Teacher’s Corner: Can I Go to the Toilet, Please?

Periodically I come across post and articles on social media where schools have punished kids for going to the toilet, especially girls on their period. And while in all the cases I came across outrage is more than warranted, there are always people who think that all rules about bathroom visits are bad, and surely, if you look at it from the outside, this seems reasonable. After al, we all have to pee and we rightfully class it as a human rights abuse if people are denied sanitary breaks. So why do schools still need at least some rules?

The first and major issue is safety. When you send your kids to school, you expect them to be safe there. You would object if we let strangers into the school yard and talk to your kids, or let them just run out into traffic. That’s why some of us always spend our breaks in the school yard, supervising breaks. If a kid leaves during lessons, we cannot guarantee safety. I once posted about a kid who went to the toilet and came back with dog shit on his shoes. That kid had definitely left the school premises. And even a simple accident could go unnoticed for quite a while. If there’s something all teachers dread it’s a kid getting hurt and then you having to justify yourself as to why this could happen on your watch.

The second one is that it simply disrupts class. Even very quiet systems where kids just get up, pick up the “toilet pass” and leave, create noise and disturbances. Doors are opened and closed. the kid misses part of the lesson and then comes back and needs to ask others or can no longer follow your explanation because they missed the start.

Number three is linked with number one: vandalism. It’s not unusual that toilets get damaged, walls get smeared, stalls get flooded, it’s a huge mess, somebody has to clean it, somebody has to pay, and the culprit is never found. Everybody suffers. Including the idiot who damaged the toilets.

In the end, it’s also not unreasonable to ask kids above primary school to use the breaks. Exceptions can and will always be made (nobody here will ever deny a bathroom break. But if it happens too often we’ll ask your parents to take you to a doctor), but in the end, 45 minutes is not that long a time. They manage to play video games 4 hours straight, travel for an hour or more, and of course they can hold it for an entire lesson plus the entire break, just to ask you the very moment you start teaching.

 

Teacher’s Corner: Sacrificing our kids to Covid

Remember when last year large parts of Europe, who thanks to quick and strict measures got relatively well through the first Covid wave shook their heads in horror at Trump’s science denial and his complete refusal to act? Well, now it’s time for the rest of you to have some pity on us. Germany has been on varying stages of pseudo-lockdown since October. With the second wave peaking around Christmas and over 1.000 deaths a day ion January, it happened exactly what scientists said would happen: the second wave hit hard, in all areas, and since our politicians refused to act quickly, it got a lot worse than it had to be. From that point on we’ve been in an unbearable state: Our private life is severely restricted. At some part it was illegal for Mr and me to enter my parents’ house at the same time when bringing them groceries. But there are zero restrictions on workplaces, and schools reopened three weeks before the Easter holidays, but at least only with half size classes and rotation. And we keep going…

One of the ways we’re measuring the spread of Covid is the 7 days incidence value. I’m not sure if that is used everywhere, so let me quickly explain: It tells you how many people on average got Covid during the last 7 days out of 100.000 and is seen as a key value, together with the R-value (how many people does one person infect). Last year, an incidence above 50 meant that an area was a high risk area. With the new mutants, especially the highly contagious British variant B117, some time in February our politicians decided that we needed to get below 35, which was a goal supported by scientists. then they noticed that we won’t reach 35 until we implement some really strict measures, especially in offices and factories, and they abandoned the goal. and much like in the USA, each Ministerpräsident*in decided they knew better, usually by implementing less measures than they actually agreed on.

Schools and daycare have always been central in these discussions. under the guise of “child welfare” they are kept open to the last possible minute, when actually the issue is that we provide “free” childcare so mum and dad can go working and catch Covid in an open plan office. Don’t get me wrong, this school year basically didn’t happen in terms of learning. I’m fully aware of the many issues that come with closing down schools, in terms of learning, in terms of providing structure, in terms of child welfare. I’m also fully aware of the alternatives and they are worse. they are literally killing our children and their parents.

At the start of the pandemic we saw huge infection rates and deaths among the elderly, and people, mostly politicians, claimed that children didn’t get Covid, and if they did, they weren’t infectious. Once they could no longer deny that children do get Covid, the next lies were that it’s harmless for children (7% get Long Covid!) and that they also didn’t catch it in school, but at home. I don’t know how this must have felt for the two of my colleagues whose children did catch it at school and one of whom infected his mum who has been in  hospital or a couple of months now. It makes me fucking angry. All those bullshit lies are crumbling down, of course, so the new idea is to simply ignore children and families.

The new plan of the federal government is that the “all is well” incidence is 100, which is already three times the number we agreed on at the start of the year. But for schools to close down completely, the number must be 200. If you now say “that’s horrible, that’ll kill people”, I’m afraid I haven’t even hit you with the worst of it. As said before, that number is calculated on 100.000 inhabitants, but 100.000 regardless of how many people are already vaccinated. Even those who only received one shot are largely removed from the battle field as long as they keep up with the rest of the measures. This means that currently the number in Germany is actually per 80.000 unvaccinated people. Therefore an incidence of 100 is actually more like 120. With vaccination finally progressing, this will shift more and more. Now, who’s the largest group that currently has a zero percent vaccination rate and has to meet many people every day? Yep, children and adolescents, and it’s already showing:

©Giliell, all rights reserved

This shows the incidence of kids between 5 and 14, the deeper the blue, the higher the incidence value. In my county, that incidence is 421, while the overall incidence is “just” 183 and doesn’t trigger any measures now and will not trigger any measures should the federal “emergency break*” be enacted. By the end of summer, an incidence just below hundred over all age groups could mean 600-800 among school kids. Of course they carry the virus home and many parents will also be in the last group to be vaccinated as they tend to be younger and healthier. With the wild type, isolation within the home was often good enough to protect the other family members. With B117, if one person gets it, everybody in the family gets it, thus putting kids and parents at risk. Some of those parents will die, just like it happened in New York, where thousands of kids lost a parent. And all of this is done in the name of “child welfare”.

Oh, and our government has asked us all to put a candle in the window to honour the Covid deaths. maybe they shouldn’t ask us to set things on fire right now?

Won’t Sombody Think of the Children? Bullshit “ethics” on Covid vaccination

One of the few things that are currently giving people hope is the fact that within a year, we got a couple of working vaccines for Covid and the distribution is now rolling out. Being smart we also know that this a) is doing shit right now, b) will take time, c) is fraught with ethical dilemmas.

With only few doses available right now, societies struggle with the question of whom to vaccinate first, and it’s not an easy one. Because no matter how you decide, there will always be people in the group you vaccinate first who would have recovered with little problem, and there will always people in the group you vaccinate later who will die, and since we cannot reliable predict who is who on an individual level, we can only do so on group membership.

And yes, many of us will wish for a place further up in the queue. I was devastated when I heard that in Germany teachers were pushed back to the end of the line, while also being expected to continue full in person teaching (we’re currently back to homeschooling, let’s see for how long), usually with some bullshit arguments about children losing out. More on that later. As this discussion continues, the NYT Magazine published a debate on “Whom to Save First”. Absolute trigger warning for absolute ableism and casual racism for that article. And if you are on blood pressure medication, make sure you only read it after you’ve taken yours because it made me really angry and took me like three turns to read to the end.

The people in the discussion are:

  • Ngozi Ezike, an internist and pediatrician
  • Gregg Gonsalves , a professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health and an AIDS and global health activist.
  • Juliette Kayyem is a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School, where she is the faculty chairwoman of the Security and Global Health program
  • Siddhartha Mukherjee is a professor of medicine at Columbia University and a cancer physician and researcher.
  • Peter Singer is a bioethics professor at Princeton
  • Emily Bazelon, a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine, who moderated the discussion

Tell me if you spot the problem right away. Our line up includes 4 doctors and researchers, which is a good idea when talking about the data, the predictions about the effects, questions about logistics, etc. These are also the parts of the discussion that I found more interesting, and while they also raised good ethical points (like what about the prison population, who are basically sitting ducks for the virus), they also only represent one group involved in that discussion and affected by the decisions. As always, science and logic can give us data and predictions, it cannot tell us what is right and what is wrong.

That leaves us with exactly one ethicist, and I’m going to use that term lightly here, which is Peter Singer. In case you haven’t heard of him before, I’m sorry to have done that to you now, but here’s a good overview on why many people, especially in the disabled community absolutely abhor Singer. Questions around ableism and eugenics have been at the forefront of the discussions about Covid since the start, as it is a disease that kills predominantly elderly people or people with chronic conditions, with lots of people claiming that we shouldn’t all have to drastically change our lives just because of those people. So why, on a discussion on a subject that predominantly affects old and disabled people would you only invite an ethicist who doesn’t think they’re worth saving anyway and no disabled person to advocate for the rights and lives of disabled people? (Hint: it’s because of ableism).

So let’s get to the meat of the matter. About all countries seem to have decided on two groups to vaccinate first: The very old and infirm, especially in nursing homes and hospitals, and health care workers and all those involved in the care of the first group. Most people would agree with that order: protect those most likely to die and with a high risk of catching it, and protect those with a high risk of infection <i>and</i> a high risk of transmitting the disease to very vulnerable people*. Now, normally you’d have to search the Republican party or whatever is your local equivalent to find somebody who’d begrudge granny her vaccine, but if you are nominally a leftist and still hate old and disabled people, here’s Peter Singer for you:

The objective that we should aim for is to reduce years of life lost. I know a lot of people are talking just about saving lives. But I do think that it’s different whether somebody dies at 90 or 50 or a younger age still. So, in my view, that’s what we should be looking at.

Yes, you read that correctly: A human life is not a human life. A human life is valued according to the numbers of years that person still has to live happily (From Singer’s other writing you will know that he thinks he knows when a life is worth living, so the years to live of a disabled person count automatically less than the years to live of an able bodied person). So preventing death in one 50 yo should probably count as much (or even more, since many of those years will be “happy”) as preventing death in 7 octogenarians. You think I’m cynical and dishonest in making up calculations where human lives are reduced to mere numbers, strawmanning poor Singer? Look at what he says when another participant gently pushes back:

The basis for the British government’s plan is, of course, to treat those who are at the highest risk of dying and thus to minimize the number of deaths. But it is also important to consider what your life would be like if you don’t die.

It might still be that we should protect 90-year-olds first, based on data suggesting that 90-plus are at eight times the risk of dying from the virus as people around 70, whereas their life-expectancy difference is roughly something like four and a half years as against 15 years for 70-year-olds. If that’s correct, then the higher risk to the 90-year-olds outweighs the difference in life expectancy.

No, we shouldn’t vaccinate granny first because she’s at high risk of horribly suffocating while totally at the mercy of her caregivers, we should vaccinate her because there’s some bullshit calculation about life expectancy. Singer does not place any value on the individual life, their individual suffering, it’s just a question of “years saved”, though he also has quite some opinions on the worth of any year of life lived according to some “objective” white dude metrics:

But even there I would make some exceptions. I don’t know whether the public-health systems are going to be able to do this or whether the political leaders are able to accept it, but if we are talking about everybody in an elderly-care home getting vaccinated, I think we should ask questions about the quality of their lives.

Now, end of life discussions, questions about assisted suicide are difficult, fraught with emotions, and anybody who ever had a loved one slowly wither away and basically die over a prolonged period of time knows that those are not easy questions, that you will deal with complicated emotions and that yes, indeed, you may see death as a mercy in the end. What treatment to give to a person who cannot make the decision themself and which to withhold is difficult and heartbreaking, which is why everybody should discuss those matters beforehand and have them written down. But Singer doesn’t want to explore those moral questions, as they are questions that relate to bodily autonomy and individual freedom. He wants to seem all Vulcan and just place some objective value on people’s lives and then calculate their worth.

Ironically, he goes then on and argues that if we cannot ask people directly, it would be immoral to just vaccinate them because they cannot consent:

If a patient is not capable of expressing a view on whether or not to receive treatment — and that includes vaccination — families should be consulted, and they should make the call. We shouldn’t just go through nursing homes and automatically vaccinate those who are not capable of giving consent.

What is it now, Peter? Do we suddenly have to ask difficult questions about consent? And if so, why the hell do you assume that those people would consent to ending their lives in a most horrible manner? Because all I know so far about ICU Covid treatment is that once you’re at that point, everything is horrible and has been for a while. Suffocating is generally considered a very cruel death,a s your whole body is still fighting. I can imagine what Singer’s “solution” would be, and no, thank you, I think that one Hadamar is enough.

Now that Singer has established that we really shouldn’t vaccinate all those old and disabled people, the discussion moves to who we should vaccinate and why. Spoilers: It’s not because people who are getting sick from Covid are suffering and still possibly dying and having long term effects. No, for Singer it’s all about how you getting Covid is going to inconvenience others:

Setting priorities in this phase should depend on the impact on essential services. For services in which workers are mostly young, and even if they get the virus they’re not likely to have severe symptoms, and they will not be absent from work or will be absent only briefly, then maybe you don’t have to vaccinate them first. But if we have essential services that are really being set back by the fact that people are getting the virus — for example, if we’re at risk of not having enough truck drivers to deliver the vaccine — that would be a reason to give these workers high priority.

He completely dismisses the massive suffering caused by Covid, the long term risks, and of course the impact on families and communities. If they’re young, just let them get sick (for example retail workers), because they will only miss a few days of work. Because the most important thing in your life is going to work. Bazelon argues along the same line:

That makes me think of teachers. The service of in-person schools has been cut off in parts of the country for 10 months now. This has come at a huge cost to kids, in terms of learning loss and social and emotional development. Some vulnerable kids aren’t in school at all. Children generally have borne a greater share of the burden of the virus than we often talk about.

Teachers are not valued as people. Our health and wellbeing is completely unimportant. What matters is that we go to school and work, in a good attempt of appealing “won’t somebody think of the children???”. Yes, I do think of the children. That’s my fucking job. But children are also wonderful argument killers. Once you invoked children, your opponent can only lose, because we all know that children (at least the able bodied) are the ultimate cause worthy of protection (unless you should feed them). the same people who generally won’t give a fuck about public education, the state of schools and the welfare of vulnerable kids have suddenly discovered them as a group to advocate for, and whose needs magically align with their own ideas.

Kayyem agrees, saying the quiet part loud:

Education is critical infrastructure. We didn’t designate it as such, as we did with electricity and water or the food-supply chain. But it turns out that a society cannot move, literally cannot flow, if parents are at home because of kids. The economic impact has been huge. And on the other side of this pandemic, the long-term impact for kids who were already behind is disastrous.

Actually it’s about parents being able to go to work and make money for people who are already rich. Yes, throw in some lines about kids who were already behind. Unless you can show me your work on how you fought for disadvantaged kids before Covid, I’m going to call it crocodile tears. While I absolutely do think, for absolutely selfish reasons, that teachers should be right behind very vulnerable people when it comes to the vaccine, I’m not going to claim that this is to mostly benefit disadvantaged kids. the best you can do for disadvantaged kids is to massively invest in child welfare and social services. I think we should get the vaccine because we are in a high risk environment and I don’t want to fucking die.

Here’s how I know that they don’t actually care about kids. Bazelon picks up Singer’s line about “years of life saved” and goes on about the long-term effect on children:

In thinking in terms of years of life saved, research suggests that children who fall behind because of elementary-school closures are likely to have shorter life expectancies, on average.

You know what, lady? You could fix that. And 8 years old who misses out on primary school does have a lot of time to catch up. You could support those kids, their schools, their families. Shorter life expectancies are not a natural force. They are something society can absolutely do something about, but that would require more than giving their underpaid, overworked teachers in crumbling buildings a Covid jab.

There’s some interesting talk about logistics etc. in the middle (and suddenly there’s other people doing the talking…) until we get to another big issue: the world-wide distribution of the vaccine: The affluent north is buying up all the available vaccine, while also blocking the global south from just replicating the vaccines by Moderna etc. There’s some casual racism about how we cannot trust the Indian and Chinese vaccines, but hey, there’s testing, and then the ethicist Singer drops the following:

According to 1DaySooner, which advocates for volunteers, nearly 40,000 are willing to take part. If you can give people a vaccine and then deliberately expose them to the virus, you get results much faster. And you can study the antibody responses and the immune responses, because you can house volunteers in a residential quarantine facility where they’d be available for that kind of testing. I recognize that they don’t have the representative demographics that you would want, but these trials do offer the possibility of getting much speedier results.

Yes, Peter, experimenting on humans is completely cool. “But they are volunteers”, they say, ignoring the fact that people are desperate. Here we have a world renowned ethicist claiming that infecting people with a potentially deadly disease is ok. Somehow all the doctors in that discussion just gloss over it? Did they not get it, or did they do the thing where you will bush over such things because how can you even start such a discussion? Singer goes on to abuse people with little voice for themselves in his arguments, repeating the idea that people should be able buy access to the vaccine if in return others could get some benefits:

Singer: The economist Richard Thaler wrote in The Times recently about letting celebrities and wealthy people jump the vaccination queue by bidding for spots at an auction. That would show they wanted to get the vaccine, which would help encourage other people to get immunized. And Thaler thought the money could go to people who are suffering because, for example, the virus cost them their jobs. My idea is that instead of dollars, people should bid on sending units of vaccine to the Global South.

Mukherjee: Peter, what if you could jump the queue, and get 10 doses of vaccine for your friends and family, if you contribute 5,000 or 10,000 or 500,000 doses for the Global South. Would you be open to such an option?

Singer: Yes, I would be, I think. Clearly, for a utilitarian like me, the benefits greatly outweigh the costs.

Let’s look at what is proposed here: Singer isn’t asked to forego his vaccine. He isn’t ask to decide whether his child or grandchild should get the vaccine or a woman in a sweatshop. No, the terrible moral dilemma is to get the vaccine for those he loves AND sending vaccine doses to the Global South as a good White Saviour. The cost in this scenario is entirely paid by other people, presumably those in assisted living facilities. That’s the best version of the trolley problem ever, isn’t it?

While others in the discussion ask for solutions that lead to more vaccines being produced, i.e. ignoring patents etc, Singer never ever touches the idea that we could just not do this based on profit. His idea isn’t about producing more doses so the whole planet can be vaccinated, but about keeping the vaccine a rare and highly profitable good that is then distributed more equally, with rich people getting a chance to feel good about it. this shows that Singer doesn’t even take his own philosophy seriously. If it ever were about the greatest amount of happiness, then he’d have to address wealth distribution, both within industrialised nations as well as in the world. But he doesn’t. In his philosophy, which claims to look at humanity more as a whole, he is still displaying a Libertarian individualism, and for all his pseudo Vulcan objectivity, it turns out that somehow he always comes out on top…

Now having written this and therefore read that article a couple of times, I’m cranky: So please, won’t somebody think of my children who now have a cranky mum and please never ever suggest I should listen to Singer on any subject ever again?

*We still don’t know if the vaccine will also stop you from transmitting Covid, but hopes are high.

Teacher’s Corner: Closing Down

We’re finally halfway shutting down the country again. Or: a lesson in how to royally fuck up Christmas. At the start of October we cancelled our family Christmas, ’cause we’re not stupid. At the start of November the government imposed what was called a “wavebreaker shutdown”, which was bullshit, as everybody with any competence knew. Pubs and restaurants had to close, but shops and schools stayed open. We were begging them to go back to hybrid teaching: please, please, please let us split groups, make sure the kids have some physical distance, that the buses aren’t full, but no, kids need to go to school, so mummy and daddy can go to work.

Of course this didn’t work. Exponential growth was stopped for a while, the Christmas shopping started and we went back to exponential growth. At school asymptomatic kids spread Covid, and then parents and teachers get sick. Last week about three times as many teachers got Covid than the rest of the population. We kept begging. And we kept begging for some orderly shutdown. But nooooooo. Yesterday the government decided to go into full lock down (finally) with two days notice. At 11:30 pm I got a mail that says: please prepare material for your students for the last week before the holidays and the first week after the holidays. Your material should be engaging and suitable for self-study. Have it ready by Tuesday morning.

For us teachers this means work without end for two days and then we’re supposed to sit on our asses in school. No, I can’t explain the rationale. I think the secretary of education is breaking out in hives at the thought of a teacher baking cookies a day before the winter break. Of course, the whole thing exposes one fact: the ministry hasn’t done shit since March except tell us to open the windows (15°C in the classroom, and so far it’s a warm December). Maybe tomorrow the older kids will get tablets to work from home. Maybe…

For yours truly the lockdown may already have come too late: today I got the news that the colleague who sits next to me in the staff room has tested positive. And of course the staff room is where you will occasionally take off your mask because you need to eat and drink. So far I’m not experiencing any symptoms, and I asked my nurse sister if she can get me a quick test, so keep your fingers crossed.

Teacher’s Corner: When you don’t like the results, change the rules

©Giliell, all rights reserved

So, Covid keeps raging, and of course it does not stop at the school gates. No matter what our politicians like to say, schools are not safe. How the fuck could they be? They masterfully combine the three Cs that you should avoid: Crowded places, Close contact, and Confined spaces. The kids still sit next to each other, 25-30 in a small room, teachers have to go to them to talk to them, and opening the windows every 20 minutes isn’t going to save our necks.

Source: WHO

As a result, at our school there are currently three classes and seven teachers in quarantine, and we’re not the unlucky ones who for some reasons have all the outbreaks while every other school is safe. Across the state many schools have similar issues, we’re close to having to send home kids because there are simply no teachers left. #1 hasn’t had a full school day in weeks, much to the chagrin of her younger sister they prioritise staffing the younger classes.And our politicians are noticing that this may mean school closures through the back door and their idea is to drums just change the quarantine rules. Right? Many experts agree that German quarantine rules are what keeps us comparatively safe compared to our neighbours: If you had close contact with a Covid patient, you have to stay at home for the next two weeks. And I mean AT HOME. You may go to your garden, if you have one, but no shopping, walks, visits except medical appointments. Your wages are covered, and your boss must abide by this. But the idea is now that kids should not quarantine for so long, or that we should quarantine the classes within school to see if more cases appear. Because that’s totally doable and teachers will be very happy to be relegated to the plague pool for two weeks. Not that this would solve our staff problems… There’s no evidence that the old rules are over the top, on the contrary, but they are inconvenient, so why not scrap them?

In order to appear to be doing something, we got new rules and a letter from the ministry. Now all kids from year 5 upwards have to wear masks all the time while in the building. For teachers, masks are still only “strongly recommended” if we are in a situation where distance cannot be kept. Because ordering us to wear them would mean they’d have to provide the masks and provide us with the breaks usually mandated when wearing N95 masks. The letter was a whole other thing, it could have been written by US Republicans.

First it started with the not-technically-a-lie claim that only a small fracture of kids and teachers has contracted Covid. Which is true, but which is also true for the rest of the population. Even with 120.000 cases a week, only 0.2% of the population has got Covid or something like that. They use numbers that look low, instead of using the ones we’re used to, like cases per week per 100.000, because that’s how that graphic looks like:

Next is the flat out lie that Covid is spreading because people are not following the rules in their private lives, which is complete bullshit, because we cannot trace 75% of infections. But of course, the infections in your private life can be traced. A spouse who picks it up somewhere (there’s no case of anybody ever contracting Covid while shopping- that we know of) and then passes it on to their spouse isn’t some irresponsible party animal. In short, the letter is infuriating and insulting. And then they have the gall to say “oh, we know you already have a lot on your plate, here’s some more”.

Because on top of the missing staff, we need to organise remote teaching for the quarantined classes and set dates for the kids who have been at home all the time because they themselves or close family members are vulnerable. And they’re getting more, because parents who felt safe to send them when numbers were low understandably don’t feel safe to do so anymore. Which means that for each test, we need to set a time and place and teacher where the kid can write the test alone. we need to set times when they can pick up and drop off their work. That takes a hell lot of resources.

And if all of that wasn’t enough, we’ve got the Covidiots breathing down our backs. they are circulating nonsense letters in which schools should take legal responsibility for all damages suffered from wearing masks, which isn’t just bullshit, but also impossible, since a school isn’t a legal entity that could claim legal responsibility. they even tried to organise protests and wanted to hand out “free, useless masks” to children on their way to school. Yeah, you can imagine how kindly I look on strangers who want to give things to schoolkids…

Thankfully it seems like they cancelled that idea (with a few exceptions). In many cities police was present in front of schools and we were ready as a crisis team. My own kids were instructed to loudly yell if they were approached and I must say, I would have taken great pleasure in setting the police on anybody approaching them. So, teaching is great fun right now. Not. Let’s hope the news about the vaccine is as good as it sounds. 6 weeks till Christmas…

Teacher’s Corner: The Best Negative News Ever

My Covid test came back negative. This time. And since my sister will have one of those fancy new quick tests at work tomorrow, we scheduled for a hug.

In other news, the situation in schools is terrible. Today the second class had to go into quarantine. From Monday on all kids in secondary school will have to wear masks. Teachers as well, but only cloth or paper.

The ministry refuses to order us to wear N95 masks, because then they’d have to pay for them AND regulations say that you have to take 30 Min of break after 75 min. So we all wear them for hours straight to b protect ourselves and the school from collapsing.

And then you get the parents who are blaming schools and teachers for the regulations of the ministry. Fun times.

Teacher’s Corner: Talk to Me!

Today’s teacher’s corner is brought to you by the Little One, who apparently has a rough day at school. Some classmates seem to be difficult and today everything escalated, their class teacher cancelled tomorrow’s recess* and she complained bitterly that both the English and the P.E teacher had called them “a bad English/P.E. class”. Now, of course, that gets the mama bear mode activated, but luckily my brain kicked back in and I asked what exactly did the English teacher say? “Well, we were all a bit overenergetic and it was very loud and he said this had been the worst English lesson ever and he didn’t enjoy it at all.”

As you can see, that’s quite something different. The teacher hadn’t called them “bad”, he’d given them feedback about that particular lesson and let them know how he felt about it.

And what did the P.E. teacher say? “He said he had to be stricter with us than with other classes, because he knows that many of us like to do sports, but some kids always misbehave when he is talking and therefore we don’t get to do a lot of sports.”

As you can see, in both cases the teacher said something very different from what the kid reported back to me. That’s not because she was lying, but if you take the “communication model” that says that all messages have an affective component and that whatever message the sender is trying to convey may be absolutely lost by the recipient, it’s clear what happened: a pretty sensitive and ambitious kid who thrives on a teacher’s praise felt unfairly criticised and the emotional response made her unable to actually understand what was being said. We talked about what each teacher said, and that she had admitted herself that they didn’t behave during the English lesson and that the P.E. teacher was actually on her side. It made her feel a lot better. To understand the criticism, but also to understand that if the teacher talks about kids who misbehave and she didn’t misbehave, the reprimand wasn’t directed at her (funny enough, that’s so often the case: the kids who do behave are sad and upset while those who caused the trouble don’t feel like this has anything to do with them).

We also talked about how she can tell a teacher if she thinks their comments were unfair or hurt her, and how she can address that she feels it’s unfair that recess is cancelled. It’s important that she can stand up for herself, and she knows I’ll have her back when it’s justified, but from experience I also know how quickly those situations escalate when parents don’t talk these things through, but just believe their kids verbatim. Next day you have some upset parents on the phone or, even better, in school, demanding to talk to that horrible teacher NOW. The teacher in question doesn’t even know what they’re talking about, because the incident the parents are talking about bears no resemblance to what happened, the parents decide the teacher is accusing their kid of lying and before you know it you’re sitting there for an hour trying to untangle who said what, tracing back communication, doing heavy meta communication and reestablishing some goodwill, if you ever manage to calm down mama and papa bear at all.

So please, parents, if you’re reading this: talk to your kids. Find out exactly what was said, and not just what was felt. They will learn how to solve such problems from you, only while strongarming while being wrong will often work in a school setting (after all, if we give your kid detention and you decide it’s bullshit, we can’t call the cops on you, and I don’t want to, and it’s your kid to fuck up anyway), it will not work in a work setting. You can’t send mummy to your boss because you thought they were mean. No, you also can’t send your union rep, claiming that your boss called you lazy when in fact they said that the department was behind schedule.

But also, do have their back if their teacher did treat them unfairly. Assume the best at first, but I’ve been in schools for long enough and I know that some teachers are mean bullies who will take it out on the kids whose parents will always agree with the teacher.

*That’s, of course, not legal. “Collective punishment” isn’t allowed in our school system, but I guess I’m the only parent who knows that in that class and I won’t tattle. I absolutely encourage the kid to challenge the teacher, but I’m not going to be that parent either who completely undermines the teacher’s authority. They’ll live spending one recess in class. Should this be repeated, we can talk.

 

P.S. That’s also why I think the communication mantra “criticise behaviour, not people” is half bullshit. People will still understand “you are X”. At best you can have some meta communication later.

Teacher’s Corner: I beg your pardon?

From the life of a teacher. I swear, I couldn’t make this up, because even my imagination is somewhat coherent. Today a colleague asked me to handle a kid who’d claimed to just have removed a louse from her head (I was itching all day, thank you, just the word will do that), could I please call her parents? I had a moment of time (well, not really. Sorry I. that you had to wrangle the whole class yourself) so I took over the kid and called her stepmum if she if she could please come and pick her up?

Well, it was a trite inconvenient for the stepmum (actually, the whole kid is a trite inconvenient for the stepmum…), could she get home by bus, and also she was very annoyed that after two weeks the kid still had lice…

I told her I needed to check with the assistant principal and would call her back. When I called her back she started ranting at me that we would need to finally do something about those damn lice and find out from which kid her kid kept picking them up! This had been going on for two weeks now and enough is enough. I politely informed her that I wasn’t a doctor and was neither qualified nor allowed to check the other kids for lice, but now that we finally knew there was a problem, of course all parents were given the “lice paper*” and that NOW of course parents were obligated to do so. “But my kid keeps getting them, you must find which other kid is giving them to my kid!!!”

Would you believe that she called a third time? Our assistant principal jokingly handed me the phone claiming it was sure Mrs. B. and look and behold, it was Mrs. B., for which I called him a juicebag and claimed he was bullying me**. Again she complained that her kid had been having lice for two weeks and she wanted to know what we had done during those two weeks she was sitting on that information (you are legally required to inform school if your kid has easily transmittable parasites or infectious deceases) to prevent the transmission of lice we didn’t know we had. Rinse and repeat the same conversation a few times. As I said, I couldn’t make that up because my brain can’t twist logic that much. There’s an old saying that teachers don’t get paid a salary, they get compensation for injuries suffered and today sure was one of those. though, do you think that woman could get a job in the Trump administration?

 

*an informative leaflet about lice, what to do about them, complete with a declaration the parents have to fill out that their child has been checked/treated and is free of lice.

**in good fun

Teacher’s Corner: Back to School: Fuck Corona, Fuck the Government, Fuck People

School started again yesterday. Back in July when the holidays started, we had an average of 10 new cases per week in our cosy little Bundesland (State) with its population of one million. Many days we didn’t have a single new case, there were times without a single person being hospitalised. And then everybody decided they were fed up with Covid, first of all the responsible people in government. Measures kept being reduced, the number of people you could have in a spot got increased, travel warnings got discontinued, so people parties, went to clubs, went on their holiday. And then we all saw the images of German and British tourists from Mallorca, flaunting all distancing and mask rules and smart people knew that this wouldn’t work out.

And of course, numbers kept increasing. Suddenly politicians decided that maybe we should test people who return from their holiday, but the roll out was slow, at the start it was optional, and honestly, a country with seven borders cannot control if the people crossing the border just went shopping or drove through half of Europe.

But still, schools are opened almost like normal with a bunch of rules that make no sense and that are just to cover our asses from liability. For example, we should not mix classes, except for religious education, that’s when the virus takes a break. We have separate entrances and school yards for year 5, 6 and 7, but of course no separate buses. We have to wear masks when walking along a corridor alone, but in class the kids sit next to each other with up to 29 kids a class with no masks. But I do get two free tests, mostly so the ministry can say “look, it wasn’t the teachers who brought it to school”. I do not get free masks…

If you think I’m sounding bitter, that’s because I am. I haven’t hugged my sister since March. I didn’t get to celebrate my wedding anniversary, we won’t get to celebrate Mr’s 50th birthday. I basically locked my kids up for three months and only allowed outdoor visits to their grandparents’ a couple of weeks ago. I sewed some hundred masks. I stayed the fuck at home, despite usually longing for the holiday all year round. I tried my best to keep us and others safe, to stop the spread of Covid, and now I’m considered cannon fodder in the educational system. The people in the ministry won’t put themselves at risk like this. Even the parents who all decided that this was the perfect year for a holiday don’t have to sit with 30 other people who also thought like that. And the first class in a school 10km away is already in quarantine because a kid tested positive after coming back from the holiday…

Should Covid kill me, just dump my body on the steps of parliament.

Teacher’s Corner: About Home Office and Assorted People you Have to Deal With

Schools here were closed about two months ago on a Friday. Thursday night the powers that be proclaimed they would stay open, driving to work on Friday morning I heard that we were closing on the news. Nevermind that the official announcement only came at 12:00 o’clock, we spent the whole morning frantically trying to put together lesson plans, material, information etc., while halve our kids hadn’t even come that morning anyway.

Since then we’ve been trying with more or less success to teach our kids remotely (not easy when some of them don’t even have a smartphone) and keep in contact. Which means a lot of communication. Believe me, I’ve never been as busy and with normal school days disbanded, there seems to be no point at which your work actually stops. All of this requires effort on all sides. These are just a few tales of how not to.

Parents:

Informing schools of your current phone number or even address is overrated. Complain loudly about not having been contacted once you bother to call school.

Call after two months of closure to inform us that your kid didn’t get the worksheets on the last day of classes (I do remember that I sent him home early. He’d threatened to beat me).

Calling back is overrated as well. Feel neglected at the same time.

Kids:

Play dumb. If you’re lucky your parents will believe you. Like when you’re supposed to hand in your work via WhatsApp and your mum texts the teacher on WhatsApp, telling her that the poor lad couldn’t find the teacher on WhatsApp.

The worksheet that is uploaded for your group has a different class label. Claim you had no idea that you were supposed to do that, even though it was uploaded under “Lessons for class XYZ”

Colleagues:

You’ve got quite some health conditions but you’d never say “can I please not have to come in for the risky work. Let your colleagues worry and arrange schedules around you.

Here I need to fill in a bit of background. A colleague, let’s call them L, has been on sick leave for quite a while now and they still will be for a time to come. They were the tutor of a very difficult class, a situation that wasn’t improved by the long absence of their main teacher. Said colleague was the German and English teacher and just before Corona hit we had finally put up a plan which colleagues were supposed to teach them for the rest of the year. I’m not one of them because I’m not a regular teacher, but with the colleagues not having met the class yet, I took over during the last weeks. It was little work for German because they’re doing a reading diary, and more for English. Now that we’re partially up again I have a lot on my plate already, and now the reading diaries have to be handed in and evaluated (there won’t be grades, but there should at east be feedback), so I called the colleague who was supposed to take over the class in German. They are still in home office with no actual class, because they are very vulnerable and have enough preexisting conditions for three more people to stay at home. If I bring them the diaries, could they please evaluate them? “Sure, of course”, they generously said. “Just drop them off”. “Oh, and by the way, who’s actually their German teacher?”