Teacher’s Corner: A Trip with Donkeys

The federal government decided to throw some money at schools “to make up for lost learning because of Covid”. While the higher classes who need to write their finals can have some free remedial lessons, we decided that the younger kids didn’t need more maths, but more social skills and hired a guy to do “Erlebnispädagogik”, outdoor education with us. Last week it was time for year 5, which is usually not my year, but because our school worker was sick, I got to cover for her and provide an additional adult, which was good, because in the end I was the one to bring the kids back to school.

The program for the day was a trip with donkeys and a dog.

Picture of a black and white border collie puppy, 4 months old.

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Meet Luna, the hyperactive border collie pup. Of course all the kids wanted to be the one to walk Luna, and they all learned that walking a pup is more work than they thought.

Head of a grey donkey with a white snout

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Meet Bruno, the more stubborn of the two donkeys. His friend Fridolin is more docile, but also the boss. these two have the patience of a stone. The gladly took all the kisses and snuggles they could get.

The class was split up in 4 groups with rotating tasks: one for each donkey, leading them and making sure they’re not eating anything their boss didn’t declare safe, because people are assholes who throw away anything and some years back a donkey almost died after he ate something he shouldn’t have, one group walking the puppy, and one group walking in front with a map. Meet “my” happy group of rascals with Fridolin:

Six kids holding the leads of a grey donkey. Their faces are covered with stickers that say "We don't post pics of kids here"

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Of course I obscured the faces, it goes without saying that you should never post a kid’s face without permission. Us adults told them that we’d only intervene if they did something harmful for the animals. Apart from that, they were responsible. When it was my group’s turn to lead the way, they mixed up paths and used one that wasn’t actually a path but the destruction left after heavy machinery collected wood. Incidences like that are actually a good thing. The kids have to take responsibility, come up with their own solution, work together. When the ground became difficult to walk because of all the branches left by the machines, they decided quickly to work together and clear it for the donkeys.

We made it back in time and it was such a great experience. Actually we’d need this way more often. At least once a month. Even better would be a school dog or something like that. Or maybe a school donkey? The kids handle the animals with all the care and respect they never show for each other. One boy in particular, who already has a reputation for being difficult, was so totally taken in by the donkeys that he was the most peaceful and sweet kid all day.

a kid hugging the donkey and resting its face (obscured) on the back of the donkey

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Next week I get three days of donkey fun. Sometimes I love my job more than usually.

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: And suddenly you’re dealing with sexual child abuse

Very obvious, very big CN for this post, but no graphic descriptions

A long, long time ago, I decided to study two foreign languages in order to become a teacher and teach those languages to children. And I learned how to structure a lesson and got graded on how well I worded my questions and I almost got failed and nothing in that whole time prepared me for the reality of school. No lesson ever mentioned “and then there might be the day you accidentally discover that there might be a video of a former student being sexually abused that is making the rounds amongst year 7”. And of course nobody told me what to do. Or how to deal with it myself, especially when the supposed victim and the kids passing it around are the same age as your daughter.

What happened? Well, a girl in grade 7 complained that the boys were spreading a rumour about there being a sex video of her, so we talked to the boys, who then said “oh no, we don’t know anything about a sex video of her, we only know the video of K”, which was the point when the week collapsed to a single point. K is a former pupil. She was originally from Hungary, lived with her mum in Germany in very difficult circumstances, and then went back to Hungary with her dad in a rushed move which left all of us powerless and with a very bad feeling, but she kept in contact with a few of the girls. And apparently she’d kept sending one of them increasingly sexualised content. From dick pics grown men had sent her via social media, to a video that she claimed showed her having sex with an adult man. Which then got passed around…

At this point I needed to update my ideas about “child pornography”. Because when you hear the term, what you think of are men raping young children and then passing those videos around. What you don’t think of is teenagers filming their own sexual activities and then passing the video around to other teenagers, all still under the earliest age of consent. And you just. don’t. know. what. to. do.

We do have a “crisis team” and I’m a member of it, so this was our first “test” as a team and damn, it was a hard one. One thing was that we were very unsure about what we had to do, and what we mustn’t do. Basically we were left with the feeling that we were with one foot in jail in all directions. That we were liable for doing things, but also for not doing things. The rules about mandatory reporting in Germany are difficult and essentially for teachers they are “it depends”, which leaves you exactly as clueless as before, especially since the stupid guidelines from 2020(!) don’t cover anything about internet and social media.

What kind of “saved our necks” was the fact that the kids passing around the video are under 14 as well. That makes them children who are victims of sexual abuse as well (because showing pornographic material to children is sexual abuse), and talking to the kids, you could see how some of them were harmed by something they didn’t want to see, they didn’t consent to, they knew was wrong. The police watched the video, saved it on their devices and removed it from the phones, thus covering the legal aspects.

We are still left with the social aspects. How to deal with the kids who watched it, who sent it. How to prevent such things in the future. How to deal with the parents and how to get help. The police say the face of the girl/woman in the video wasn’t clearly visible, thus they can neither verify nor rule out that is was our former student. They also say it wasn’t a girl under 14, they have experts who can tell that. Yes, I’m just as confused about these statements in combination as you are. We still informed social services who can possibly get a track on her in Hungary, because whatever the matter with the video, that kid is in danger of sexual abuse/being sexually abused. I think it entirely possible that this was her way of calling for help. We also informed the school psychologist and will contact organisations that can help us doing workshops etc. to prevent such things from happening in the future.

What left me pretty shocked and clueless was the reaction of the parents. We had to call 4 parents to inform them about what had happened, about the fact that the police was involved and what was happening / going to happen. Out of those 4, exactly one reacted the way you would expect, with shock and worry about their own child. One was: “OK, never mind, actually I wanted to talk with you about whether my kid can go to the advanced courses” (no, the kid can’t, the kid is getting regular Fs for refusing to work). The other one was: “I really don’t agree with her not having her mobile. She needs to have her mobile, when is she getting her mobile back???” (this is why we sealed the mobiles in envelopes and handed them to the police without touching them. Sadly the police returned the mobile the same day). The third one laughed about the whole story. Were there any legal consequences? No? Oh, and which kids had sent the video to their kid? (No, we don’t give out names of other kids and this is why). It also shows one of the big problems we’re having: school is supposed to deal with issues we have no control over. Apparently it was our fault that we didn’t know what was going on, but of course we’re also not supposed to touch the children’s mobiles (and no, I don’t want to touch them anyway) because that’s private? I mean, how about the parents taking some responsibility for their children’s social media activities?

I just hope you had a better week, I could do with a refund on this one…

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:

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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?

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

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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.