There is one plus from being sick during a global pandemic.
You get perspective.
While all the schools in Pennsylvania are closed for at least the next two weeks to help stop the spread of COVID-19 (colloquially known as the Coronavirus), I self-quarantined a day early.
No, I don’t think I have the virus, but I’m not taking any chances.
Still, sitting here at my laptop with a steaming mug of tea, I’m filled with optimism.
My symptoms don’t match those of the virus – no fever, no dry cough, no difficulty breathing, no runny nose or sore throat. I just sneeze occasionally, have an intermittent wet cough and feel a bone deep fatigue.
Probably not the culprit sending the world into shutdown mode. But best to rest up anyway.
I’m also filled with a deep sense of gratitude that I’m a public school teacher.
My last class was a rough one – 7th graders running around the room with half written poetry demanding instruction, guidance, reassurance. My morning 8th graders were likewise rushing to complete a poetry assignment – frantically asking for help interpreting Auden, Calvert, Henley, Poe, Thomas.
What a privilege it has been to be there for them! How much I will miss that over the few next weeks!
Who would ever have thought we’d go into self quarantine to stop people from getting infected?
It says something about us that what seemed impossible just a few days ago has become a reality. We actually saw a problem and took logical steps to avoid it!
I know – we could have done a better job. We could have acted more quickly and in many areas we haven’t done nearly enough (New York, I’m looking at you).
But what we have done already shows that human beings aren’t finished. We have massive problems waiting to be solved – global climate change, social and racial inequality, the corrupting influence of money in politics, etc. However, we CAN do the logical thing and solve these problems!
No matter how crazy it seems now, tomorrow could be filled with rational solutions. If only we allow ourselves that chance.
So my spirits are high here in my little hollow nestled in with my family.
Eventually this whole ordeal will be over.
Schools will reopen. Things will get back to normal. Or try to, anyway.
The challenge will be attempting to overcome the month or more of lost schooling.
Some will be thankful they relied on virtual schooling to fill in the gaps. When this whole crisis began, officials chided us to make preparations for “teleschool” in case of just this eventuality.
I’m glad we didn’t.
Frankly, (1) it would have been a huge cost that schools don’t have the money to meet and (2) it would have been money down the drain.
There is nothing innovative about sending kids on-line to do their assignments. The majority of work that can be done that way is of the lowest quality.
That’s workbook nonsense that the laziest and most checked out educators of generations past gave to their students to keep them quiet.
We see students in China who are being educated that way finding ways around it – giving their education apps low star reviews in the app store so that they’ll be removed, etc.
Here in the USA, all children don’t even have access to the Internet. They rely on the local libraries to get online – not a good idea in a pandemic.
So most schools have had to do without.
School is cancelled for about a month or so, and then – hopefully – it will return.
The question remains – what do we do when we get back to class?
We could extend the school year, but families have vacations planned and other obligations. This wouldn’t solve much and frankly I don’t think it will happen unless we’re out for longer than expected.
I anticipate being back in school by mid April or so. That would leave about a month and a half left in the year.
This really leaves us with only two options: (1) hold our end of the year standardized tests and then fit in whatever else we can, or (2) forgo the tests and teach the curriculum.
If we have the tests, we could hold them shortly after school is back in session. That at least would give us more time to teach, but it would reduce the quality of the test scores. Kids wouldn’t be as prepared and the results would be used to further dismantle the public school network.
Much better I think is option two: skip the tests altogether.
Frankly, we don’t need them. Teachers observe students every day. We give formal and informal assessments every time we see our kids. We’re like scientists engaged in a long-term study taking daily measurements and meticulously recording them before coming to our year end conclusions called classroom grades.
In my classes, I think I could teach just about the same material in the remaining time if I didn’t have to worry about the high stakes tests.
In 7th grade, this would mean finishing up our almost completed poetry unit – having kids put together their poetry portfolios and sharing them. Then we’d begin our final novel of the year, “Silent to the Bone” by E.L. Konigsburg, talk about mystery stories, reader perspectives and how truth impacts fiction.
In 8th grade, we could likewise finish up poetry with some presentations on students’ favorites from the assigned group. Then we could read the play version of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” and selections from Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.”We could discuss propaganda, prejudice and compare the historical perspective of Europe and the United States.
In both cases, we might have to forgo a year-end project, but at least we’d cover the majority of what we proposed at the beginning of the year.
Students would leave their respective grades with just about everything we set out to give them. They’d be prepared and ready to meet the challenges of the coming grade.
That seems a worthy goal to me.
But I hear someone ask – what about the standardized testing? Won’t students be less prepared having skipped over those assessments?
The shame is that this alteration in schedule would probably only last one year.
In 2020-21, we’d probably reinstate these standardized assessments.
My 8th graders could read the whole of “Mockingbird,” for one. instead of just selections. My 7th graders could read another entire novel – probably Paul Zindel’s “The Pigman.” Not to mention the addition of more women and writers of color, the extra time for creative writing, an emphasis on finding your own point of view.
And for me that’s the benefit of this COVID-19 crisis. It shows us what could be – what we could do if we were only brave enough to try.
Happy self-quarantine, everyone!