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March 22, 2020

March 22, 2022 am31 2:28 am

Those days are both clear, and a blur.

The last regular day of school was Friday, March 13. Opposition people in the union had been screaming for the schools to shut for several days. MORE was actually organizing for a Monday sickout. People in schools with COVID-19 cases were shouting that their schools needed to be closed. But they were not being closed.

Thank yous were deeply appreciated after Spring 2020

Unity and Mulgrew claimed months later that they were trying to close the schools in advance – but there was no indication of any such effort until Mulgrew’s statement on March 13. And no subsequent evidence has emerged. In fact, I still do not understand why UFT officials did not stand in front of those schools with cases and refuse to let members enter. During the asbestos crisis that is exactly what strong high school chapter leaders did.

The UFT’s Mulgrew leadership, while late to the game, did get on board on Friday, March 13.

MORE’s petition was to Cuomo. Once Unity was on board they started Mulgrew’s almost-as-successful petition, which was to de Blasio. Both of those political clowns dithered and argued with each other and refused to close schools. Until Sunday afternoon, March 15. de Blasio announced schools would be closed Monday, and then open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for faculty only. Close Friday. And reopen remotely, temporarily, the following Monday, March 23.

March 17 was a fairly useless pd day in my school. Who could teach us how to teach remotely? I understand the experience in many schools was similar. Many teachers across the city did not report. I did not come back March 18 and March 19. The benefit (none that I could discern) was not worth the risk (rapidly advancing public health emergency without known limits). Side note: I am grieving, with some of my members, the return of days to our CAR. We are waiting to be denied at Step 2.

Unity claims they tried to shut the schools earlier – but there is no evidence from before Friday March 13, the date of this email.
When our safety was at stake, they were playing things politically, and safe (for them, not us).

There has to be some accounting, not here, for why there was practically no real support for remote teaching – not from any quarter. Schools were left to their own devices. We made it up as we went along. There was no support, no help.

Anyhow, pd ended for me March 17. It was the last time I saw Ulises Castro, one of our peace officers, and Denis Murphy, one of our teachers (and one of our founding teachers). PD ended for others on March 19.

Those parts are clear. What happened next, for me, is less clear.

I think I left Thursday evening, made arrangements, came back Friday, packed, and left left on Sunday. In any case, by Sunday March 22 I had relocated far north in New York State, to a county that had not yet had a single COVID-19 case. I got a deal on a spot, and the wifi was good enough. I might even get some hiking in.

Spring 2020 was the longest stretch of time I spent out of NYC since 1984. There were things I enjoyed – the outdoors, time with my hosts and their kids and grandkids. I liked walks in the woods. I liked time at the barn. I liked checking my cameras.

The on-line teaching, with no real training, would have been miserable anywhere. But I made the best of it. I was not the worst on-line teacher. But nor was I the best. School year 2020-21 would be considerably more successful in that regard (my school was fully remote, and we organized a schedule that worked for teachers, students, and families – at least as well as any other remote schedule, and better than most).

In any case, the teachers in my school mostly wanted to start teaching later in the day – after kids were up (not a bad guess that many students would make sleeping in a daily habit). So what did I do? I posted on-line lessons. I rewrote lessons into short texts (not phone texts, but like mini-chapters from books) designed for student learners to read and learn from directly. And I set up 8 – 10 office hours (I called the time “coffee”) every day, and required regular attendance at some office hours each week.

I felt, at times cowardly. I had run away from New York City, my 36-year adopted home. I missed cheering the hospital workers. I wonder what it felt like to be here. But I was glad to be safe, to have clean air, not to worry every day. I don’t know if I made the right decision – but I live with it – it was the decision I made.

I came back once to get a different computer. I was in and out in an hour or two. Early April? I came for a few hours one day in May. But I didn’t come back for good until the summer, the end of June. The apartment building was eerie. My apartment was somehow strange – everything was where it should be, but I had time-traveled 3 months ahead. I remember the second day back, my first day outside, avoiding people, avoiding touching surfaces, not knowing what to expect. Walking to Van Cortlandt was easy, and it was not so hard to avoid people. The grocery store though? I remember my first time inside, and how strange and foreign the whole experience seemed. But that’s another story.

There are tens of thousands of stories like this – teachers individually doing our best to rationally plan for our work, for our students’ learning, and for our safety – while our political leaders grandstanded, stalled, postured – and provided no useful guidance.

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