In which we unpack district plans, commiserate with faculty, meet an artful administrator, and bear witness to post-election theatrics.

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Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

By the end of the first marking period in November 2020, I was supposed to be an experienced hybrid teacher, but I hadn’t yet set foot inside a brick-and-mortar classroom since the pandemic triggered my state’s first quarantine.

Looking back at my school district’s earliest plans for the opening days of the school year, both teachers and, at most, half the student body were scheduled to enter the high school building starting on the Tuesday before Labor Day. Though thin on details, our administration was clear on the goal: operating as close to business as usual (pre-pandemic) as possible.

Of course, things didn’t go to plan. But the story of how my district shifted from an in-person experience to an online format, and then, finally, to a hybrid classroom, didn’t begin after the school year started. Rather, the seeds were planted early in the summer of 2020, when the future of schooling never seemed less clear. …


A public school administrator offers a timely prescription for addressing historical injustices in the classroom.

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Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

“We need to radically rethink how we grade our students.”

So claims Benjamin Johnson, who currently serves as one of the five vice principals at my high school. A former college Division II fullback who looks as if he could literally carry the weight of the world on his broad shoulders, at fifty years old Johnson still cuts a striking figure. He and I were once teaching colleagues in the same department, even sharing a classroom for a time, before he moved on to a leadership role in the building. Johnson finished the coursework for a doctorate of education several years ago but has not yet completed his dissertation.

In a wide-ranging conversation conducted with me over Zoom earlier this fall, Johnson began by describing evolution in how he viewed assessing students — an evolution motivated in part by this summer’s racial reckoning compounded by the ongoing pandemic. Afterward, I followed up via email to ask him several additional questions and to clarify some of his statements. …


A second dispatch from the front lines of a public high school gone virtual.

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Photo by Thomas Park on Unsplash

With a quarter of this most unusual of school years complete, my district’s online schooling experiment has shown itself to have a decidedly different rhythm and flavor than the traditional brick-and-mortar approach.

Each school day offers teachers an opportunity to reflect on what’s working well and what could be improved. Let’s examine the past week at my high school to illustrate.

Monday.

From the start of the school year, my administration set aside Mondays for faculty and departmental meetings, inservices, and teacher planning.

Much of the time during these “Meeting Mondays,” as they’ve come to be called, is spent discussing digital tools — which ten years ago I might have assumed referred to bad actors wreaking havoc in online spaces. …


It all depends on how you answer these ten questions.

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Photo by Charles DeLoye on Unsplash

The path to earning a doctorate of education (typically abbreviated as Ed.D.) is fraught with many challenges and hazards, especially for a school teacher. Therefore, please carefully consider the following ten questions before pursuing the degree.

1. Why do you want to pursue a doctorate in education?

If your primary reason involves looking forward to being publicly addressed as “doctor,” then you should not pursue the degree. Most school teachers drawn toward the doctorate, though, likely aren’t interested in spending a great deal of money and a significant portion of their lives chasing a doctorate for the sake of vanity.

We expect lawyers to complete law school, which involves not only coursework but probably a judicial clerkship as well: they are awarded a Juris Doctor degree and, with passage of the bar exam, can practice law. Medical doctors don’t have the option to obtain a doctorate — they must do so, as a bare minimum, before they can practice medicine. (We formally address doctors who practice medicine as doctors, yet we don’t address lawyers as doctors. There is an argument to be made that only those who have medical degrees should formally be called doctors, though that is a debate for another day.) …


A dispatch from the front lines of a public high school gone virtual.

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Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

Any good dispatch from the field should answer six questions: Who, what, where, when, why, and how. To that end, what follows are these questions, answered.

Who?

Well, me.

A veteran high school teacher of nearly two decades. But not just me: tens of thousands of teachers in the U.S. and around the world who have been thrust unwittingly into a massive collective, natural experiment of teaching online rather than in person, as well as many additional educators performing their craft in a liminal space: i.e., hybrid teaching, a mix of online and in-person modes.

Not to mention countless students, who will live with the consequences of these radical changes to public education for years, or even decades, to come. …


The effectiveness of an inservice always comes down to how teacher-centric is it.

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Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

As opening professional development days for public high schools begin across the country, many of which will be virtual amid the pandemic, it is instructive to take a moment to review what works and what doesn’t during an inservice — from a teacher’s perspective.

What Doesn’t Work: An inservice speaker showing off his or her knowledge or bona fides to an audience.

It was an odd start to our first morning back in the building. A man with a disheveled appearance resembling Milton from the film Office Space was busy organizing stacks and stacks of overhead transparencies on two long tables in the cafeteria while the faculty, by turns bewildered and bemused, looked on. Switching on an overhead projector, Milton’s voice unexpectedly boomed: “We will now look at my Discovery Learning Method of teaching!” …


With no good options in a world gone mad, what is a teacher to do?

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Photo by Jeffrey Hamilton on Unsplash

“Did you hear the latest?” My colleague looked stunned as he read the news on his phone. “They’re closing schools in Japan for a month.” It was the middle of February, and the tide was coming in. “And in the UK — they’re debating right now what to do but they’ll probably shut them, too.” Schools were already closed in China; much of that country had, in fact, shut down. Something like that happening here — in my town, in my school — seemed inconceivable then.

But, of course, we weren’t spared. By the middle of March, with the stroke of our governor’s pen, schools in my state were shuttered. Closures were initially only supposed to be in effect a week or two, so, in my district at least, teachers weren’t given any clear direction on what type of academic instruction to offer in the interim, with two exceptions: “Any work posted online must be optional for students to complete” and “All work posted must be review of previously taught content.” …

About

Albert Arnesto

Albert Arnesto is the author of the book “Chalked! What I Wish I Knew Before I Became a High School Teacher.” He lives in Ohio with his family.

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