Back to School 2020

Social media and our news has been flooded with stories about how teachers are “afraid” to return to their classrooms.  The general public has either been incredibly sympathetic or cruel and judgmental.  Calls to dock their pay or calling teachers “chickens” and comparing them nurses in a way to shame them has been a regular occurrence on Facebook, Twitter, and other means of mass communication.

I have been an educator for 31 years.  I love my students.  I have former students who are old enough to have children who could be my current students.  I love reading about what they are doing, I love seeing photographs of their children and seeing what they are doing with their lives.

I have always loved the start of the school year.  The newness, the expectations,  how refreshed we all are after taking time out to breathe and regroup over the summer.  I excitedly plan my welcome back bulletin boards.  I think of new ways to set up the classroom and ideas to make the year more successful.

Teachers WANT to be in their classrooms.  They are NOT lazy.  They are NOT weak.  In fact, they are far from weak.   How many of you who are standing in judgment deal with 30+ people in the various stages of development, hormones raging if they are pre-teens and teenagers,  humans filled with anxiety or perhaps crying due to separation from their parents if they are younger, many who have zero interest in being in your presence, of sitting down and hearing what you have to say.  How many of you are spending 7 hours with those same people trying to motivate and guide them through materials and protocol that often you have nothing to do with deciding upon?

Teachers today are extremely micromanaged by others who in most cases, have either not been inside a classroom for years or have, in fact, never been inside a classroom.  How many of you are told how to do your job by people who have not put in the time to earn the degree?  Have worked hard and experienced what you experience on a daily basis?  Not as many as there were years ago.  Years ago, administrators had to have a great deal of classroom experience.  That is not the case anymore.    The loudest screams, the toughest criticism comes most often from parents who are struggling at home to handle 1-3 children of their own, yet they are the experts on how you should be doing YOUR job.

Teachers deal with this.  They look past it, they do yoga and meditation and have a glass of wine or laugh with colleagues, they rise above.  But this time.  Many cannot.  They cannot because they do not TRUST those who are in charge of preparing how this year and perhaps the future of their lives will look like.  They cannot trust corrupt systems who have repeatedly put their own personal interests ahead of the children of their city, or their state, of their town, of their own communities.

In addition to being a teacher, I have been a parent for almost 25 years.  I have sent in cleaning supplies every single year that I have had a child in school.  Every single year, and I have three children.  As a teacher, I have collected these supplies, kept track of who sent in what, so that I did not ask the same parent to send in more over and over.  I have replenished out of my own pocket every single year, the same as countless other teachers, all while supplying my own children’s classrooms.  After all of these years of supplying out our own pockets, how are we to trust that supplies will be readily available for us to use when we are told that we are to ward off germs in addition to the work we are already responsible for?   We are put in the position to be sure the children in our care are safe every day.  Safe from injury, safe from intruders, safe from possible armed attacks while in school, safe from bullies, and now safe from viruses that we know little about.   Yes, we will do that.  We will continue to put our children’s well being first.  However, will YOU supply us with the tools we need?  Will you be honest with us when there are problems?  Will you be honest with us about the true safety issues facing us?  Will you be honest with us about where the money that is supposed to be used to help us and our students have a better year?  The answer is a resounding NO.

The answer is NO.  It is no in the New York City Department of Education although, they will tell you that the answer is YES.  It has been NO for many years now.  They simply do not put the needs of our city’s children first in any situation.  If they did, we probably would not have been hit with as many reported illnesses or deaths in the school system as we were.  We would not have had to make as many changes as we have to now.  Our children should ALWAYS be learning in classrooms with smaller class sizes.  They deserve the attention a teacher is able to give them in a class of 15 rather than a class of 32 or more.  Studies show that smaller class sizes are 100% more beneficial and conducive for learning.  It is a no brainer.

But instead.  they take our money, they hire their friends.  Friends who are not qualified to be a part of your child’s education.  Have no business being involved because they are clueless about the process and the appropriate needs of students.  they hire themselves, Yoga gurus.  They hire outside vendors at high prices to do jobs that they themselves should be doing.

They have had since March to take action.  But they have not.  They have tossed things together and left principals standing there holding a half-empty bag of ideas most of which are unusable in the schools that principals are trying to get up and running again.

In addition to all of this, we have the media reporting stories to rile up the masses rather than inform them.  To either anger people or frighten them, it depends upon the day.  No one truly has any idea how dangerous this virus is because of the stories and the number change depending upon what is happening in the news that day.

Make no mistake.  People WANT some normalcy.  Anyone who believes that the average person wants to sit in their house day after day with no contact with anyone, no hugs, no restaurants, sports with no fans, no indoor dining, no big weddings or concerts is wrong. The average person likes to the freedom to come and go as he or she pleases, without worrying about whether they brought their mask, without concern of whether they break a new rule.  Teachers want to teach IN their classrooms with children in front of them,   Please stop ridiculing them.  Please stop vilifying them.

Are some teachers afraid?  Yes, of course, this is the case.  Many have some health issues, have a family member with health issues, have known someone who has died from the virus, or perhaps simply,  like me, have been in the field long enough to truly feel overwhelmed and exhausted by all of the new training and rules that will ultimately distract us from learning.    I am over 50, I have an autoimmune disease and a disabled son, whose world has been tossed and turned as well.  So I am on leave at this moment trying to make some sense of things for him before I look to return to “normal”.  But what is my new normal?  I do not know yet.  In fact, very few people know what they will be doing tomorrow, never mind a new normal for the school year.

Let’s support one another.  Let us recognize that no one can trust what we are hearing or being told right now.  We all need to keep open minds.  We all need to care for each other.  We need to not judge.  We, as humans first, need to stand together.

Dropping Crayons: the beginning

My mother sat across from my first grade teacher and looked at her.  “Dropped her crayons?”  my mother incredulously asked.  “Yes” replied my teacher with a snarky look on her face.  ” I cannot allow her to go ahead in reading group because she drops her crayons quite often.”  My mother is the daughter of my grandmother, so therefore this matter did not go well for my teacher and I was placed in the appropriate reading group by the following morning.

My life has been a series of me dropping crayons.  Falling up stairs, unceremoniously dumping my pocketbook out on a regular basis to find my wallet which is lost to the many items that I acquire throughout each day.  I struggled through school, not because I was not bright enough, but because I simply dropped my crayons over and over literally and figuratively, even while attending graduate school.

As an educator, I have encountered many students, who simply encounter Murphy’s Law.  Never allowing myself to openly favor students, I chose instead to give them the patience and encouragement that was rarely afforded to me.  I would think back on how long and hard my days in school were prior to college and want to make it better for every child, even those who could not find their homework because the papers were all over their backpack no matter how many time we had organized them in  folders.

It was not until my youngest child entered High School that I discovered why the crayons had scattered so often for me.  My daughter was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder.  My daughter has tested as “Gifted and Talented” and was able to manage rather well until she became a middle school student.  Middle school was an incredible nightmare for her.  She absolutely understood the work taught, in fact, she was often ahead of the class as far as comprehension.  However, she simply could no longer focus since her class size had ballooned to over 32 students who never stopped chattering.  In addition, she could not calm her mind down to give appropriate written responses when she had a time limit.  Needless to say, many of her teachers met this with annoyance, only saw that she was inconsistent and unorganized.  She scored well on standardized tests not requiring essays and was at the top of her class.  During her final year, she missed Honor Society by an 8th of a point basically and a teacher who did not have the patience to work with  her decided that she should be excluded.  This child with very high intellect stood by and watched others walk around with medals on graduation day, while she stood bare, save for her white graduation robe over her beautiful dress.

I saw the repeat of my dropping crayons incident in her.  I did not know how to handle this.  She is a far better student than I ever was, inheriting her father’s ability to manage any mathematical issue placed in front of her, loving and devouring every part of environmental science, and having ability in art and music as well.  But she was not part of the Honor Society even with perfect and near perfect state exam scores.  Simply because she could not organize herself.  Like me, dropping my crayons among other things.

Her freshman English teacher suggested that we work towards getting her exam modifications that would permit her additional time on tests and even a separate location with less distractions.  We needed to have some evaluations done and low and behold, she fit the criteria for ADD.  In addition to my child fitting the mold, I found that I had a very high score in the area of Adult ADD.

There it was.  The open door of understanding.  I am a person who always ran to the library to find the answers.  Now I live on the internet whenever I am asking questions.  WHY?  HOW?

After years of thinking I simply was not smart enough.  I was not as good as everyone else.  I did not have the gift and so on and so forth….I knew.  A light went on for me in so many ways.  I allowed myself to be me.

As a student, I would lose entire class periods.  One minute I was sitting in class, and next, the class was over and I had no idea what had just happened.  In my mind, in my thoughts, there had been roses, princes and princesses, beautiful sunset, and flowing rivers.  My imagination guided me through the day.  I seemed to only “be awake’ during English, Social Studies and Music classes.  Almost everything else, I survived through by daydreaming, doodling, reading and writing.  I wrote entire novels starting at age 8 continuing through High School.  I have no idea what was taught in the classes while I was writing them,  I lived vicariously in worlds that I had created instead.

I no longer feel embarrassed that in a room with many people speaking at once, I cannot focus on what any person is saying.  Instead, I enjoy the decor, check out fashion and study the architecture of the building I happen to be in at the moment.  I manage.  I accept me and I love those who join in my acceptance.

I know that when I set myself to clean my house, I must write lists, stick to them and not go to more than one room at a time to work.  A person with ADD will go from room to room rarely completely a task because other issues pop up instead.

There are still many moments where I am dropping crayons, this blog is dedicated to sharing those times, in hopes that I will reach another crayon dropper and encourage them to stop and enjoy the colors, rather than scramble to pick them up.