A Teacher Speaks

Justin Minkel teaches 1st and 2nd grades at Jones Elementary in Springdale, Ark., a high-performing, high-poverty school where 85 percent of the students are English-language learners. Minkel was the 2007 Arkansas Teacher of the Year.  He shares his thoughts on where we are today:

“When teachers chose to give our lives to teaching, this wasn’t what we had in mind.

We knew we’d work long hours for low pay. We knew we’d navigate damaging policies crafted far from the world of the classroom.

We never anticipated being told to report to work in conditions that could sicken or kill us by politicians far removed from the risks and realities of our schools.

Across a nation with so many COVID-19 hot spots they’re starting to bleed together, teachers have had very little say on two critical questions: when and how to return to face-to-face teaching.

For many teachers facing the imminent return to school, the customary combination of nerves and excitement has been replaced by mortal terror.

That fear is far from abstract. In June, three Arizona teachers who taught remote lessons from a shared classroom contracted COVID-19. One of them, Kimberly Lopez Chavez Byrd, died.

We all went into teaching prepared to give our days and years to a demanding yet rewarding profession. But asking us to serve as guinea pigs in the most dangerous national experiment ever attempted is a bridge too far.

Cracks Into Canyons

The pandemic has stress-tested every American institution, from our economy to the social fabric of our neighborhoods. Washington Post columnist Monica Hesse wrote in a recent piece on the struggle of working moms: “The novel coronavirus has put sticks of dynamite into the cracks of our society, turning them into the canyons that must be navigated.”

One of those canyons, the fundamental inequities in our system along lines of race and class, has been ripped wide as COVID-19 ravages communities of color at wildly disproportionate rates.

In the region of Arkansas where I teach, the Latinx community has been hit hard, and half the deaths have been people from the Marshall Islands—a community that makes up only 3 percent of our region.

On the same day that my county saw 199 predominantly Latinx workers in an 1,100-person chicken- processing plant test positive for the virus, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the move to Phase 2 of reopening the state’s economy, loosening restrictions as the number of infections surged.

The pandemic’s disparate impact, wrought in part by failures of political leadership, has profound implications for the risk of infection posed to teachers who serve children of color living in poverty. Increased risk for these children and their families means greater risk for their teachers as well.

How Much Worse Will the Teacher Exodus Get?
Before the pandemic ever began, teachers had been leaving our profession at alarming rates. Sixteen percent of teachers leave the classroom every year, and half the teachers currently in the classroom have considered quitting. Tim Slekar, the dean of education at Edgewood College in Wisconsin, explains the distinction between a shortage and an exodus:

“When we have a shortage, say, of nurses, pay goes up, conditions get better, and enrollment in nursing programs skyrockets. So if we have a teacher shortage, pay would go up. It’s not. Conditions would get better. They’re not. And enrollment in teacher education would go up. It’s declining.”

Now we have a return to classrooms still fraught with the risk of infection, via policies enacted often with little input from the teachers who will take on that risk. It doesn’t take a prophet to predict a surge in the teacher exodus this school year. Twelve percent of teachers who had planned to remain in the classroom are already considering a departure from teaching because of the pandemic, according to an Education Week Research Center survey. If we see a spike in coronavirus cases as schools reopen, that number may rise dramatically.

Treating Symptoms vs. Curing the Disease

Even before the pandemic struck, the push for teacher “self-care” often seemed to address the symptoms of burnout rather than its root causes. The disconnect between prescriptions for self-care and the harsh conditions teachers face can be jarring. In the face of a mortal threat, tips like “laugh and learn from your mistakes” and “find ways to work on and improve your self-image” seem absurd.

With new infections still surging, our nation has to adequately address teachers’ concerns about whether the return to school will damage their health or even claim their lives.

So how can we avert another crisis within a crisis, a worsening teacher exodus nested within the global catastrophe wrought by COVID-19? How can school leaders help teachers care for themselves when, more than ever, their lives are on the line?

1. Provide teachers with decision-making power on when and how to resume in-person instruction.

Teachers understand the realities of the classroom. We know what kind of personal protective equipment students and staff will need when they return to face-to-face teaching. We know what’s realistic when it comes to social distancing in a kindergarten classroom, as opposed to a middle school.

We can also translate emerging knowledge about the spread of COVID-19 into practice, like planning more instruction outside and designing classrooms so that each student has their own space, distanced from other desks or even surrounded by shower curtains, where they can do their work safely.

Returning to school will inevitably be a fraught proposition. But giving teachers a say in when and how it happens could go a long way toward averting the kind of massive teacher strike or exodus that would cripple our school system.

2. Provide options.

One of the laudable responses to the pandemic has been the sensitivity and flexibility shown to families in many school districts. My own district has provided three options for the fall: in-person school, distance learning from home, and a hybrid model in which students attend school in smaller groups two or three days a week.

We need to be equally thoughtful in providing options for teachers. My school district’s leaders have offered a humane gift to every teacher in our district: the option to take a year’s leave while their job is held for the following year. Many teachers, of course, can’t afford a year without pay. But the option to teach virtually or find safer employment for a year could potentially be lifesaving, particularly for those at elevated risk.

3. Proceed with caution.

There’s a long history in education of rolling out tests, programs, and policies before they’ve been adequately researched, developed, and proven. When it comes to reopening schools, we have to base our decisions on research and proven practices, not political talking points or a fevered rush to get the economy rolling at any cost.

There’s a long history in education of rolling out tests, programs, and policies before they’ve been adequately researched, developed, and proven. When it comes to reopening schools, we have to base our decisions on research and proven practices, not political talking points or a fevered rush to get the economy rolling at any cost.

There’s plenty of emerging information on how to reopen schools safely when the time is right, from Centers for Disease Control guidance to successful models in other countries—for example, opening a limited number of days per week and waiting to reopen until the number of new cases has shown a steady decline. We have to act on that information as we make decisions about when and how to return to in-person school this year.

We have no choice but to get this right. It’s a matter of life or death.”

 

An Interesting Look At The 1918 Pandemic

Most of us had never heard of the pandemic of 1918 until we ran headlong into the pandemic of 2020.  So from time to time we’ve come across references to 1918.  But what was it really all about?  Here is an excellent article by Christine Hauser of The New York Times that is not only interesting reading, but shows us that some things–like the pushback against face masks–never change.

“As the influenza pandemic swept across the United States in 1918 and 1919, masks took a role in political and cultural wars.

The masks were called muzzles, germ shields and dirt traps. They gave people a “pig-like snout.” Some people snipped holes in their masks to smoke cigars. Others fastened them to dogs in mockery. Bandits used them to rob banks.

More than a century ago, as the 1918 influenza pandemic raged in the United States, masks of gauze and cheesecloth became the facial front lines in the battle against the virus. But as they have now, the masks also stoked political division. Then, as now, medical authorities urged the wearing of masks to help slow the spread of disease. And then, as now, some people resisted.

In 1918 and 1919, as bars, saloons, restaurants, theaters and schools were closed, masks became a scapegoat, a symbol of government overreach, inspiring protests, petitions and defiant bare-face gatherings. All the while, thousands of Americans were dying in a deadly pandemic.

The first infections were identified in March, at an Army base in Kansas, where 100 soldiers were infected. Within a week, the number of flu cases grew fivefold, and soon the disease was taking hold across the country, prompting some cities to impose quarantines and mask orders to contain it.

By the fall of 1918, seven cities — San Francisco, Seattle, Oakland, Sacramento, Denver, Indianapolis and Pasadena, Calif. — had put in effect mandatory face mask laws, said Dr. Howard Markel, a historian of epidemics and the author of “Quarantine!”

Organized resistance to mask wearing was not common, Dr. Markel said, but it was present. “There were flare-ups, there were scuffles and there were occasional groups, like the Anti-Mask League,” he said, “but that is the exception rather than the rule.”

At the forefront of the safety measures was San Francisco, where a man returning from a trip to Chicago apparently carried the virus home, according to archives about the pandemic at the University of Michigan.

By the end of October, there were more than 60,000 cases statewide, with 7,000 of them in San Francisco. It soon became known as the “masked city.”

“The Mask Ordinance,” signed by Mayor James Rolph on Oct. 22, made San Francisco the first American city to require face coverings, which had to be four layers thick.

Resisters complained about appearance, comfort and freedom, even after the flu killed an estimated 195,000 Americans in October alone.

Alma Whitaker, writing in The Los Angeles Times on Oct. 22, 1918, reviewed masks’ impact on society and celebrity, saying famous people shunned them because it was “so horrid” to go unrecognized.

“The big restaurants are the funniest sights, with all the waiters and diners masked, the latter just raising their screen to pop in a mouthful of food,” she wrote.

When Ms. Whitaker herself declined to wear one, she was “forcibly taken” to the Red Cross as a “slacker,” and ordered to make one and put it on.

The San Francisco Chronicle said the simplest type of mask was of folded gauze affixed with elastic or tape. The police went for gauze masks, which resembled an unflattering “nine ordinary slabs of ravioli arranged in a square.”

There was room for creativity. Some of the coverings were “fearsome looking machines” that lent a “pig-like aspect” to the wearer’s face.

The penalty for violators was $5 to $10, or 10 days’ imprisonment.

On Nov. 9, 1,000 people were arrested, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. City prisons swelled to standing room only; police shifts and court sessions were added to help manage.

“Where is your mask?” Judge Mathew Brady asked offenders at the Hall of Justice, where sessions dragged into night. Some gave fake names, said they just wanted to light a cigar or that they hated following laws.

Jail terms of 8 hours to 10 days were given out. Those who could not pay $5 were jailed for 48 hours.

On Oct. 28, a blacksmith named James Wisser stood on Powell and Market streets in front of a drugstore, urging a crowd to dispose of their masks, which he described as “bunk.”

A health inspector, Henry D. Miller, led him to the drugstore to buy a mask.

At the door, Mr. Wisser struck Mr. Miller with a sack of silver dollars and knocked him to the ground, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. While being “pummeled,” Mr. Miller, 62, fired four times with a revolver. Passers-by “scurried for cover,” The Associated Press said.

Mr. Wisser was injured, as were two bystanders. He was charged with disturbing the peace, resisting an officer and assault. The inspector was charged with assault with a deadly weapon.

‘To Mask or Not to Mask.’

That was the headline for a report published in The Los Angeles Times when city officials met in November to decide whether to require residents to wear “germ scarers” or “flu-scarers.”

Public feedback was invited. Some supported masks so theaters, churches and schools could operate. Opponents said masks were “mere dirt and dust traps and do more harm than good.”

“I have seen some persons wearing their masks for a while hanging about their necks, and then apply them to their faces, forgetting that they might have picked up germs while dangling about their clothes,” Dr. E.W. Fleming said in a Los Angeles Times report.

An ear, nose and throat specialist, Dr. John J. Kyle, said: “I saw a woman in a restaurant today with a mask on. She was in ordinary street clothes, and every now and then she raised her hand to her face and fussed with the mask.”

Suffragists fighting for the right to vote made a gesture that rejected covering their mouths at a time when their voices were crucial.

At the annual convention of the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association, in October 1918, they set chairs four feet apart, closed doors to the public and limited attendance to 100 delegates, the Chicago Daily Tribune reported.

But the women “showed their scorn” for masks, it said. It’s unclear why.

Allison K. Lange, an associate history professor at Wentworth Institute of Technology, said one reason could have been that they wanted to keep a highly visible profile.

“Suffragists wanted to make sure their leaders were familiar political figures,” Dr. Lange said.

San Francisco’s mask ordinance expired after four weeks at noon on Nov. 21. The city celebrated, and church bells tolled.

A “delinquent” bent on blowing his nose tore his mask off so quickly that it “nearly ruptured his ear,” The San Francisco Chronicle reported. He and others stomped on their masks in the street. As a police officer watched, it dawned on him that “his vigil over the masks was done.”

Waiters, barkeeps and others bared their faces. Drinks were on the house. Ice cream shops handed out treats. The sidewalks were strewn with gauze, the “relics of a torturous month,” The Chronicle said.

The spread had been halted. But a second wave was on the horizon.

By December, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors was again proposing a mask requirement, meeting with testy opposition.

Around the end of the year, a bomb was defused outside the office of San Francisco’s chief health officer, Dr. William C. Hassler. “Things were violent and aggressive, but it was because people were losing money,” said Brian Dolan, a medical historian at the University of California, San Francisco. “It wasn’t about a constitutional issue; it was a money issue.”

By the end of 1918, the death toll from influenza had reached at least 244,681, mostly in the last four months, according to government statistics.

In January, Pasadena’s city commission passed a mask ordinance. The police grudgingly enforced it, cracking down on cigar smokers and passengers in cars. Sixty people were arrested on the first day, The Los Angeles Times reported on Jan. 22, in an article titled “Pasadena Snorts Under Masks.”

“It is the most unpopular law ever placed on the Pasadena records,” W.S. McIntyre, the chief of police, told the paper. “We are cursed from all sides.”

Some mocked the rule by stretching gauze across car vents or dog snouts. Cigar vendors said they lost customers, though enterprising aficionados cut a hole in the cloth. (They were still arrested.) Barbers lost shaving business. Merchants complained traffic dropped as more people stayed home.

Petitions were circulated at cigar stands. Arrests rose, even of the powerful. Ernest May, the president of Security National Bank of Pasadena, and five “prominent” guests were rounded up at the Maryland Hotel one Sunday.

They had masks on, but not covering their faces.

As the contagion moved into its second year, so did the skepticism.

On Dec. 17, 1918, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors reinstituted the mask ordinance after deaths started to climb, a trend that spilled over into the new year with 1,800 flu cases and 101 deaths reported there in the first five days of January.

That board’s decision led to the creation of the Anti-Mask League, a sign that resistance to masks was resurfacing as cities tried to reimpose orders to wear them when infections returned.

The league was led by a woman, E.J. Harrington, a lawyer, social activist and political opponent of the mayor. About a half-dozen other women filled its top ranks. Eight men also joined, some of them representing unions, along with two members of the board of supervisors who had voted against masks.

“The masks turned into a political symbol,” Dr. Dolan said.

On Jan. 25, the league held its first organizational meeting, open to the public at the Dreamland Rink, where they united behind demands for the repeal of the mask ordinance and for the resignations of the mayor and health officials.

Their objections included lack of scientific evidence that masks worked and the idea that forcing people to wear the coverings was unconstitutional.

On Jan. 27, the league protested at a Board of Supervisors meeting, but the mayor held his ground. There were hisses and cries of “freedom and liberty,” Dr. Dolan wrote in his paper on the epidemic.

Repeal came a few days later on Feb. 1, when Mayor Rolph cited a downturn in infections.

But a third wave of flu rolled in late that year. The final death toll reached an estimated 675,000 nationwide, or 30 for every 1,000 people in San Francisco, making it one of the worst-hit cities in America.

Dr. Dolan said the story of the Anti-Mask League, which has drawn renewed interest now in 2020, demonstrates the disconnect between individual choice and universal compliance.

That sentiment echoes through the century from the voice of a San Francisco railway worker named Frank Cocciniglia.

Arrested on Kearny Street in January, Mr. Cocciniglia told the judge that he “was not disposed to do anything not in harmony with his feelings,” according to a Los Angeles Times report.

He was sentenced to five days in jail.

“That suits me,” Mr. Cocciniglia said as he left the stand. “I won’t have to wear a mask there.”

The UNITED States Of America. Really?

We’ve all had it pounded in our heads virtually from birth that we live in a united country of 50 different states.

Truth is, few things could be farther from the truth.  If it were, we would all be pulling in the same direction at the same time, striving for common goals.  This has seldom been the case.  Even the original 13 colonies had great differences and some were much more interested in pulling away from England than others.

The reason for much of this is pointed out to us in American Nations by Colin Woodard as he paints graphic pictures of the 11 nations that actually comprise the U.S .and how they were settled at different times by different people from different backgrounds.

Certainly there is no greater indicator of our lack of unity than the current highly fractured and divided response to Covid-19.  Unfortunately there is no coordinated, unified national 50 state effort to get this pandemic under control.  Instead our national leaders have sent one mixed message after another and left states to individually flop and flounder

The result?

ONE THOUSAND deaths a day across this land.

Imagine we were presently losing 1,000 people a day in some foreign war.  That each day we were shipping 1,000 caskets back to this country from some distant land.

Would we be as tolerant of ineptitude in such a crisis as we are right now?

Vanity Fair has just reported on how the President’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, inserted himself into the war against Covid-19.  It is not a pretty picture.  Nor a useful one.

Back in March Kushner set out to solve the on-going disaster of lack of diagnostic-testing.  So he brought together a group of largely bankers and billionaires–not public health experts.  In spite of their lack of knowledge and willingness to work with others, the group developed a fairly comprehensive plan, that got good reviews from health professionals who saw it.  But then the plan, according to someone involved with it, “just went poof into thin air.”

What happened?  Politics.

According to Vanity Fair, “Most troubling ….was a sentiment ….a member  of Kushner’s team expressed: that because the virus had hit blue states hardest, a national  plan was unnecessary and would not make sense politically.  The political folks believed that because it (the virus) was going to be relegated to Democratic states, that they could blame those governors, and that would be an effective political strategy.”

UNITED states of America?  Don’t kid yourself.

Tonya Chestnut Wins Runoff For State School Board

Longtime educator Tonya Chestnut of Selma defeated Fred Bell of Montgomery in the July 14 Democrat runoff for the District 5 state school board seat.  This is the position held for 18 years by the late Ella Bell, who passed away last fall.

Governor Ivy appointed Tommie Stewart to fill the remainder of Bell’s term.  She did not seek election for a four-year term

The primary in this race was held last March 2, however, because of Covid-19, the runoff was pushed back to July 14..  Eight candidates ran in the primary.  Fred Bell got 30 percent (24,589) of the vote, while Chestnut got 20 percent (16,044).  There were a total of 81,033 votes cast.  But because of a lack of contested races in the Democratic runoff, only 34,602 people voted on July 14.

This decline was especially notable in Montgomery County.  Whereas Bell received 11,816 votes in Montgomery in the primary, he only got 2,912 in the runoff.  And while Bell got a total of 24,589 votes to lead the primary, he only got 13,372 in the runoff.  Chestnut did a much better job of holding on to her votes.  She got 16,044 in the primary and increased this to 21,230 in the runoff.  The most striking example of this was in her home of Dallas County were she got 5,531 votes on March 2 and 4,937 on July 14.

By comparison, Bell got 11,818 in Montgomery in the primary, but only 2,912 in the runoff.

Geographically, this is the largest state board seat, including all or portions of 16 counties and running from Macon County to the Mississippi line and to downtown Mobile.  Historically, it has been a minority-held seat.

Montgomery County school board member and Republican Lesa Keith is running against Chestnut in the Nov. 3 general election.  However, she will be a definite underdog.

NEVER, EVER Mention A Woman’s Weight

While it may not be written in stone anywhere, I am 100 percent convinced that one of the rules of male peaceful coexistence with the opposite sex is NEVER, EVER utter a breath about a woman’s weight.

Wayne Reynolds is on the State School Board representing Huntsville and a swath of northeast Alabama.  He was elected in 2018.

However, if he knew of the rule mentioned above, he ignored it today.  IN REFERRING TO GOVERNOR KAY IVEY.

The Governor had a press conference in Montgomery July 29 to discuss the coronavirus and school reopening.  Reynolds watched this.  And as reported here by AL.com he than blundered by going on social media and remarking that it looked like “she is gaining weight.”

OMG.  Did I just read what I just read?

Apparently so because when contacted by a reporter, Reynolds tried to explain his way out of the gaffe with the comment, “I don’t know  what she weights.  I don’t know how much she weighs.  I just made an observation.”

Which makes me think that Reynolds has forgotten another rule that goes like this.  WHEN YOU ARE IN A HOLE, QUIT DIGGING.

The Governor responded, “A lady never discusses her age or her figure–a true gentleman doesn’t either.

No doubt, Reynolds will never forget this rule again.