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: Homeschooling

Content note: Child abuse

Homeschooling is generally illegal in Germany and the longer Corona goes on, the clearer those reasons become.

A)For one thing, not all homes have the same resources. Right now you notice a stark difference in what schools can do with remote teaching. Some schools, mostly “Gymnasien” which are the elite schools in the horribly stratified German school system with a generally well off clientele are doing some fantastic things with Google Teams and all that shit. Us? Not so much. We made sure we contacted all families individually to make sure they can access learning material. In some cases that means that I print that shit out at home and send it off by mail. I’m currently telling myself that the cost is set off by not having to commute, but of course not all teachers will do that. And that’s just accessing learning material. Children still need support and an occasional explanation. I’m a teacher and kind of a “Jane of all trades” since in special ed you teach basically all subjects, though the focus is usually on Maths and German, neither of which are the subjects I actually studied. Not only do I learn easily and have years of training in teaching, but also in learning, so I know where to find resources if I’m stuck. Like yesterday when I had to do a quick recap in mechanics before working on it with #1.

Many of my students’ parents didn’t finish even the lowest school leaving cert themselves. For them school was not a good place and they are not able to do the schoolwork themselves, let alone explain it. Many don’t speak German (well) and at least one single mum is illiterate. Homeschooling massively increases injustices in education. Kids of well off, well educated parents keep learning. On the whole their situation is much less stressful right now. My kids have different rooms, there’s a garden I can send them to, for now I don’t have to worry about money or food and we have plenty of entertainment.

B) Parents are not teachers. Not even the parents who actually are teachers. Parents and teachers have different roles and relationships with a child and each of these relationships has a different conflicts. For one thing, while I am very involved in my students’ wellbeing and care for them a lot, they cannot hurt me emotionally in a profound way. While they can annoy me and even make me angry at times, I generally don’t take it personally (they often do, but they’re teenagers so they take the weather personally as well). There’s the kid who has called me all kinds of names and I frankly care more about him getting his anger under control because once he leaves school he’ll be in a hell lot of trouble for calling his boss a b*tch. With my kids things are very different. They can hurt me. they can make me worry on a whole different level. And vice versa. If I teach them at home and there’s some problem and some fight over schoolwork, they cannot go home to a safe place afterwards and complain about fucking Ms Giliell. And right now, having a safe place is much more important than ever. This would always be a problem with homeschooling, but in the current crisis, the relationship between parents and their children is so crucial, it cannot be sacrificed to algebra. When I talk to parents on the phone I tell them that this is the most important thing. School will still be there after Corona. Maths will still be there. But their relationship might not be.

C) Some teachers just don’t get it. While across the country teachers are (rightfully) snickering at parents who are currently finding out that maybe the teacher isn’t the problem, there are also teachers who show no understanding for the problems I talked about in 1 and 2. There’s a video I’ve been sent where a teen dressed up as a teacher is going “oh, homework will help them so here’s my Corona remote teaching: Do every single task and exercise from page 1 to 349! This will be graded”. My social media is full with parents being desperate about not meeting deadlines and kids crying about schoolwork.

Yesterday I was like “are they fucking kidding me” when I printed out #1’s science lessons. Not only does the teacher expect people to have a colour printer, they also expect to learn all of mechanics all by themselves. These kids have never had even the most basic lesson about power, force, mass etc. and all those other important concepts you need to understand shit like levers and stuff. Nobody is telling me that they would have been able to cover all of that in 7 lessons at school. And honestly, I needed 30 minutes of preparation before I was safe enough in using the correct terms. I also bribed her, saying that her Easter gift would come as soon as we finished this because I know that this is the thing she likes the least and she’s struggling anyway, not because she’s having trouble grasping those ideas, but because she’s on the spectrum and needs her clear structure.

Apart from that it’s difficult for teachers to asses if their worksheets are working. In class I can read the room. I can see on the faces whether something makes “click” or not, I know where to look (Is little Jeanie still paying attention and what do I need to do to get her attention). With remote learning there’s little chance of that. Many kids will ask in class, but not write an email. And yeah, even veteran teachers occasionally produce bad material. To be honest, with #1’s physics worksheets I was occasionally wondering what they want me to do. And next on the list is calculating “work”. The formula remains obscure. It has not appeared in the book pages she’s supposed to read or the worksheets up to date. She will learn about it at some later time. I’m not sure if spoilers should be a thing in physics.

And this is the most damning point: child abuse:

D) In schools, daycare, all those institutions, people see kids every day. We notice if kids don’t have food. We notice if they have bruises. I remember a mother who accused us of not having noticed sooner that her daughter was cutting herself (after we informed her, the mother, who shares a household with her daughter). We notice if they don’t have clothes or don’t come to school at all because they need to “take care” of their parents who struggle and don’t manage to give their kids the care they need. Occasionally we just plain feed them. I sometimes complain about the days when I spend more time with adults on the phone than with kids in the classroom, talking to CPS, social workers, therapists. I write “notifications of child endangerment”. None of this is happening right now. CPS is mostly shut down right now. They cannot visit families at home. If they have concrete evidence, they can send the police who are absolutely not trained in those matters (and ironically kids in good middle class homes are most at danger here because if police come to a nice home with well fed kids they won’t do shit.) All of this is happening while people are packed in bad living conditions, struggling financially. Many charities have stopped working while some still try do give at least some support. Children are no longer getting meals at school. Welfare money is already not enough and now those families lose that safe 1 buck hot meal that their children got so far. In some schools it’s even more as for example the special eds centre I belong to (but don’t work at) offers free breakfast as well. We know that while there#s never an excuse for beating your kids, such situations lead to an increase in violence. We have already seen this in China, and children are the most vulnerable. As one CPS worker who still staffs the crisis hotline said: “a four years old can’t dial my number.”

Teacher’s Corner: Why I Prefer to be Pseudonymous

On my last post about a mother sharing my private phone number with her son, brucegee1962 remarked the following:

I would never put anything on any social media that I wouldn’t want my students to come across.
This is why, aside from anonymously commenting on other peoples’ blogs, I don’t use any social media.

Obviously I have a different opinion here, and I really wanted to reply to this, but then I thought it deserves its own blogpost. This is in no way meant as a take down of brucegee1962 but an explanation of why I think having a pseudonym is a good thing for a teacher.

  1. Maintaining a professional relationship

It’s not that I’m in any way ashamed of what I write. It’s just that it’s occasionally very personal. I’m not one of those teachers who jealously guard every titbit of their personal lives. I always found that type to be quite stuck up when I was a kid myself. I share certain general information like my family status, I chat with kids about hobbies and movies. There’s a bunch of teenage boys who also play Pokémon Go. I occasionally will also tell them about times when I had problems or felt bad, because we’re all humans and I want them to know that it’s ok to have problems and that you can still make it. But we are not friends, we are just friendly. On here I will talk about health, grumble about Mr, share anecdotes  about my own kids, and occasionally well cover issues like sex and pregnancy and childbirth. While there’s nothing bad about these topics, they’re pretty intimate and nothing I want some teenage boys to know.

 

  1. Protecting my students

Writing pseudonymously means that my students are also not identifiable. This allows me to talk about some cases, to raise awareness to issues concerning education, abuse and child welfare. Just take the easy case of yesterday’s post: If I wrote this under my legal name, the kid would be identifiable. Instead of me complaining about a breach of trust on part of a parent and raising awareness about the issue of parents disrespecting a teacher’s privacy, I would be publicly shaming a kid whose friends and family could all read about it.  And that’s just the easy case and not cases where I talk about abuse and such. If I ever outed a kid like that I would and should lose my job. But we need to talk about these issues, so I will do so as Giliell.

 

  1. Protecting myself

Well, they’re teens. Not exactly the kind of people with the best decision making skills. Occasionally a kid will be angry with me and I really don’t want to have my Twitter mass reported and permabanned because I gave somebody detention. While I talk with the kids about Pokémon I won’t tell them my team or my name. And that’s just the kids and not their parents. We’ve had an older brother chasing the principal around school and the family of an expelled student making threats so they were only allowed to pick up his stuff with the police present.

 

  1. Nazis

Sadly, in 2020 that’s an issue. The right wing AfD has several portals where you can “report” teachers for being “too left” (i.e. not a Nazi and standing up against them). And while the school I work at has a high proportion of migrant kids, it is also in a place with a serious Nazi problem, the kind of Nazis with motorbikes and baseball bats. They know that I won’t let their kids use slurs or racially abuse the other kids. I guess I’m not on their Christmas Cards List.

 

I hope this makes clear why I don’t want my students to discover my online presence. Not because I’m ashamed, but because it’s better for all of us.

Teacher’s Corner: In case you’ve been wondering…

In plain text, for when Twitter fucks up.

A teacher’s day:
We write a class test. A student goes to the toilet. he returns 5 min later, sweaty and out of breath. There’s dog shit on his shoes. He smears it all over the floor, 2 chairs and a table.

The first kids finish the test. I tell a student to stay in his seat and not talk to another student (I told them to bring something to occupy themselves with) because others are still writing. He yells at me and runs out of the room. Everything smells of dog shit

I spend my break supervising the dog shit student. He has no explanation for how this happened. I need to call his mum.

I’m supporting a trainee teacher. After he tells some students to stay after the bell has rung, one of them kicks my rucksack. I spend my next break coaching the young colleague on classroom management.

School’s over, but I still have a parent teacher talk scheduled. After the parent doesn’t arrive, my colleague phones him. He thought it was in an hour! He’s on his way. I use the opportunity to go to another parent teacher talk. I should really be in two places at once.

Talks went well, parents have gone home. I phone the mum of the temper tantrum kid. She more or less throws her own tantrum. Her poor boy is always picked on! Teachers never do anything about the things the kid doesn’t tell us because teachers never do anything. Makes sense

It’s three o’clock now. My breakfast is still in front of me. I really need to write a report but thankfully my principal postpones the meeting until Monday. And it’s not even the worst day of the week. Except for the dog shit.

Teacher’s Corner: School’s out for Summer!!!

Let’s start with the obvious sentiment:

The last day of school was on Friday and now we’re all free for six wonderful weeks of holiday. The last week was damn hot and since we had a lot of excursions planned it was also exhausting.

There were report cards on Friday and one of the boys did absolutely not agree with his grade for behaviour and thought he deserved a better grade. To inform us of this great injustice he yelled swear words, threw things through the classroom and kicked over the dustbin. That particular kid often feels like Pratchett’s Carcer in the making and it’s our job to try and prevent it.

My own kids’ report cards were something to brag about, with one “C” in PE between the two of them.

Now for the first time in my life I also get paid for the summer holidays, which is a nice thing to have. On Sunday we set out for Spain, so don’t expect me to catch up on my blogging duties soon ;)