School days in the era of coronavirus

20 percent cut

school daysAll summer, the issues of whether my wife, a teacher, and my daughter, a high school student would return to their traditional school days were up in the air. My wife and I have been watching the seemingly endless stories about the perils of colleges and other schools that have already begun their semesters.

In the city of Albany, there was a big push to allow students and students a choice. The Albany School District had an August 24 enrollment choice deadline. Leading into that, the district held several “virtual forums to provide families with the most up-to-date information and the opportunity to ask questions.” Some were building-specific; these would explain the protocols in those particular spaces. There were also district-wide forums.

To be honest, I didn’t attend any of the events. My rationale was that I was all Zoomed out. I did, however, vote in the enrollment choice poll. We voted Yes to in-class learning. The infection rate for Albany County has remained less than 1%, despite a few stupid college parties.

Also, my daughter wanted to go back to school. She thrives as a social being and hated whatever ersatz learning the school was forced into in mid-March through June.

Plan I

Virtual student orientation for students and parents and guardians were organized. The topics included orientation to the new classroom environment, and health and safety protocols. Also, they provided orientation to Google Classroom and a virtual learning environment. Students would hear about appropriate social distancing protocols, and the use and requirements for masks and face coverings.

After virtual instruction for all students for a week, the schools would begin to “implement identified instructional model (in-person, hybrid, or virtual), with early dismissal each day. By Tuesday, Sept. 29, all schools would “implement full days of instruction” by the preferred mode.

The budget surprise

Oh, geez. Schools Hit with 20% Cut by Governor Cuomo Right Before Start of Tumultuous School Year. “New York State budget office informed school districts statewide that it was temporarily withholding 20 percent of the State’s payments. This presents a major challenge for all New York school districts,”

Cuomo and labor leaders have written to New York’s congressional delegates urging them to provide $59 billion to the Empire State “to avoid what the governor predicts will be devastating cuts on state and local services.”

And suddenly, after all of the planning for options, Albany High School will be all virtual in the fall of 2020. My daughter is not happy. Moreover, she complained that I hadn’t told her the news. Hey, she was just getting up when I was going off to work at 10:30 a.m…

Back to school

Meanwhile, my wife IS going back to in-person teaching. Protocols are in place, but they seemed to be tweaked on a thrice-weekly basis. As a teacher of English as a New Language teacher, she’s hoping to get a face shield. It’s difficult to show visually how to enunciate while wearing a mask.

My wife was less worried about herself than bringing something home to her somewhat older husband. We’re just crossing our fingers. And our toes.

This bit of satire is essentially true.

Keeping up with the news

“I read the news today. Oh, boy.”

CarolEarly in our marriage, I was mystified by how my wife didn’t know of events in recent history. And I don’t mean it happened the day before yesterday. It was a function of the fact that I read the newspaper regularly and watched at least one national news broadcast almost daily.

I won’t say it’s flipped entirely but it’s definitely changed. She gets up at 7 a.m. to get the news from overnight. I used to do that pretty much until the coronavirus struck. For me, I realized that there was a numbing sameness. The details would differ – 58,000 dead in the US, or 85,000, or 130,000. It’s surging in state X but declining in state Y.

It’s that I can no longer deal with what feels like ephemeral information. Is this part of the state in phase one or phase two? I know the “big-picture” stats, enough to know that just as Florida wanted to ban New Yorkers, now New York wants to keep Floridians out.

So when my wife asks me some drill-down questions, my standard response is “I can look it up.” Can we go inside this type of business? Since the rules will change in two weeks or two months, my brain says, “Don’t care!”

Part of the filtering involves listening to IMPOTUS, who will take both sides of many issues. Are we cutting back on testing? “Yes.” “No, I was kidding.” “I never joke about things like that.” There is no reason to pay attention when he constantly contradicts himself. My wife will ask what did he say about a particular issue. Heck, I don’t even know anymore.

Natal day

I prefer the more traditional ways my wife and I confound each other. It’s a matter of philosophy. She’ll ask me if I want to throw out the toothpaste squeezed to near empty. I’ll toss it AFTER I have replaced it. She’ll throw it out first. But her way, there’s no toothpaste until we get more. Now THAT’S an important issue!

Anyway, she’s having a birthday today. She very wisely is not on Facebook. So her friends contact me, and I convey messages to her because that’s what I do.

With chewing gum and duct tape

bad address

chewing gum and duct tapeOne of the challenges of my wife working/teaching from home is that technology can be a PITA. This all happened on 5 May.

She had an appropriate story to share with one of her students from some website. So she set up a meeting with ME to make sure the technology worked. It did not. I could hear her, but not the item she wanted to share. The next day, the same problem; the YouTube video she selected her students could SEE but not HEAR.

Later that day, she found a bunch of links with worksheets she wanted me to print. But almost every link wanted her password; too onerous. I tried to print from her computer on the old printer I lugged into her office. The computer said it was compatible with the printer. Yet no paper products were expelled.

In the end, I copied the files from her computer to her thumb drive. Then I copied them from her thumb drive to an email “she” wrote to “me.” Then I printed the documents. My friend O. says that this chewing gum and duct tape method of doing things is how things work in her house.

Later, my wife talked to a tech support guy at work. He said that getting a YouTube video to show on these platforms is tricky because they weren’t designed for that secondary viewing.

I’ll pick that up

Because she’s doing her teaching at home, we’re getting a lot more phone calls. Most of them are from her classes or the parents of her younger students. When I first answered, the kids were stunned into silence, and would just hang up. But now that I recognize some of their phone numbers and they recognize my voice, it’s much easier.

At the beginning of March, if the landline rang, and I did not know who it was, I’d let it go to the answering machine. But it’s often school employees who have those unidentified numbers, and I’ve ended just picking up the phone. Rarely is it a spammy call, fortunately.

My wife: suddenly working from home

untenable

working from homeMy wife is a teacher of English as a New Language. The word came down on Friday, March 13 that schools in New York State would not meet the following week. But a previously scheduled teacher conference would take place the following Monday. Then they spent Tuesday making packets for the students.

Thus it wasn’t until that Wednesday that she actually began working from home. Any thoughts that she would have a lesser workload were quickly dashed. Between the online meetings and the one-on-one phone calls to her students, she was giving even more effort than she was in person.

Initially, her “office” was at the end of our dining room table. That was only because that’s where a laptop happened to reside. Soon, however, this became untenable, at least to me. The dining room is connected to both the kitchen and the living room. So, pretty much every time I’d come downstairs, I felt as though I were invading her space. If I wanted to wash the dishes or get something to eat, I was in her “office.” Ditto, vacuuming the living room or watching television.

A new venue

I suggested that she set up a station in the spare bedroom, which she did. In my mind, she too immediately saw the wisdom of the move. Later, I was surprised to discover that it was only after a week or so in the new enclosed space she recognized the value of it for all of us.

Among other considerations, she was always complaining about the messiness of the house, which certainly included the dining room table/her workstation. Now she can leave her papers as needed. She could have private conversations without my daughter and me avoiding the entire first floor.

And she now appreciates looking out on the backyard, seeing the trees and grass. The view from the office, where I tend to blog from, is to the street. I can see a few branches among the utility lines.

I mention this for two reasons. One was that a friend of mine was telling me about a prominent local couple who are really getting on each other’s nerves. They have a house large enough to have their own working from home spaces. Yet they have not, to the detriment of their relationship.

The other is that today is the 21st anniversary of our wedding. A little bit of territorial boundary-setting is a good thing in a marriage, especially during a pandemic.

New routine: they’re home at work

You are what you are, and you ain’t what you ain’t – Dear Abby, John Prine

Stormy
I’m told I can’t use cat pictures on my blog. The only exception is if it’s MY cat. Here’s Stormy, seeking sustenance.
My household has established a new routine on most weekdays. There are variations but often it looks like this: The alarm goes off at 6 a.m. THE ALARM GOES OFF – ugh. At least it’s a half-hour later than it USED to go off when my wife traveled to work.

While my wife takes a shower, I check my email. I’m looking for articles to send to Jeff for his regular newsletter about COVID-19.

My wife watches CBS This Morning; increasingly, I don’t. I can’t do all COVID, all the time. But I do catch a bit when feeding the cats around 7:30 because they think it’s their right to be fed. My wife and I eat breakfast.

She goes to work in the guest bedroom. Her workload as a teacher of English as a New Language is so much greater than it was when she could actually meet with students in person. One day, she had a noon teleconference, then a 40-minute phone conversation with a parent of a student, 20 minutes to wolf down lunch, then a 2 pm teleconference. Another day, she spent about 100 minutes on the phone with two brothers.

I start writing a blog post but take a break to wake my daughter, who almost certainly has stayed up too late. Time for her to go to school too, which turns out to be on the borrowed laptop in her bedroom. Classes at 9 and 10:30, an hour for lunch, classes at 12:30 and 2. Sometimes I help her with her homework in the evening.

Old school

Time to call two people on the telephone. This has been an amazingly great exercise. Sometimes, I call people I haven’t seen in a few months, while others I haven’t been in contact with for years. (Hi, Janet!) They average about 45 minutes; some last 10 minutes, but I spoke with Bill, a grade-school friend, for about two hours. I never leave a message on answering machines because I don’t want to obligate people to have to call me back. But some see my phone ID and check back anyway.

I’ve discovered surprising simpatico with a guy whose wife also asks followup questions when he’s only reading her a news headline. A cousin of my father told me a family secret last week she had assumed I already knew. My pastors are now mailing the sermons to one of my fellow church members without a computer.

Some point, I’ll take a walk or ride my bike, take a shower, eat lunch, empty and reload the dishwasher plus washing some pots and pans, read the paper, finish the blog post, and watch the previous day’s JEOPARDY! After dinner is the daily Google hangout call of my wife’s family, ostensibly 15 minutes, but generally close to an hour. I’ll miss it because I’ll be attending church remotely on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

Here now the news

Watch the evening news, which is recorded, so I can zap past all those pharma medicine ads. I either help my wife and daughter, or at least stay out of their way. I’m happy to be retired.

I should note that working on the COVID newsletter has been great. I don’t have to obsess about the issue. Oh, I still think he’s doing a bad job. I was furious that Wisconsin voters had to go out and vote in the midst of a pandemic, risking the health of themselves and others.

And I was strangely mortified that an SBA program to help small business was so poorly introduced. A CBS story showed personal information showing up on the SCREENS of the next applicant in the queue. The SBDC, where I worked for nearly 27 years, is an SBA program.

And I’m terribly sad about the death of John Prine, who was not only one of America’s greatest songwriters but apparently a really nice guy. He beat cancer TWICE only to succumb to complications from COVID-19.

Hello In There – Bette Midler
Dear Abby – John Prine
Angel From Montgomery – Bonnie Raitt& John Prine