Betsy DeVos, Charter Schools, Education, Featured Post — August 29, 2020 at 2:34 pm

A Teacher’s Summer (Off) Story…


I got an email from our school’s business manager on Friday at 5:11pm with an “emergency request” to complete a new required training module. The deadline for completing this module? The following Monday morning.

As usual, the “system” didn’t allow me to even start the training module–some sort of IT glitch I assume–so I called the business manager, who was still at her desk on Friday at 5:20pm. She told me she couldn’t fix the problem, but would call the IT department to “look into it.” When I reminded her that this delay meant it was pretty unlikely that I’d be able to complete the training module before the Monday morning deadline, she assured me it “was no big deal,” and “not to worry about it.”

So, I wasted 30 minutes trying to responsibly complete an “emergency request” that couldn’t be completed due to tech problems–on a Friday after the close of the work day, during the first summer I haven’t worked as a teacher since the mid-1980s.

Like me, most of these teachers have not been getting paid this summer–but they have been expected to…

  • be available for countless Zoom and Google Hangout meetings, often with only a few minutes advance notice
  • respond to an endless string of “reply all” email messages with requests for immediate responses–often buried several pages deep in the text string and littered with broken web links and missing attachments
  • create new lesson plans, videos, bitmoji classrooms, virtual choirs, “Brady Bunch Bands” (a computer screen full of tiny squares inhabited by eager band students playing their instruments from basements, porches, and newly constructed “home offices” all over town)
  • purchase their own masks, face screens, hand sanitizer, wipes, microphones, lights, keyboards, monitors, laptops, tablets, smart phones, and other equipment needed to teach in the age of Covid
  • design and construct elaborate new “teaching stations” in their classrooms, complete with clear plastic shower curtains and plexiglass shields that make a chorus room look like the bridge of a spaceship in an elementary school play
  • respond to detailed and confusing curricular maps and plans, only to be forced to immediately “pivot” to a new instructional mode based on shifting metrics and changing conditions
  • spend hundreds of hours gathering needed books, manipulatives, and assorted teaching materials for each student, and make arrangements to distribute these items in hastily organized “car lines” in vacant school parking lots (my son has made 3 of these trips so far; to pick up his school-issued “device”, to get that device fixed when a glitch was detected, and to pick up a shopping bag full of textbooks and two tennis ball tubes stuffed with various kinds of rocks for his earth science class)

This story won’t come as a surprise to any of the nation’s thousands of public school teachers, administrators, secretaries, custodians, and professors who have spent their “summer off” frantically trying to prepare for the beginning of the new school year, in the complete absence of any sort of coordinated national guidance or support for their efforts.

My social media feed this summer has been full of stories like this, along with dozens of heartbreaking threads from teachers quitting their jobs, retiring early, or faced with agonizing decisions between agreeing to “face to face” teaching assignments or keeping themselves and their families safe during a global pandemic.

  • One teacher decided to set up a tent in her backyard to which she’d be moving once the school year began, in an effort to safeguard the health of her immune-compromised spouse.
  • Another teacher shared that he had been fired from his job after asking his school administrators if the school district would be observing the state’s health and safety guidelines.
  • Another teacher told the story of spending hundreds of hours this summer designing a comprehensive online curriculum for his students, only to be told that the district would be shifting to a “hybrid model” incorporating both virtual and face to face learning–necessitating a complete overhaul of his online materials–and then being told to “pivot” back to the original online model, but with a new set of “learning goals” based on the state’s “school reopening” task force’s recommendations.
  • Another teacher made the difficult decision to request a leave of absence from her in-person teaching position for the upcoming school year in order to take care of her own young children at home.
  • And yet another teacher shared with me that she was still awaiting her district administration to approve her request to teach online for the fall semester due to several health factors that she feared put her at heightened risk of illness should she contract the Covid-19 virus from her students or colleagues at her in-school placement.

Few if any of these teachers were paid for any of the hours spent on these tasks. While some school districts in Michigan are offering a $500 “Covid stipend” to partially reimburse teachers for their summer work, teachers in those same districts are now being laid off due to decreasing enrollments as families move their children to charter and religious schools that have pledged to open fully–injecting even more uncertainty and chaos into an already disruptive school funding scenario.

So, while Betsy DeVos has spent the summer hiding out and “vacationing” on one of her family’s 10 luxury yachts, public school teachers have been dedicating countless hours preparing for the start of the school year–in a neglectful vacuum of support, resources, and guidance from our federal government–but with plenty of threats of withheld federal and state funding if they don’t sacrifice their health and safety to reopen an economy that doesn’t value their time or effort–or lives.

When it comes down to a choice between Betsy DeVos or the nation’s public school teachers, I know who I trust.