Cloister Commentary, Day 164: Candelabra

At my job, my four other co-workers and I of course must be masked at all times, but we are also encouraged to stay in our offices with the doors shut unless it’s absolutely necessary that we leave. At least we can take our masks off while we’re cloistered, but the situation makes other modes of communication necessary. My boss (who is an outstanding one) emailed me to ask for my office phone number because for some reason she didn’t have it.

My reply: “That could be because I don’t have an office phone.”

Boss: “Wait? You’ve never had an office phone?”

Me: “Nope.”

Boss: “Well, you’re getting an office phone, I’ll see to that!”

Students have to start really procrastinating before our tutoring picks up, so that will have to stand for the highlight of my first day back to on-location work.

I’ve been hearing talk in some quarters about “lazy teachers.” I assume that’s related to our city public school system going virtual for at least the first week. Funny: I’ve heard teachers called many things over my career–“merfer” is my personal favorite that I’ve experienced–but lazy has never been one of them. It’s not a profession I’ve frequently seen the lazy rush into, and one thing we all have in common is having teachers. I’ve had, and known, some subpar ones–think back to how you witnessed your own teachers practice–but even they have seldom been lazy. Why not? It’s almost impossible to be lazy and merely survive the job. Manage humans, create, disseminate, and explain curriculum, then assess the output for 100-150 of those humans per assignment? If that were all there were to it, and it ain’t, it’d require diligence whether one taught virtually, in hybrid, or in person. Just this morning, I was texting with a former colleague who is instructing virtually all year, but has five separate courses to prepare for. There is nowhere to run and hide in slothfulness, indolence and lethargy from that. Another fellow colleague told me today she is already burning her candle at both ends, and virtual teaching won’t ease that. I suggested she needed a candelabra.

Sorry. I don’t know why I’m even explaining; chances are if you asked the accusers to come on and show the rest of us how it’s done, they’d have to go see a guy about a horse.

Besides: teachers did not create or exacerbate our current problem; childcare may be a fringe benefit of public education, but it’s not in the job description (or in our pay grade); and our country has had the chance to create a national child care program, as well as a society with reasonable safety nets for situations like the present–but, well, I believe that’s (apparently) largely considered Communistic, socialistic, Satanic, enabling, or some such other evil. I am aware of the strain hybrid and remote learning puts on families, especially those struggling already with non-COVID obstacles, but “lazy teachers” are not the proper target for vilification. Ok, done.

Cool new show (new to us, anyway): The Indian Doctor. Rooting interests: seventh game success for the OKC Thunder, and I’ll take either the Nuggets OR the Jazz, providing Murray and Mitchell light it up again’

Streaming for Strivers:

That’ll be the day, indeed.

Cloister Commentary, Day 32: “Old Friends are Always the Best, You See / New Friends You Can Find Every Day….”

I’m sure I’m not the only one striving to strengthen connections with old friends, since I’ve more time on my hands and can’t easily see them in person. Yesterday, I called one of my best and oldest educator friends, Karen Downey, to catch up.

Karen and I worked together for 16 consecutive years as a special education-content specialist team in what was then called “class-within-a-class” mode. One, we planned lessons, assessments and units together to ensure all material could be sufficiently modified for our students who had individualized education programs (IEPs); two, we strove to deliver that material in the classroom in such a way that, if someone dropped in, they couldn’t be too sure who the content area specialist and who the special ed specialist was; and three, we had fun teaching together.

When I first accepted an assignment to work with her at Hickman in 1990, I was reluctant. I was 28, so I thought I knew it all. She also seemed a little conservative, and I worried she would cramp my freewheeling style. Plus–horrors!–she was 10 years my senior, and I didn’t need an oldster slowing me down. Well…10 years wiser, was more like it. In very short order, she taught me 90% of what’s really important about teaching to every kid in a classroom, she brought me closer to the middle (and I brought her closer to the left margin), and her precise historical knowledge and quicker-on-the-uptake classroom (and school building) vision radically enhanced what I was able to deliver to my kids. As a bonus, we became very close friends and quickly found ourselves able to communicate across the room with the flicker of an eyelid. Former students of ours will not only verify this, but also that she was the brains of the operation. With any text or lesson, at her suggestion, we could set up (among other strategies) a politically- or gender-based dialectic that could immediately make the material more interesting and relevant for everyone involved. One of my favorite aspects of our partnership was the visual we presented: I can’t think of anyone less stoic in front of a class than me, or more stoic than Karen! If a kid wasn’t able to connect with one or the other of us, they were probably not trying.

I’ve run on here, but she was the best thing that could have happened to my teaching, and I’m very grateful. We picked up yesterday right where we left off, as we always do. You ought to touch base with someone today who had a similar effect on your career.

We’ve found (it’s pretty obvious) that we’re spending much less money in this mess; we are lucky to have some. We’re also a bit frustrated we can’t get out to physically help to any serious extent. So we decided yesterday to double our monthly food bank donation, contribute to The Homieslocal effort to feed hungry people and help food service workers survive this, and make a big delivery order from Love Coffee, which “provides job skills training and employment in an atmosphere of love to individuals with disabilities and barriers to employment” (their mission). I don’t communicate this in order to signal our virtue; these are just some pretty easy local things to do that really do help, if you are able to do them.

Streaming for Shut-Ins:

To balance the goody-good and celebrate a wily septuagenarian…

Cloister Commentary, Day 13: Shut Down

The world of Columbia Public Schools’ faculty, staff, and students was shook yesterday when a three-day pause was announced in proceedings, for the purpose of re-evaluating and re-thinking the system’s response to COVID-19. While that pause is likely a good thing–this is unprecedented, and our state government is still dragging its heels in its response–it might have been, for many, the first serious reverberation of the crisis’ impact. Nicole, who has been working very hard from home and keeping in close contact with her students and comrades, definitely is feeling it, I know all parents and kids are, and though I only interact with CPS as a mentor and student teacher supervisor, it shook me, too.

Thanks to a break in the weather, we’ve walked to Parkade Park and back three consecutive days, and every day we’ve at least said hi to a different neighbor. The year’s first “yardening” has begun! The unspoken mantra on our block: “Don’t be the last to mow your lawn!” We’re lucky: Deven and LaVere Lawn and Landscaping have had our backs since they went into business.

Some local happenings worth supporting: our excellent ward councilman Mike Trapp and his brother have created a shelter project for folks who are outside, and Broadway Diner is STILL feeding any hungry kid on a daily basis. We are donating, and if you can, you might think about it. See links in my comments below.

Anyone else having trouble sleeping a decent number of hours? We normally get up early, but either our dog or the buzzing of our inner wiring has been limiting us to less than six hours a night.

I generally dislike fruit, but I need a banana a day. Oddly, that little quirk is really my only obstacle to staying away from the grocery for a couple weeks at a time. I’m learning to live without.

Streaming for Shut-Ins: