Thursday, July 30, 2020

Beyond the Edge of the Blackboard

Boundaries. It's all about setting boundaries.

Unless you are suddenly thrust into a novel situation where there are no rules, no precedents, just guidelines hurriedly put in place over a few hours, a day, a weekend.

And the struggle is real. 

Teachers used to be able to show up at the school door, enter their classroom, get a lunch break (30 min, which for a professional with a college degree is far below the industry standard), leave school at the end of the day, and put the classroom behind them until the next day of work.

Contrary to the belief of many elementary students (and middle school, and high school, and even parents), teachers don't climb into their closet at the end of the day and turn off like a robot only to reactivate the next morning.

But the transition to online education in the wake of school closings has been anything but smooth, for students AND for teachers.

What used to be the sporadic casual encounters between parents/students and teachers, in grocery stores and public places outside of school, has now morphed into something pervasive.

Most teachers are in the profession because they care about people and helping others learn. They arrive at school early and work late, they work on weekends and holidays, and forego their lunch breaks as needed. They go un/underpaid to coach sports and advise clubs and activities.

And that is their choice.

But now they are waking up and responding to texts and emails before or during their breakfast, long before the "start" of the school day. They are doing the same during lunch, and dinner, and instead of relaxing in the evening and watching their favorite movie or show.

This is who they are by nature.

But the emails and texts and phone calls continue long past the school day, and well into holidays and weekends.

These compassionate, selfless teachers who used to be able to manage their job as well as their own children (whose education they now need to supervise), pets, and household are suddenly on call 24/7.

Last time I checked, being "on call" only applied to doctors (who are paid considerably more than teachers).

Now there is a growing vocal minority screaming to "defund" the schools, because "if schools don't reopen, then teachers don't need to be paid".

Seriously? If they don't need to be paid, then stop calling and texting and emailing, and complaining if you don't get an immediate response.

Dust off your own skills and sit down at the kitchen table with your children and teach them yourself. 

Make sure you get copies of all the state tests that your children are expected to pass so that you can bring them up to standards as the teachers are expected to do (most states require that homeschooled children pass state tests).

Not interested? Well then stop the nonsense and realize that we are in unprecedented times.

Pretend that we are back in a time (less than a year ago) when teachers weren't available at your text and call (and email and ping on MS Meetings or Zoom).

Request an appointment within the "school day" or soon after to discuss your concerns.

But most of all, realize that reopening schools may be necessary so that our society doesn't bleed out teachers who are rapidly burning out.

All the student educational issues aside, there are serious mental/emotional health ramifications occurring for teachers that need to be addressed.

Help them set boundaries by setting them for yourself.

And when schools reopen, those teachers that don't feel comfortable returning to work can be reassigned to providing the online education for those students whose parents keep them on remote instruction.

If "it takes a village to raise a child", prove that we aren't living in a village of opportunistic, self-centered, ego-driven adults who will sacrifice others for their own benefit.

Give teachers the respect for their dedication that you are now realizing they deserve.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

CRITICAL UPDATE: Vote by Mail? Three Strikes and You Failed!

Trust issues.

Verifiable trust issues.

Why do many people not want "Vote by Mail"?

When you can prove that your local elections office doesn't even follow the rules and laws, why would you believe that a "fair and impartial" election will take place with a whole new element?

This morning (July 29, 2020) I completed my New York State Absentee Ballot Application.

When I ventured on to the interwebs and Googled "Jefferson County NY Board of Elections" to ascertain the correct mailing address, I was pleasantly surprised to find the following:
Look at that final sentence in the first paragraph: " Applications for absentee ballots may be made by mail, email, fax or in person."

Fax? I can do that!
Email? Hallelujah!

So I promptly took advantage of both options (making sure that I specified that I had done each), just in case a catastrophic technological failure should occur. After all, redundancy is good operating policy.

And then I prepared to file away my paperwork with a note to double check receipt in a few weeks.

Much to my astonishment, a new email appeared in my inbox in response to my application! 5 minute response time? Such rapid service! I felt all warm and fuzzy about the immediate personal attention!

Until I read the email.

"Good morning Elizabeth,

Unfortunately we cannot accept a copy of your application. If you will mail us the original we can process your request and will mail your ballot when it becomes available. Please let me know if you have any questions.

Have a great day and be safe!"

POOF! Like that, the warm fuzzies disappeared!

Apparently the employees don't read their own website or the ever increasing spewing of Executive Orders from the state leadership.

More to the point, the title under the signature gave me even more reason to be frustrated: 
"Deputy Democratic Commissioner"

Last time I checked, this was not the political party in which I was registered to vote.

I responded with a link to the county's own website with a direct quote regarding the stated ways in which I might apply for my absentee ballot.

I also took a screenshot (see above) of the website as it existed at the time of my submission.

It has now been over thirty minutes since I replied with the information.

Apparently rapid response only applies to denying an absentee ballot application duly submitted under published guidelines.

Strike one: Publishing Absentee Ballot Application guidelines which are de facto false;
Strike two: Rejecting Absentee Ballot Application submitted under those guidelines;
Strike three: Failing to respond to a reminder of the published guidelines.

Voting by mail? Not just no, but HELL NO!

When I have first-hand documentation of how just one county is unable to adhere to local and state guidelines for "well established" Absentee Ballot procedures, why would I feel that they could successfully manage an entirely new process?

So take the concept of voting by mail off the table - it WON'T work!

Update: I finally received a response to my email indicating that "there was a mistake on the website" and the Executive Order in question had "expired".

Not only were there multiple fails during the process, there was an additional one in this agency being negligent in keeping updated voter information on their website.

So I am back to once again submitting an application by mail.

The irony? I am currently in one of those states on the governor's "list"...and now my local board of elections would like me to mail in an application that has been in prolonged exposure with this environment?

Kinda makes you wonder, doesn't it?

This is the email that I had to send tonight:

On Wednesday, July 29, 2020 I emailed and faxed my absentee ballot application in to your email address as well as the listed fax number, in accordance with the information that was posted on the Jefferson County, NY Board of Elections website.

I received a response from Michelle LaFave stating that the provisions on the website were erroneously still posted and had expired on June 23, 2020, and that I would need to mail in my completed application.

I mailed in my application, and have USPS delivery confirmation that it was received on August 6, 2020 by an individual at your office.

At that time, the website stated that I should receive my absentee ballot within 15 days of your receipt of my application.

As of today, it has been 26 calendar days and 18 business days since your receipt of my application and I STILL have not received my absentee ballot.

I visited the website tonight only to discover that apparently now I am able to apply online, via fax, and via email, as well as by regular mail, for my absentee ballot.

I applied online tonight, and have already applied via mail, fax, and email with my previous submissions which have been confirmed as received in your office. 

I have attached documentation to this email for my online application.

Consequently, I expect to see delivery of my absentee ballot within 15 days, or I will research further action to take.

I have a constitutional right to vote and have attempted three times so far to secure that right following the guidelines posted by your office.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Not only haven't I received my Absentee Ballot within the posted guideline of 15 days, it appears that Jefferson County NY is deliberately ignoring my application which has been submitted THREE TIMES according to the current guidelines.

If someone who legitimately is requesting an absentee ballot is being ignored, how well do you think that the proposal for "mail in voting" will go overall?

Time to seriously reconsider your position on the claims being put forward in the media!

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Teacher, Teacher, Can You Teach Me?

Teacher, teacher, can you teach me?
Can you tell me if I'm right or wrong?
Teacher, teacher, can you reach me?
I want to know what's goin' on, oh

~"Teacher, Teacher", 38 Special

Enough already with the debate about whether or not to reopen schools!

I have taught in schools for over 31 years - more than half of my life. More than that, I have taught outside of a classroom for most of my life. So my voice matters and I would like to be heard.

We are irreparably damaging our children. Not just now, as a result of the pandemic closing schools, but by our use of public education as a resource for any "minority" group who wants to push their agenda.

Right now I want to expose the harm that is being done by leaving public schools closed.

I grew up in a small city (it was actually not even deemed a city until later) at a time when handicapped children in our town were "lucky" enough to have a facility that provided them what realistically was glorified day care.

The facility was actually started shortly before I was born, but in 1975 PL 94-142 (Education for All Handicapped Children Act) was passed, and just as I entered high school, a whole new world was opened up.

The disabled students that had previously been "out of sight, out of mind" at the local facility (for any of us who did not have a neighbor, friend, or family member with a disability) were now in our school building, and sometimes even in our classrooms.

In my school, there was a wing that led to the band/music/chorus/stage that held the classrooms for most of these students, but those of us who participated in those activities became familiar with many of the teachers and students.

What I have NOT seen raised as an issue at all during the school closings is a dialog about how disabled students are being affected by no longer having access to the school buildings.

You can NOT do PT (physical therapy - large movement skills such as walking) or OT (occupational therapy - fine motor skills like writing or turning switches) effectively over a Zoom interface. 

Speech therapy is also problematic and difficult under the best of conditions, and given all of the issues that can arise with connectivity, cameras, and microphones, it is not meeting the needs of these students. (I will discuss the "digital divide" more in a separate blog entry.)

Life skills such as laundry, cleaning, personal hygiene cannot be effectively taught without following the student around and observing them in action. And since most schools have barely been able to provide stationary technology for students, a portable camera interface is beyond budget.

Are schools able to provide an interface on their Zoom or Microsoft Meeting so that the teacher or aide for handicapped students has a private connection to deliver their supplementary instruction which they used to receive in the school building, if not in the actual classroom?

A physical school environment is so much more than learning academic skills (and I include the areas listed above as just a small sample of services provided for disabled students).

School is a medium for providing social skills for ALL of the students. And remote learning just does NOT compare.

When you are IRL (in real life) with a room full of classmates, there is "hands on" instruction in tone of voice, body language, and facial expressions that are kept to a minimum over electronic media. (Don't believe me? How many of you adults only "dress up" for the part that the camera has in view?)

There is observation of interactions between peers and adults that does not occur when people are no longer in the same room.

And there is exposure to a wide variety of individuals who are different from you, they look different, smell different, speak differently, and have different interests - and you learn how to interact with others who aren't just an extension of how you were raised.

Those are all critical educational skills, not only for disabled students, but all students, especially from an early age. 

How else do we expect our children to learn that there are people in the world who are not the same as them when they no longer encounter them, even if just casually walking past them in a school hallway?

If you read the link above about PL 94-142, the original provisions were for at least one free meal a day for handicapped students.

What is not being discussed is that often, the parents of disabled students are unable to provide for these students basic needs sufficiently - food being just the tip of the iceberg.

Yet now we have thrust them into the position of providing supervision of their child's educational program without providing them any training equivalent to even a teacher's aide.

Some of these children have behaviors which even trained professionals have difficulty managing, and that was with the "tag team" approach that gave both parents and teachers time away.

Now these students are full-time in a household that may not be well-equipped to provide a substitute for the public school academically, let alone behaviorally.

Over the past several months I have had conversations with parents of disabled students and they are frustrated and angry that the "remote learning" is not addressing the needs of their child.

Yes, we have a health crisis in our country. But if we allow our most vulnerable student population to become victims to educational malpractice, we are reverting to the "out of sight, out of mind" warehousing mentality that existed half a century ago.

Open schools with CDC guidelines. Give parents a choice if they feel their child is at health risk.

But allow our children to learn and grow in skills and behaviors and attitudes. All of our children, not just those capable of utilizing technology!

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Sing Me A Song

I learned that a local band released an album, and was sent the info on where to find it - it has dropped on both YouTube and iTunes.

I had been given the lyrics to track three several years ago, and was honored to have discussions with two of the band members about the origin for that particular song.

When injustice occurs, it often has a profoundly far reaching impact that can't be measured or even anticipated.

Anyone who has ever had any type of contact with the individuals in a case end up dealing with the fallout of a miscarriage of the legal system.

Each of them must find their own way of working through the pain and frustration, and the origins of this blog were my way of dealing with overwhelming negative emotions.

What you should realize from the title of this band's album "Underwatertown" is that these young adults have realized that there is a toxic culture in their hometown that has resulted in multiple miscarriages of justice.

Without further ado, here is this band's interpretation of the Jon Massey Case - the single "Buried in the Case":