I felt both anxious and excited as I imagined how in just a few short days, on September 21, the space would fill with student voices and energy. We would finally be transitioning from fully virtual to hybrid classes.
Yet a few hours later, while I led ice breakers via Zoom with my new English class in an attempt to build community through a computer screen before the start of classes, my students suddenly flooded our chat box with frantic questions and extreme disappointment.
Since neither teachers nor school leaders were formally notified of this decision in advance, I was completely caught off guard. After learning of this significant change from my students, I was only able to confirm it via a Twitter push notification. In the midst of an already stressful moment, it felt particularly disempowering and destabilizing to learn such significant news in this manner.
School Chancellor Richard Carranza and de Blasio's penchant for last-minute, slapdash decision-making and their willful disregard for teacher and student well-being has consistently plagued New York City's approach to school reopening plans.
Despite having six months' lead time, the mayor and the chancellor did not unveil their initial plan of hybrid schooling until just weeks before buildings were set to open in early September, leaving schools with grossly inadequate time to prepare to welcome students back.
Since this initial announcement in August, the city has pushed back start dates multiple times, each time announcing what teachers, administrators, and parents had been flagging all summer: schools were not ready or equipped to reopen.
To be clear, I am not disputing the delay itself -- I, like so many of my colleagues, agree that schools were not ready to reopen. What I object to is the frantic and haphazard way, time and again, that this crisis has been mismanaged.
That teachers are being asked to respond to students' questions about safety and future learning that we are unprepared to answer is unacceptable. In repeatedly failing to act on warnings and concerns from teachers and union leaders -- not to mention families -- the mayor and chancellor have broken faith and trust with us all. As such, they owe us greater voice and transparency going forward about how we -- teachers, students, parents and staff -- will get the resources and protection we need. So far, we are still waiting.
In the meantime, students and families will suffer.
Typically, I spend the entire summer reworking curriculum, incorporating new texts and attending professional development sessions to strengthen my pedagogy. This year, that was largely impossible as we had no idea if we would be teaching online or in person, if we would be teaching all students or only those who came in person, or if we would be seeing students once a week or five times a week. These environments require vastly different tools and timelines of curricula.
This entire process has made me feel deprofessionalized -- as though the mayor does not care what we teach or how well we teach it as long as we are physically present in the school building to monitor and babysit students. The lack of decisive decision making and transparency has also trickled down to parents, who have not been able to plan for a return to work.
They expressed their desire to respect the wishes of families and educators and provide ample time for planning. Finally, they focused on improving remote learning and access, ensuring that students would receive live instruction from their teachers every day, unlike in the spring.
And, even if run flawlessly, it still would not fix any of the three main issues it set out to address: providing childcare, thereby allowing for a reopening of the economy; preventing any further disturbance to students' ability to learn; and attending to students' social-emotional needs for peer interaction.
Under the current hybrid model, students are slated to attend school anywhere from one to three days a week, inevitably still requiring supervision for the remaining weekdays. Furthermore, different schools have vastly different rotating schedules; this leaves families with children who attend multiple schools with a particularly Sisyphean task of scheduling a matrix of childcare coverage.
When students are in school, most will remain in a self-contained pod with one to two teachers for the entirety of the day. And while this will hopefully curb viral spread, it means that they still will not receive in-person instruction. Instead, they will attend virtual classes, livestreamed by teachers who often are sitting in a neighboring room in the same building.
Under this model, teachers will primarily serve as babysitters, monitoring pods of students attending Zoom classes, and so they inevitably are unable to teach as many academic periods each day. During remote learning last spring, I offered live classes to each of my English sections for 45 minutes a day, five days a week, but with the current plan, I will be livestreaming classes to students for just 30 minutes twice a week.
This shifts the bulk of student learning to asynchronous, independent work, effectively slashing traditional learning time by more than half. Students who choose to remain fully virtual will be equally impacted by these decisions, as schools scramble to piece together schedules that work regardless of a student's environment. At this point, we will begin the year weeks behind our typical start date and over a month behind our counterparts in other major cities across the country; our students are losing essential instruction time as politicians drag their feet.
As of Tuesday, many students were still awaiting devices and struggled to tune into classes and complete coursework through cell phones and hotspots. Throughout the summer, the city was well aware that at least some portion of learning this fall would be remote, yet they did not do nearly enough to implement the technological infrastructure necessary to support our most vulnerable students.
When I arrived at the school building on Monday the 21st, there were multiple families waiting in the lobby with their young students, ready to drop them off for the first day of in-person school. They were confused, upset and frustrated to learn that as of last week, the mayor had pushed back the start date. They were not notified in a clear manner and had no idea they were now responsible for childcare until at least October.
Tragically, much of New York City's travail could have been avoided if our local and state government had welcomed teacher ingenuity and voices. All along, we have begged to play a role in reopening plans, sending forth valuable ideas and creative solutions that have gone unacknowledged.
I am not suggesting that this is a perfect solution nor am I arguing that a panacea exists. I am simply suggesting that there are creative ideas out there that are being ignored. Let's start tapping into the expertise of educators rather ignoring them.
New York City's leaders have failed all of us, but teachers still want to help. We work in classrooms every day from September to June, and we're experts at engineering inventive solutions to make do in tight situations. Allowing us to collaborate with city officials and medical professionals could put our invaluable practical knowledge to use to help devise a more concrete, feasible plan that properly serves our students and communities.
Teachers and students desperately want to be back in our classrooms, and we can help get our city there. We just need a seat at the table.