Comment of the Week: A Public School Teacher Asks the Tough Questions About Reopening

re: keeping all who return to public school buildings safe on the article “City’s School Plan Will Mix In-Person and Remote Learning; Local Parents See Challenges to Making it Work”

Jamie says:

I am a public school teacher. Although I miss being in a school building and teaching my students – and recognize that remote learning pales in comparison – there are many unanswered questions…

-Poor ventilation – many school buildings do not have HVAC systems. Even in newer school buildings, like the one I work in, they can’t even control heating and AC (sometimes it is freezing cold or boiling hot).

-Sanitizing – prior to Covid, the custodians were already complaining that they did not have enough time to mop the floors each day, let alone properly sanitize every classroom, bathroom, hall, etc. I had to buy my own soap, hand sanitizer and disinfectant spray and wipes for my classroom. Prior to school closing, (I had 8 students out sick – each were out for 2+ weeks, but they could not get a covid test.)

-Many staff members take public transportation to work. I’m sure many parents of students will also take public transportation to their respective jobs. Once one person gets infected, it will spread like wildfire in a school. The only staff exempt from having to go into a school building will be those who can get medical documentation stating such. Staff members live with others who may be immunocompromised, but are not exempt. Teachers who may have kids at home with compromised immune systems do not have the option to keep their kids at home to do remote learning exclusively bc the parents have to go in to teach.

-Many elementary schools no longer have individual desks; we have tables that are shared amongst 4-6 students and rugs that the children congregate on. Are we getting plexiglass dividers?

-Practically everything in PreK-1st grade is shared in the classroom, from books to pencils to toys. Some of these items can be made to be individualized but things like books and wooden blocks….Is the expectation that these items be sanitized prior to another child touching them?

-It is not feasible to expect the youngest children (PreK-1st grade) to keep their masks on and to socially distance. It is hard enough for grown adults to wear their masks walking on the street.

-So much of early childhood learning is about engaging with others, playing together, working in partnerships and in groups, learning how to read people’s emotional, etc. How do we continue to go about educating in this way with social distancing and mask wearing?

-If teachers are working in school buildings 5 days a week and prepping for that, who will be doing the remote learning portion? It is not feasible for one teacher to do both.

-Childcare will be a disaster! Families will have to find childcare for the days their child is not assigned to be in (with, hopefully, a childcare provider that will continue to have the child engage in remote learning on those days). Where will the children of teachers go on those days? The teacher cannot just stay home with their own child bc s/he has to be at work to teach other children.

The children that suffer the most and that need the most through this pandemic are the low-income, no-income, and/or immigrant students, and students with special needs. There are no answers from the DOE on how to address any of these issues.

* This comment far exceeds the 100-word limit, which is still in effect (give or take.) But sometimes the content of a comment merits flexibility.

COLUMNS, SCHOOLS | 23 comments | permalink
    1. UWS Teacher says:

      Fellow teacher here. I would add a few details, like kids routinely showing up for school very sick and the lack of hot (or even warm) water in the bathrooms. Huge class sizes, decaying old buildings, limited supplies, shortage of school nurses: these problems have been with us for decades, and now look where we are.

      • Obvious question says:

        Why not give directly to parent the $ per student the city would be spending and allow each parent to use that $ for home school resources, private schools, charter schools (or i guess if they want a redux of spring, for public school). If the public school teachers won’t teach remotely while getting paid ( unlike private school staff) and, if kids come back, the physical structures are as poor as your describe , why on earth should we continue this silly system whether remotely or in person? Let parents vote with their feet. If public schools have done such an admirable job dealing with learning under covid, they should not fear accountability that comes with allowing parents to choose whether to continue with that system.

    2. anon says:

      The problem for my kids at one of the Specialized High Schools wasn’t that remote learning simply paled in comparison to in-person classes, it was that there was absolutely no teaching. No live lessons, no recorded videos of the teacher. Just lots of homework. This shouldn’t be a discussion about ‘remote learning. It should be about ‘remote teaching’. 1 of my son’s 6 teachers had regular virtual lessons. The others were never seen from mid-March through the end of the year.That should be considered unacceptable by everyone.

      • UWS parent says:

        Exactly. Let’s see plans for real, engaged, monitored, remote learning with accountability –for both kids and teachers. Then I’d be happy for everyone to stay home as long as it takes to make sure we can return safely. But in the spring, for every teacher who tried their best to make remote learning work, there were 5+ who appeared to take it as a three-month paid vacation. They lost my sympathy right there.

    3. Justin Keating says:

      Another DOE teacher. I teach in a High School in Hells Kitchen. While the students will rotate into the building every 3 days. This rotation is to ensure their health and safety, no one is speaking about the teachers health or safety. I have to be in the build everyday. Why is it unsafe for the students but fine for the adults?

    4. JMF says:

      I don’t want to discount all the concerns and logistical issues. They are legit. And most don’t have great answers.

      Here is the problem. Teachers/schools needed to “knock it out of the park” this past spring to sell parents on remote learning. I think we all saw a lot of C- to F efforts from individual teachers and schools. So for many parents they are looking at remote learning as a situation in which little to no learning actually was taking place. So, now parents are asking themselves, do we want no learning next year (i.e., remote learning as it was practiced in Spring) or to make in person learning work (2 days a week is better than zero days some parents might say).

      I think another piece of the equation is that we are telling “essential workers” at factories and plants and many other industries that they must come in for society to function. They have been facing many of the same risks that teachers, parents, and children are worried about facing in the fall. I wonder if it is fait/unfair to suggest that teachers are
      essential workers”? and thus society must ask them to take on some of the same risks as other industries?

      There are no easy answers here. Again, the concerns are valid. But, hopefully teachers can understand why parents would not want to punt an entire year of their childrens’ education.

      Perhaps the DOE along with the teacher’s union should be doing more to sell parents on why remote learning will be different and better this fall. I imagine trying to convince a parent who works at crowded factory why schools are unsafe for teachers might not be the optimal strategy to encourage remote learning.

      • Josh says:

        Another teacher here.

        Remote learning had many issues. Most teachers I worked with put in many more hours into the remote learning platform than any of us did in actually school. My days were often 15 hours long, although parents wouldn’t necessarily see that. But one thing we have to remember here is that the singular purpose of a school is to educate children. Our role as teachers is not to be a babysitter. Teachers, as a rule, are more educated than the general public, with all but the newest teachers holding a Master’s degree at the minimum. I am not there to babysit your children, I am there to educate them. And I will do my best to do that because it is my job and why I got into teaching in the first place. In a situation like this pandemic, and even when contemplating snow days, we have to stop looking at schools as babysitting services and look at schools as a location of education. Most businesses do not operate as well remotely, but they make due for the safety of their employees. Schools do not operate as well remotely either, but we have to make due for the safety of our students, families, and staff. Keeping schools remote keeps at least 1.3 million people off the streets and out of our public transportation system. And it keeps 1.25 people in a truly socially distanced scenario (home) rather than putting them into the same room as others. That is almost 1/6 of our city’s population held safe by one decision. Dont get me wrong, I want to be back in the classroom, but I dont want anyone to DIE because of it.

        • Anon says:

          What was all the extra time you needed in the Spring spent on and could it be reduced now that you know there will be some virtual component for the Fall? I believe you did your best but don’t discount the experience of those of us with teachers who did not. It isn’t that I didn’t see the extra work the teachers out in. If kids turned in homework of sufficient lengthened for 100. The work wasn’t checked for anything but length. Emails from my kids and then !use of to teachers went unanswered for days. The “teaching” was “read the attached power point and answer the questions”. These were clearly !materials from last year (and sometimes even had last year’s dates) so it didn’t take much time for the teachers to put them on Google classroom.

          Saying teachers want to educate students is very different than what their actions told us.

          I’m the parent above who said my kids are at a Specialized High School. If this was the situation at supporting of the best high schools in the country I can’t imagine how bad it was at failing schools.

        • Josh says:

          Sorry, 1.25 MILLION people in a truly…

        • Jamie says:

          I agree with Josh.  It takes an additional skill set to do it well and was a learning process for me.  I teach K.  I did 30-45 minute live morning meetings that encompassed time for kids to share and a read aloud.  In addition, each of the three other teachers on my grade took on one core subject area (word work, writing, math, reading comprehension) and a couple of paraprofessional took on a non-core subject (i.e. a draw along, movement/dance) to teach live for an additional 30 minutes.  I also made myself available for 1:1 time with families should they need/request it and even gave virtual workshops to parents. I attempted to recruit the “specials” teachers (i.e. music, PE, Art, Science) but only one of them was willing to do live sessions once a week.

          The problem we encountered with my 5yr olds was that they could not sit through live lessons on a screen without a parent sitting beside them and helping them navigate using a device – and even then, it was challenging to hold the children’s attention. Parents expressed that pre-recording were not helpful for the same reason.  These were the issues I encountered that were specific to 5 yr olds.  For older children, this may not be as much of an issue.

          I understand the plight of parents working from home: they do need babysitters if they have young kids at home bc remote learning cannot happen without the adult help at home. A few parents were unhappy with remote learning bc they wanted/needed someone/something to babysit their kids. Some parents chose to have their 5 yr old do workbooks or play games online instead bc that kept them busy and out of their hair.

      • Jamie says:

        I understand the need for school to reopen in order for society to function. Parents need a place for their kids to go in order for them to be able to work – both at home (if they have younger kids) or out to work. Teachers are not babysitters but we are treated as such. The difference between teachers and other essential workers is that we would be in the same room with groups of children and staff for prolonged periods of time, possibly without good ventilation and without proper PPE.

    5. Retiree says:

      First: congrats to “jamie” for posting this well-written carefully-explained analysis.

      Second: congrats to all the other educators who followed through with equally detailed comments.

      Third: This is DEFINITELY an issue that the UFT must address, as it involves the health and safety of students, of staff, AND of their families at home.

    6. Chickens coming home to roost says:

      I disagree with those calling this article thoughtful because it ignores the central fact for most parents—which is that most public school teachers this spring could not be bothered to teach even *remotely*. Private school kids also did not do well teleschooling but at least those schools did not tolerate teacher slackerdom because parents would just choose a different school next year, so teachers had to have curricula and had to get creative presenting materials. Public school teachers have concerns about reopening? Perhaps they and the UFT should have thought of the consequences of giving themselves 3 months paid vacation while frantic parents tried to telework and homeschool at the same time. Why would parents believe the fall remote learning would be any different?

      • Jamie says:

        I’m sorry you had a bad experience with your child’s teacher.  I do agree that teachers need to do more than send out assignments, but not all teachers slacked off!You don’t know what your child’s teacher may have been going through at home.  Many teachers have their own kids at home living in tight quarters, some had family that contracted Covid and were battling it or died from it. (Over 80 members of the DOE died from Covid.  We put our lives, and the lives of our loved ones, at risk when we continued to go into work the week after the rest of NYC was “on pause.”).  The DOE did not give us much guidance on how to navigate remote learning besides that we had to use Google Classroom or Microsoft Teams; teachers had to pretty much figure things out on our own and roll it out within 3 days!  Remote learning is a whole other skill set, and it was a learning process for us.  Some are not tech savvy and the laptops we have from work are so slow and outdated.  We also didn’t have the resources we normally would have at school (I had to find websites that had leveled reading books for my K students to practice at home and that had e-books for me to do read alouds from.) 

    7. Ruth Bonnet says:

      I don’t teach and I don’t have kids, so no horse in this race, and I agree with everything in the article. Except what about nurses and doctors? Don’t they have the same childcare issues as teachers? Aren’t teachers considered front line workers? Just putting it out there.

    8. Mel says:

      For MANY students, school is NOT fun, not helpful, not a good experience. Cliques, bullies, mean kids, competition. You can have it. I think remote learning will benefit kids ALL THE WAY AROUND. As parents, we can work in social skils OUTSIDE of school. Let’s think outside the box. School, for the majority of students, is not healthy. Remote learning is the way to go imo.

    9. Michael Calmenson says:

      This whole discussion is absurd.
      We cannot “work around” an apocalyptic pathogen. What matters is survival.
      No eating out, no going to the movies, no going to school. Every attempt to deny this reality has resulted in much illness and death, and the personal destruction of our beloved health providers.

    10. Bloomie says:

      These questions are probably being asked across the nation, in all school districts where there is any risk of COVID-19 resurging. Maybe some federal agency could set up guidelines to keep students and teachers safe? Like maybe the Department of Education?

      • “Like maybe the Department of Education?”

        Bloomie, do you mean the same Dept. of Education run by the billionaire Betsy DeVos who hates what she calls “government schools” and who is known for her support for school choice, school voucher programs, and charter schools?

        The truth of the matter is that trump has tried mightily to destroy America, and it’s shocking how close he’s come to doing exactly that.

        For a life-long failure famous for wasting daddy’s money, this is really his shining hour.

        I wouldn’t be surprised if Putin rewards him with a dacha on the Black Sea for his services to Mother Russia… I mean really: the way he’s Made Russia Great Again really beggars the imagination!

    11. John says:

      I am not surprised to see the teacher bashing. As a teacher of 29 years in the NYC school system, I was putting in many hours over a day for what I am paid. I had both kinds of parents. On the one hand, I had parents who expected me to answer within minutes and would chastise me when I didn’t. On the other hand, I would call kids to find out where they were at 8 am and I would wake up both parents and students. I teach a lot of kids whose parents can’t really help them with their work and I am very sympathetic to them but the parents who treat their kids’ teachers as their servants, I feel less sympathy. Let the entitled and privileged bashing begin.

      • Brandon says:

        why were you calling to find out where kids were at 8 AM? We were told the reason all the teaching was asynchronous instead of live was that the DOE could not require kids to be online at any specific time. Because some kids might be sharing a computer with siblings and parents this would adversely impact the most needy. So instead nobody got live instruction. Race to the bottom

    12. Jamie says:

      To all the families with younger children urging for a return to school, do you think school will be business as usual for your child? I am a K teacher, and I am trying to envision how to teach while social distancing your 4-5 yr old, ensuring that they keep their masks on and keeping their hands away from other students’ supplies, etc. And, all the while, I will have my mask on covering more than half of my face. How am I to comfort your crying child when you drop him/her off that first day – and am I supposed to social distance from them as well – does that mean I cannot hold your child’s hand and wipe away his/her tears? I am fearful your little ones will be scarred from the experience.

    13. RJ Upper West says:

      Danger to children of no school is far greater than danger of illness. If you don’t like the environment, quit your teaching job.
      Lock yourself in a closet forever. You’ll never catch the virus.
      Complaints about the real estate conditions? They were there before the virus showed up. Put the kids back into the classrooms. For teachers who have a problem being there, let them quit. No pay. DOE will find teachers.