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Open Letter: Prioritize Instruction AND Safety

August 27, 2020 pm31 9:49 pm

This petition gets it right. Read it here (or read it below, but the numbering is a little weird.) And then sign here.

August 25, 2020


TO: Mayor Bill De Blasio and Chancellor Richard Carranza,

We are two weeks away from the beginning of the school year and the DOE has yet to provide clear actionable support for instructional planning and programming for the hybrid and remote classroom models. Instruction, the engine of the classroom, has been overlooked, and overshadowed by the daunting task of creating protocols for physically returning to school buildings. What has been promised to families and paraded before the media is not possible to enact. I am a high school teacher with 20 years of classroom experience. I want to go back to my building and teach. But we are not prepared. Opening the school year now, using the Chancellor’s plan, means going back with inadequate staffing for both models, which will result in fragmented lessons, teacher burnout and diminished learning for all students. We urge the Mayor and the Chancellor to open schools remotely for the first semester. Allow teachers the time to focus on developing quality online instruction first. Then when it is safe, and we have developed a tenable plan, we can go back to our buildings for in-person instruction. 

    1. Schools have not received the guidance or programming support needed to create a coherent plan for day-to-day instruction.
      1. Principals had to choose one of the city’s proposed instructional models before they knew the number of students that would be in full remote. This means that they had to guess how many cohorts they would be programming and choose a model based on this estimate. 
      2. Principals were given no instruction or guidance on how to program staff for these cohorts. For months there has been no guidance from the Chancellor or Central on who would teach the fully remote students. The Chancellor promised parents that, where possible, the remote cohort would be taught by teachers from their child’s school, but he provided no plan to principals for how to do this. There is still no explicit guidance on ICT instruction. 
      3. Principals are told to be creative, yet are given arbitrary parameters that restrict creativity. The message from Central is that the Chancellor wants uniformity. Hence they were discouraged from creating their own model. They cannot get creative with the courses they offer because there has been no word as to whether the State exams will still proceed, and so students must be in those courses and the content cannot be changed. When principals and community members tried to think of other spaces they could use, the city didn’t respond. Only on August 24th, after months of organizing, did the Mayor announce principals could submit a plan for outdoor space, giving them four days to submit, in order to have it approved by September 4th. Remember that the first day of school is September 10th.
      4. The DOE did not provide explicit guidance for programming until August 24th, less than 48 hours before schools are expected to notify families with their cohort report days. 
  1. Teachers are being set up to do too many jobs with extreme time constraints. As a result the quality of instruction will be compromised and teachers will burn out. Here are some of the expectations for teachers
    1. The hybrid model requires that teachers spend their workday teaching in-person, but students spend the majority of their learning online. Students are in the building two days a week, but learning online the rest of the week. The teacher will be unable to provide live instruction or support, because they will be teaching the other rotating cohorts that are in the building. It is physically impossible to be in two different places at the same time. The lack of coherence in programming will result in lack of coherence in instruction.
    2. The hybrid cohorts rotate, so teachers must plan for and help students keep track of rotating schedules, rotating assignments, and rotating deadlines. The rotating cohort means that the instruction and support teachers provide must rotate also. So a teacher must plan to teach Cohort A an introductory lesson, but the following day when they are teaching that same lesson to Cohort B, they must also be providing instruction and support to Cohort A to move on. Then when they are teaching Cohort C in-person, they must also continue monitoring the progress, and providing feedback and support to Cohort A, and, at a different checkpoint, to Cohort B. For teachers and students, a lot of their work time will be spent simply deciphering a complex schedule. This time will come at the cost of instruction.
    3. In addition to teaching the hybrid cohorts that are online and live, teachers are ALSO teaching the fully remote cohort. This cohort will need a separate curriculum that allows for different pacing of instruction to devote more time for teachers to build trust and get to know students individually in the remote setting. This cohort may account for 40% of a teacher’s roster. Last semester taught us how much work it takes to keep students engaged, supported, and accountable to a community in the remote model. Yet, this is being tacked on to the teacher’s already very full workload. 
    4. Teachers have professional responsibilities outside of developing and delivering instruction. Some of these include department meetings, grade team meetings, staff meetings, professional development, and parent outreach. Yet there is no time provided in the schedule. Instead, teachers are supposed to find time. This will come at the cost of instruction. 
    5. The sample teacher schedule that the DOE has released does not reflect the professional requirements of educators. Parceling out times such as 30 mins in the morning for collaboration, and 20 minutes in the afternoon for parent outreach is a willful misunderstanding of the work that goes into educating students. 
  2. The current plan does not meet the academic or emotional needs of students
    1. Teachers will have less time to develop high-quality instruction, which will exacerbate existing inequities. Parents of affluent means are already pulling together to supplement their children’s learning by hiring tutors and enrolling their children in external programs. Students from lower-income families, primarily our BIPOC students, cannot afford to do so, widening achievement gaps. 
    2. Teachers will have less time to provide one on one feedback, less time to read IEPs, less time to differentiate instruction, less time to get to know students individually, causing all students to suffer, especially our students with special needs and MLLs.
    3. Programs do not support trauma informed practice. Overly complex and inconsistent schedules will be confusing for families and students, and especially challenging for our students with special needs and ELLs. In the fully remote model last semester, teachers were able to build structure and consistency for most students, and help them manage and organize their time to work independently. By fragmenting our time with the proposed models, these supports will be reduced dramatically and could be triggering for students experiencing trauma from the pandemic.
    4. With the in-person restrictions, we can provide just as much support remotely. It is misguided to imagine that in-person socially distanced instruction will be more culturally responsive, engaging, or robust. With in-person instruction there won’t be group work, intimate reading groups, or face to face conferences. In the hybrid model, students in the building will still be required to work online, because teachers cannot approach them physically to give them feedback on their work. Teacher feedback will still most likely happen through a screen. 

We all want students to safely return to the building and for classes to meet the needs of all learners. But we cannot wish it into reality. We are not prepared, because neither the Mayor nor the Chancellor has given us the support or resources to prepare. We are asking you to respect our professional expertise and listen to us. 

The current plan for opening is one of confusion and chaos. Instead of stretching teachers impossibly thin and diluting instruction for all, we should invest in remote learning, for the safety of the community, and to enable teachers to meet the academic needs of all our students. The movement forward must be centered around safety AND instruction. Our students must come first. Please help us put them first!


Sarah Finucane, English Teacher, Department Chair – The Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice

One Comment leave one →
  1. Diane Roberts permalink
    August 28, 2020 am31 11:00 am 11:00 am


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