Pandemic Plusses: A Moment for Another Group of Heroes

I have not been blogging for the past few weeks. No, I have not been sick (for which I am incredibly grateful), nor have I dropped into quarantine depression (yes, the limitations placed on our lives is frustrating, but with the healthcare heroes out there risking all for the greater good, it would be inexcusably selfish for any of us not to do our part). The reason I haven’t been blogging is simple – work.

I have been a teacher for almost 30 years, and while I have always given my best in the classroom, distance learning has been a completely different dynamic that has reawakened the awe I have for my colleagues. Today, I want to pay tribute to these behind-the-scenes heroes who are quietly working harder than ever.

The phrase “homeschooling” has been used often during quarantine, but that is not what is happening. To be homeschooled, someone in the family does every aspect of educating family members, developing curriculum, creating lesson plans, meeting state curriculum requirements, monitoring attendance, interacting with students, assessing work, etc. What is actually happening is called distance learning, where our dedicated parents are monitoring and supporting, and often sitting with students as they do work developed, created, and sent by teachers. It has been a wonderful team effort and parents deserve a parade.

Teachers, trained to educate dozens of students at a time in the classroom, using all their gifts and training to take attendance while getting students seated, focused, and working, introducing new lessons and concepts while constantly monitoring for attention and assessing understanding, rephrasing on the fly, questioning to measure evolving comprehension, breaking students into pairs or small groups remaining mindful of classroom dynamics, interpersonal relationships, academic strengths and weaknesses, emotional needs and hazards, even if just having them turn to a partner and discuss, share, or compare. And they do all this while moving the lesson along, one eye on the clock to make sure everything planned and approved gets completed during that lesson.

They are also charged with ensuring students have all they need from Chromebooks to facial tissue to hand sanitizer to paper and pencils, while maintaining an orderly classroom, addressing misbehavior positively, supportively, and privately as they always move forward with the lesson, maintaining records for all of the above as well. Additionally, teachers are expected to continually assess students’ physical, social, and mental health, addressing any issues that arise while keeping each students’ privacy, as well as reporting attendance, any potential health problems, or potential student personal crises, all while respecting and maintaining privacy rights.

Teachers do all this and more in school on a daily basis.

Or they did.

These days teachers are being asked to do all that at a distance, utilizing technology they have just been introduced to and keeping daily track of all of it to ensure we are all moving forward, making progress, and maintaining a positive, quality academic environment.

And teachers are doing it. Mostly through their fingers. This amazes me.

And that is what I mean to celebrate today. What was once dozens of decisions, assessments, comments, and teaching per minute live in the classroom all has to be written out now, and posted, commented on, and emailed about. Students who do not attend class or submit work get emails, parents get follow up emails, and then there are calls home, all of it logged in, forwarded to guidance counselors and administrative supervisors.

I have almost 100 students and posted 2,000 grades over a three week period, the number of interactions rising to over 5,000 with comments on work and assignments and emails. Add to that calls, incorporating administrative directives, learning new technology and how it applies to students (for example, a Zoom meeting among adults is one set of skills, conducting Zoom class creates very different requirements and dynamics), lessons to recreate with videos, screencastify presentations, and so on.

And here’s the thing: teachers are doing all this, for each student, every day. The result is full days of work beginning well before the kids log on until way after they log out – just as school has always been. Somehow, teachers have increased their workload without leaving home and without complaining. With administration, they have creatively and dynamically recreated their physical school environment online, digitally, in the form is distance learning that seeks to conquer distance and make sure students know their teachers are there for each of them. And they developed it, evolved as needed, executed, assessed, adjusted, and raised their game every day while quarantined, from before we went into quarantine.

That is astounding.

But it comes with a price.

The teachers I know from two states and at all levels (pre-k to college) find that 1) they are working harder than ever, 2) would much rather be in the classroom with their students and 3) are profoundly exhausted by all this. And yet, none I know have bailed on these new job requirements. The same can be said for so many other professionals, yes, but this moment is for educators.

And then they get up from their “school space” and are instantly at home with all the family responsibilities that come with it. No speaking with colleagues in the hall or class room to bolster each other, no sharing jokes or pleasant conversation at lunch, no drive home listening to an audiobook or Nirvana at top volume to decompress. We log out and are instantly home, just like the rest of the quarantined world. And that’s how it is. So be it.

The price is that other things fall away, joyous things we no longer have energy for, time for, or the freedom to do. This virus has take from each of us, and forced us to make sacrifices, work as a community in ways we haven’t before, and assess our priorities. Without question, educators have risen to these challenges.

I am so proud of teachers who have done so much more to make sure our kids get everything we have to offer. I know this blog isn’t much but here is my standing ovation for each of you.

You are heroes in my view, and I thank you for inspiring me to get back to writing in this space.

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Pandemic Plusses: Who Defines “The New Normal”?

The struggle is real. I have started several blog posts over the last few days and couldn’t finish any of them. That is not writer’s block, that is fighting to get to the real. It is the only way I can write, no matter how ridiculous and over the top a piece of my fiction might be, I can write as long as I know or at least sense the truth of the story. Same with non-fiction.

I am struggling with the truth of now, I will admit that I am. On TV commercials and podcasts and tweets and blogs and emails, I keep hearing and seeing the phrase “the new normal” being used, and it haunts me.

I know, I know, it is just a phrase and we have much bigger concerns these days. But words matter. How people think about the world matters, fuels how we act upon the world, and it drives the writing I do.

Accepting our current challenges as “the new normal” has ominous implications. To accept the loss of our old reality (you know, from a month ago) and embrace this situation as how life Will now be has that lambs to the slaughter feel from where I am standing. If we accept this as “normal” how much further are we willing to go? Entire schools wearing masks in class? Weddings and bar mitzvahs and quinceaneras and funerals with everyone is masked and maintaining social distancing? Movies and concerts where only every fourth seat is sold?

Nah.

Even Blade Runner and Road Warrior offered cozier futures than that. I cannot buy into this as “the new normal” and refuse to go so gently into that weird night. But I also acknowledge the terrifying wisdom of horror author Brian Keene, who suggests that whatever is beyond this, our recent past is only memory now.

So, as the curve seems to finally be beginning to flatten in the New York/ New Jersey area, which could be a sign of hope for the rest of the country, we need to ask, what sort of future are we willing to consign ourselves to living?

Are we okay with masks as a part of our every day lives? If the answer is no, we need to fight this right now.

Are we willing to say goodbye to concerts and live shows and movie theatres? If not, we must stay home, especially this week.

Are we ready to accept rolling months of the virus returning to gift us with overpopulated morgues and overwhelmed hospitals? If not, then we all, and I do mean all, must take every precaution to protect ourselves and each other by following all directives on gloves and masks and quarantines.

Are we ready to accept as “the new normal” large scale fear of The Other on levels we thought we had ascended from decades ago? Are we ready to it hate each other again, to scape goat each other until our society crumbles? If not, then we need to accept the simple truths this pandemic has so plainly spelled out for us:

  1. We are one race, diversely expressed, but one unified race.
  2. We must listen when nature and science speak to us, and heed their message promptly, for the good of all.
  3. We must think, on a global scale, about long range cooperation that benefits all.
  4. Political strategies have for decades been prone to being petty and divisive; we need to rise above that limited, tribal thinking, especially when we all need each other so much.
  5. We are stronger, smarter, and more productive when we are helping each other than when we work against each other.
  6. Capitalism has its merits, but profit for its own sake blinds the individual from seeing the whole; just because we can profit from a situation doesn’t mean we should.
  7. Moral capitalism better serves the human race’s long term goals.
  8. Moral and charitable actions should always be about the goal or focus of the act, not about shining a light on those performing the actions.
  9. ”The new normal” suggests the way things will be for the foreseeable future, and we should refuse to accept this as that way.
  10. We, together, can create the “the new normal” we want but we need to agree upon and commit to what that should be, and staying home is a good first step toward that new normal, not the new normal itself.
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GUEST BLOG: 10 Ways to Virtually Volunteer During Quarantine

10 Ways to Volunteer Online During Quarantine

10 Ways to Virtually Volunteer During Quarantine
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Pandemic Plusses: Man Plans, Dog Cuddles

Rough one last night. The goddess and I talked ourselves into a higher stress level than we’ve experienced before. And it was mostly my fault.

Bad enough I once again went down the rabbit hole of pandemic news and videoclips and Coronavirus updates and ongoing counts, but then I read the blog of an author I respect, Brian Keene, who is providing the world with a serious take on this whole thing, and it shook me. Day 15 and 18, specifically, of his blog led me to consider just how bad this all might get. Reports of rioting in China and Italy, and a shooting of a woman in New York City allegedly for not keeping social distance, well, the collective experience took its toll, folks.

And because we are partners in all, I thought I would have a serious discussion with the goddess, not panicking, just seeing where we are and whether we are well stocked and have we considered the what if’s of it all. She deserves a better, more muted husband. The conversation kept us up most of the night. Now we’re slogging through the morning on just a few hours rest, and for what?

We didn’t gain any wisdom. Didn’t agree on a plan that would set us up to ride this smoothly, keep us safer, or assure us of anything. All we did was scare ourselves (okay, Brian Keene, and, because I read his blogs to the goddess, I, did most of the scaring, but that’s Keene’s job, so well done, sir) and lose sleep.

And we still have no plan!

Luckily, someone did.

Sonny came to the rescue, cuddling in next to me and promptly going to sleep, expertly sending me the message: chill out.

And the dog is right. Nothing gets accomplished through panic or overexposure to news or obsessing about worst case scenarios. Yes, we’ll check our supplies. And we will take an inventory of what is in the house, how everything can be utilized, and we will make a list of what we absolutely need to get. The goddess believes that might be nothing. But if we do, we’ll make a thoughtful list. Once that is done, we’ll don gloves and masks and go shopping with a clear plan and efficient strategies. And we will come home and stay here.

But first, we’ll take Sonny’s advice and relax. We’ll breathe deeply like he is doing (though we will probably leave the snoring to him). Taking time to calm down, breathe deeply, and reset are keys right now. We will accomplish more, succeed better, and reduce the curve by taking in the right information in limited quantities, processing and adjusting as needed, and doing what it takes to remain calm and reflective rather that upset and panicked.

I am still going to read Keene’s blog because his view is clear and well stated and needed right now. But not multiple blog entries in one sitting. Everything is better in moderation, even Brian Keene.

Now, if you will excuse me, Sonny and I are going to synchronize our deep sleep breathing.

I write this series in an effort to help others get through this. You are welcome to add your comments on today’s topic (panicking cures) in the space below. #MOC19

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Pandemic Plusses: The Shocking Truth of a Sunny Day

It was a beautiful day. And it was humbling.

How could I have forgotten what sun felt like on my face? What could have so pushed such a glorious truth of life so thoroughly from my mind?

Oh. That.

Nah. This thing we’re facing doesn’t get to take the sun. The soft breeze. Fresh air. Warmth. The blooming of spring.

We’re quarantined, yes. And the numbers are going up. They will continue to do so for at least another ten days, according to the experts. But not with the unbridled abandon this thing could have racked up, would have, without us fighting back.

That beautiful sun today? Ours. The blue sky? Ours. The beautiful bloom? Ours. And we’ll have it all back. We’ll feel the sun on our faces and stand among friends and we’ll celebrate with loved ones and we’ll laugh and we’ll toast the day.

But first, we win the war.

I write this series in an effort to help others get through this. You are welcome to add your comments on today’s topic (embracing life) in the space below. #MOC19

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Pandemic Plusses: Feel All the Feels

I didn’t post for two days. Been riding the rollercoaster. We all do it. Experience high highs, low lows, and all the climbs and sweeps in between. It is a wild ride during the best of days, and, surprisingly, more so in these times.

I gotta be honest, I hate rollercoasters. Despise the lack of control we have while riding those monstrous mechanical beasts. But life’s up and downs? That’s where everything we are gets tested, defined, and expressed. That, I embrace.

Monday was my birthday. I’ve had too many of them to make demands on the day but those around me seemed stressed that it was happening during this quarantine. My objectives were simple: be around family and have some gentle laughs. Goals met and surpassed. This, friends, is the best part of the ride. To enjoy each other’s company is to live life. What a great birthday it was.

The rollercoaster glides up…

Tuesday was all twists and turns with work, distant and in my face simultaneously. How all that is dealt with is another measure of the person. It can be rewarding, frustrating, intellectually challenging, and a spiritual struggle all at once. And so it goes. Our jobs define us not by who others think we are but by how we express ourselves after the choices. We took the job, we can show our who we are by doing it to the best of our talents, damn the torpedoes.

The incline gets steeper, but we’ve got this…

Tuesday night was the gut punch. A hospital worker friend texted about how bad it is actually getting where she works, with staff running out of room for the bodies. This trusted account forced my half shut eyes wide open. Right behind it, a second blow; a student reported she wasn’t handing in her assignments because there had been not one but two deaths in her family. At a time of quarantine that forbids wakes or funerals.Between two such reports how can we possible ignore the horror?

Down we plunge, fast and bitterly reckless, heading straight into the utter darkness…

Thirty-five years ago today I met the goddess. That one thought pulls me from the depths. Rescues me from all of this, as she always does.

I don’t know what comes next, or how I will respond, I just know I will feel all of it. The laughter and joy, the sadness, the anger, the despair, and the hope. That last one is the strongest of them. Hope grows brighter despite illness and death because it is so clear that we are together in doing what we need to do to minimize the devastation. That is a glory that gets clouded when stats and personal hits and absurd back patting politicians threaten to overwhelm. When the pitch black wave looms, I look in the goddess’s eyes, or watch a son so in love he is shamelessly goofy for his girlfriend (fruit doesn’t fall far – and that’s beautiful to see). I walk the empty streets and beam with pride at the silent warriors digging in and fighting the intelligent way. I see us joined in a way we never have been before, and it gives me strength.

Feel the feels. See the strengths. Grieve for our losses. Celebrate our blessings. And let hearts swell at the sheer number of us unified in faith that we are fighting a war worth winning.

Thank you all for being part of this incredible ride. Let’s keep going.

I write this series in hopes of lifting spirits during this pandemic. You are welcome to comment on today’s topic (feeling the feelings) in the comment section below. #MOC19

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Pandemic Plusses: James McMurtry Shares a Great Notion

Amid all the Coronavirus blues we got going on, there are some moments to applaud.

Celebrities are giving online performances or reading children’s books (the LeVar Burton/Neil Gaiman exchange was beautiful, and worth Googling), or adapting to quarantine and doing exceptional work (if you haven’t seen Trevor Noah’s 13-minute interview with Dr. Fauci, you should).

Schools are doing reach out projects for their students (one teacher posts a math problem a day on a huge whiteboard in her home’s front window, others drove by their elementary school students’ homes to wave hello, my own Hackensack High School recently did a video of staff sending messages to our students, and so on).

Still others are doing what they can, sharing humor, song, beaches, whatever works to keep us all going. Bless them all.

Americana Highways is one of those entities. Locatable on Faceboook, they are hosting mini-concerts with primarily country or singer/songwriter acts both prominent and up-and-coming. The results have been enjoyable. And in one case, profound.

For those who know his work, it will come as no surprise that last night James McMurtry said something that should stick with all of us. The veteran performer is an impressive guitar player and stunning lyricist, but his off-hand comments can nail a situation perfectly. He did this while introducing the last song in an approximately forty minute set, a cover of the song that played during the credits of the film Sometimes A Great Notion, based on the book of the same name by Ken Kesey. And then he had one thing to say about the Corona Virus. I am going to have to paraphrase, so forgive me.

McMurtry mentioned that this virus survives and thrives on us. And it does not differentiate according to color or culture or politics or religion or economics. He noted that is got past security at the White House to infect a member of Vice President Pence’s staff and slid under the door at 10 Downing Street and attached itself to Prince Charles.

James McMurtry speaking truth.

This virus doesn’t care about our differences, McMurtry mused, and neither should we.

And he is simply, spectacularly, right. Perhaps the most silver of linings to emerge from all this is the chance for all of us to see how artificial and arbitrary our borders and barriers are, how useless and defeating our judgments and separations and disdains prove to be when a true enemy comes a knocking.

Perhaps our best hope is to see ourselves as a larger community that has more commonalities than differences, more to unify us than to tear us apart.

Thank you, Mr. McMurtry. I hope you, and all of us, stay safe, and mindful that we are all in this together as one.

I write this series in hopes of helping others (and myself, to be honest) get through this extended time out.you are welcome to share your comments on today’s topic (McMurtry’s observation) in the space below. #MOC19

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