment from any of her classes.  She said only one professor inspires her.   That’s not enough, and not the way to attract people to teaching.

On a side note, the cooperating teachers were paid $50 for the three-hour workshop and travel time to and from CSUN.   That breaks down to $16.66 an hour.   Just another reason to earn a teaching credential.

 

Support Student Journalism

Often what makes school enjoyable for students are the friends they have there and the classes and teachers they like.

And the same goes for teachers.    The highlight of my work day is the students and the journalism program which I have helmed, going on 25 years.

My teaching career would not be half as fulfilling without a front row seat to the amazing work of these teenagers.  If the ideal learning environment is for students to do everything on their own, then those who work for Tornado Media should be required viewing.

In addition to producing the school newspaper, students manage a website, produce a weekly video announcement show, and a magazine-style TV program that airs on local television.

They inspire me with how they take charge of managing their peers, facilitating meetings, organizing monthly calendars of deadlines, laying out pages, editing articles, producing videos.   Most of what I do is trust in them to do the job.  And they take off.

When there is a rally, the students are there capturing it.

When there is a concert, the students are there recording it.

When there is a playoff game, the students are there covering it.

And when a student has lost his life, the students are there memorializing it.

Whether it is yearbook or photo or drama or marching band, the classes which are categorized as electives are mandatory for those students who take them, often the one period of their entire day where they can do something they truly enjoy.

That is why it is essential for schools and districts to support these programs. Unfortunately, as money has tightened over the years, our budget has shrunk; this year cut 20 percent.  What this means is that instead of publishing eight or nine issues this year, we may have only five or six.   To print even a small 8-page newspaper costs nearly $600.

Staffers try selling advertisement in the paper and on the web, but it isn’t easy and any results are not enough.

These are the type of students and programs that school officials should be championing.  But they require financial support.

To provide a professional work environment, these students need computers configured with up-to-date software, cameras, tripods, and cordless microphones—all expensive equipment.

For the past 89 years, these student journalists/historians have chronicled the school’s history. Without their contributions, such a record would be lost.

They search for stories to write and record such as a girl on an all-boys ice hockey team, an artist exploring controversial themes about comfort women, a water polo team with a “miracle on ice”-like season, a young man who designs clothes and puts on a fashion show, an alumnus who walks the perimeter of the campus each morning as the unofficial greeter to all students and staff.

These subjects and what they do would fade away were it not for them being printed in a newspaper or videotaped for the web.

For those of you interested in supporting Hoover High School’s journalism program, visit us at adopt-a-classroom.org or gofundme.com/help-our-journalism-class.  You can also mention our name at the Chipotle in the Glendale Galleria on Saturday, Sept. 23 from 4-9 p.m.

Please consider giving what you can to ensure they continue telling the story of the school, the story of their lives.

On behalf of my students, we thank you for any donation.