Archive for April, 2020

In a Holding Pattern [BTP]

The stay-at-home order (both de facto and de jure) that is now approaching the end of its fifth week has me in a very jarring place… for a number of reasons, but one I think at the root of it all is that I am simultaneously holding competing senses and states of being in my mind all. the. time. On the one hand, there is the ever-present sense of urgency that comes from having to work work work to plan our continued professional navigation of the day-to-day in ways that are much more time-consuming and labor-intensive than under normal circumstances.

On the other hand, the urgency has been complicated – and sometimes completely stalled – by the lack of concrete knowledge about where we are heading. As of now, several states (including PA, where I live and where my children go to school) have already closed school buildings statewide for the year. Whether one agrees or disagrees with this stance, the fact that the decision has been made and finalized allows school communities in PA to proceed with making plans for the remainder of the year with the understanding that there will be no more in-person physical classes or gatherings. We may not like it, but at least we know the cards we have been dealt, and can play them accordingly.

We have waited weeks for the 4/17 decision from Gov. Murphy about the scope of continued school closures in NJ. It actually came a day early, but I confess to feeling more frustration than anything else when I heard that the closures were just extended to May 15, with another decision to be made then.

To be clear, I would love nothing more for this to all be a bad dream and for us to get back to school tomorrow, provided we could do so safely and without elevated risk to our students, staff, and surrounding communities. Also, because I have seen some anonymous nobodies on social media calling for educators to take pay cuts or give back parts of their salaries for this year – I am not on vacation and I am not enjoying this. There are some professions and jobs for which telecommuting makes perfect sense. I don’t believe mine is one of them (and let’s be honest, this isn’t even telecommuting; this is crisis teaching, or disaster teaching, as I have seen it referred to elsewhere). My wife and I – along with all the other educators I know – are working three times as hard to deliver the education and services children and families need throughout this pandemic. From a leadership standpoint, we find ourselves having to devote time and energy planning for the most mundane of tasks, and then planning again when we run into obstacles. Even the best of days since the schools have shut down have been stressful and complicated, never mind the worst.

With the uncertainty surrounding the last month or so of the school year – not just classes but all the attendant ceremonies and activities – we find ourselves in a position where long-term planning is… if not impossible, certainly much more challenging than if we knew for sure we’d be closed (or open, for that matter). Again, even under the best of circumstances, these things take an inordinate amount of planning and preparation. Now, and for at least the next four weeks, it’s pretty clear we will be doubling our efforts, making one set of plans for in-person events and at least one other to allow for a closed building and prohibitions on public gatherings. And even if we are physically back, what restrictions, if any, will we have to navigate and accommodate in order to return to a safe school environment (e.g., masks, social distancing, split sessions, etc., all of which have been proposed by various state governors facing public pressure to reopen schools and the economy that relies so heavily on the child supervision component schools provide). Again – nobody is afraid of hard work, but with everything taking three times as long as usual, there are only so many hours in a day to make things happen.

I understand the political and economic factors at play in a decision like this, and it is not my intention to minimize those concerns. I also appreciate how Murphy, as well as other governors from the region such as Wolf, Cuomo, and Carney, have indicated that any economic reopening or recovery plan must and will prioritize public health concerns. This isn’t necessarily a criticism of the decision as much as it is a reflection on how the lack of a concrete path forward creates additional challenges.

I work with a fantastic staff who will rise to any challenge, but perhaps one of the most frustrating things about this situation is not being able to do one of the things we do best, which is problem-solve, and certainly not as efficiently or as effectively as we would like, not knowing what the context we will be dealing with in four weeks will be. I know it frustrates people who come to us with questions (and proposed solutions to problems, present or potential) when our response is, “We don’t know” or “we have to wait and see.” It frustrates us having to give those responses. It’s not because we haven’t thought about it, or are blowing them off, or don’t have thoughts about multiple contingencies we could put into play – developing Plans A through X, Y, and Z is what we spend much of our workdays doing these days – it’s that until we know exactly where we’re going, there’s only so much we can do in terms of taking action.

A Brief Programming Note: Updated URLs

Due to some under-the-hood shenanigans that I won’t even pretend to understand, the URLs for both the blog site and the RSS feed for this blog have had to change. From 4/4/20 forward, the updated URLs are:

Thanks to Katie at Reclaim Hosting for diagnosing and fixing whatever the problem was. Of all the web hosting services I’ve used, Reclaim is hands-down the best and most responsive, and I wholeheartedly recommend them for your hosting needs.

Fraying at the Edges [BTP]

I’ve been working from home for two and a half weeks now by the time this posts Friday morning, and it will have been a solid three that my students, my wife, and my kids have been on “remote instruction” to varying degrees in each of our districts.

We are hanging in there, but the effects of social distancing and our state stay-at-home order (we’ve been basically following it all this time but it was made official yesterday; no foolin’) are beginning to take their toll.

There were tears, raised voices, heated tempers, and arguments that had no reason to be arguments this week between and among all four of us. The effects of social isolation are starting to take their toll on all of us, to varying degrees and at different times. I’ve taken on the role of ‘grocery getter’, which is the only reason I leave the house other than to take walks with my family, and I look forward to those trips with about equal parts excitement (for a change of scenery) and anxiety (over the thought that this trip could be the one during which I contract the virus… if I don’t have it already).

Of the four of us, I honestly thought I would have the easiest time navigating this forced isolation. Even on my best days I love nothing more than whiling away time at home, preferring it to pretty much any other place I could be most days. As much as I enjoy traveling, there’s nothing like coming home to my own bed. Issa Rae put it better than I possibly could:

Turns out being at home is only as fun as my ability to decide to not be at home.

My county has put together an informative website for government updates and tracking confirmed cases across the county. As of this evening, my township is one of many in which there have only been between 1-10 confirmed cases. That gives me some comfort that I’m not going out into a densely populated area with a high rate of infection, but I also know that those numbers only represent the number of tested and confirmed cases, and that there are any number of people walking around, either asymptomatic or symptomatic but not tested.

It seems like almost every day, there are more deaths in the news, both of local people and celebrities. Last night it was announced that Adam Schlesinger died at 52 from complications from covid-19. Aside from numerous other musical accomplishments, I knew him first as the bassist and co-songwriter for Fountains of Wayne, a band I discovered at 19 and have loved ever since (more than half my life by this point). I normally don’t much care about celebrities passing, other than to recognize the inherent sadness in the loss of human life and then move on with my day, but Schlesinger’s death hit a little differently for me.

I got to see the band play in New Hope in March 2013 shortly before they broke up and I was under no misapprehensions that they were ever getting back together again, so it’s not like I was holding out for the reunion tour. In talking with my wife this morning about the fact that this particular death has impacted me so disproportionately, I think I figured out why. I like a lot of bands across genres, but Fountains of Wayne was one that legitimately brought me joy. I don’t know that I can say that about any other band. Musically, stylistically, thematically, lyrically… maybe the fact that we both have roots in New Jersey, and that featured prominently in FoW’s work… whatever it was, I felt a connection with their body of work that I can’t recall feeling for any other artist or band of any genre, including bands I would otherwise classify as my favorites.

I’m getting back into my feelings again. I’m not usually this guy and I’m wondering how much of how I’m reacting to this news has to do with the above paragraph and how much has to do with the cumulative impact of everything that has happened regarding the pandemic over the last few weeks.

One false move, baby, suddenly everything’s ruined…