Tag Archives: back to school

Gov. Cuomo, Don’t Gamble with Lives to Open Schools

Screen Shot 2020-07-13 at 4.49.01 PM

Dear Gov. Cuomo,

I write to you today as a career educator entering my 13th year as an elementary school teacher in Corona, Queens. You’ll recall Corona as the literal epicenter of New York’s Covid-19 outbreak. I work there. My students and their families live there. Many of them contracted Covid, and in our school, many students are now mourning the deaths of their grandparents and parents.

I also write to you as a father. I’ve got three children who mean the world to me. One starts high school this year, another sets off for middle school, and the other, who is 2, happily oblivious to any of the world’s sadness (or even my and his mommy’s worries) and who has attended daycare since 6-months old. He randomly announced yesterday, “I miss school.”

During this pandemic, you have shown bold and courageous leadership for our state, garnering you acclaim and national recognition as you deftly worked around and against the absence of leadership from the White House. While the President railed against masks as a sign of weakness, you urged New Yorkers to wear them as a sign of respect. While the President frighteningly and stupefyingly painted a rosy picture of a once-in-a-generation health crisis, you spoke honestly, truthfully, and bluntly about the public responsibility to help flatten the curve. Although most people probably would never choose to live life under lockdown, cherished community institutions shuttered and family norms shattered, the fact is it worked.

You also acknowledge that New York will see a rise in cases as cases rise around the country. It is generally accepted that come fall, the pandemic will reach its second wave, which, they say, will be worse than the first.

Governor, your priority for our state through this pandemic has been public health. I understand that the economy needs to creak back to life, truly I do. But if that has to come at the potential expense of student and teacher lives, is it worth it?

Trump has flouted every recommendation from people who know more than any of us. His level of hubris and self-assuredness in the face of unrelenting fact, numbers, and basically, destruction, have led this country down a dark road into a cavernous abyss where we laypeople are sacrificed for the cause of his bungling bid to be reelected. His calls for reopening states to drive the economic engine have been more than irresponsible. They’ve been reckless, selfish, and without question, deadly.

At every opportunity you have distinguished yourself as the AntiTrump, showing greater understanding of the long game of the pandemic. I am calling on you to continue to do so. When Trump and DeVos call for opening schools, I urge you to stand up for our students and teachers and not lead them over a cliff the way Trump has already done to so many Americans who have become victims of his lack of caring or understanding.

How can schools open without proper funding, enough space, a vaccine? Is it your position that to move the economy along, children must die? Teachers must figure out ways to deal with immensely challenging scenarios and educate children while anxiously worrying about their own health and that of their families? Can you imagine a school functioning to it’s fullest educational capacity when everyone is trying to understand how to keep pre-k students from being near each other, or keep mischief makers from messing around with their masks, or walk down the halls with 6 feet around every student in each direction? This is not only senseless, it’s impossible.

Whatever money there is this year that’s meant to go toward sanitization, cleanliness, barriers, PPE, and whatever else is needed to bring students back to school, why not take that money instead and invest it into professional development to help teachers improve their remote pedagogy? Why not use it to bring awareness and understanding to parents who will be home with their children while they learn remotely? Why not use it to fund childcare services for parents who can’t stay home for remote learning?

We need to be thinking outside the box. It’s not enough to say, “Kids need to be back in school.” They do, of course. But if it means they’re going to die, or their teachers will, well, I don’t see how that’s worth it.

The threshold you’ve prescribed – that a region must be under 5% infected over 14 days – assumes you are okay with approximately 100 students and staff in my building being sick at one time, and potentially having their lives at risk. And on top of that, it’s okay by you that, as we extrapolate the numbers, the likelihood of sustained infection and outbreak in the building just goes higher and higher. We don’t yet know how kids spread the disease because we haven’t seen enough kids together during this pandemic. Why assume the best when that almost certainly means more illnesses and deaths?

You are keen to point out repeatedly, and justifiably so, that being “New York State tough” allowed NY to be a model for the country, a beacon of what you should do to handle this crisis. With your own admission that cases will rise due to surges around the country, as well as a recent Siena/NY Times poll indicating 82% of New Yorkers expect things to be worse in the fall, I just don’t understand your gamble.

Trump gambles with lives. Why are you?


First + Second = My Third

If this post ends in the middle of a sentence or the middle of a word, you have to forgive me. I’m writing this in a supine position, eyelids drawing down upon my eyes like a thick haze on a hot summer day in New York City. That’s an appropriate enough simile, given that’s what this week has been.

Normally the blanket of humidity isn’t much of an issue to me. Today, though, it surely was. Finally, after much consternation, anticipation, desperation, and eventually elation, I got into my new classroom. It’s up, up, up and away on the fifth floor, and when you’re shlepping boxes and books and everything but the kitchen sink (there’s one in the room, so I left mine at home) you’re gonna hit some fatigue. Or at least fatigue is going to hit some you.

I've got space for you...

Why did I only get in today when the kids report for duty on Wednesday? There was a, shall we say, slight mishap that threatened to usurp my position, but all that matters is that, in the end, everything has worked itself out.

My first two years of teaching (you joined me last year midway through my second) were spent in a fifth grade general ed class. You know how much I enjoyed it, of course. What you don’t know, though, is that my position was compromised by the hiring freeze and budget constraints that have become part of the landscape in New York City. Faced with the prospect of unemployment, I bunched up on graduate courses this summer and acquired my license to teach special education.

And that’s what I’ll be doing this year. I’ve made the switch to a self-contained special education room. Would you believe I’ll actually be teaching a combo class of first and second graders? What a big difference it’ll be from the last two years. A step outside my zone of comfort? Yeah, you might say that. But it’s also a phenomenal challenge and a chance to be loosed from the bonds of standardized testing that so dominate the upper grades. You can be sure that when people walk by Mr. Foteah’s room, they’re going to hear kids having fun! (And not the fun that goes with my test prep organization).

I *only* have 12 little rugrats in my class. I am thrilled at the prospects of more individual and intense instruction for each child. Of course, my room is just a wee bit tiny (picture a queen size bedroom, perhaps?) and so I am being forced to find ways to be resourceful with my space and my sanity. But, hey, I’ve got a SMART Board (and no computer to go with it).

...and you, too!

Kudos to Mama Foteah and Sis Foteah for their stirring support and assistance today in the non-air conditioned sweatbox. It was a gritty grind. We got in about 9:30, confronted with masses of materials that belonged to several years of teachers. (Is this what they consider a welcome gift?) We left at about 4 with bulletin boards backed, nameplates on the desks, books in the closet, and hand cutouts and border on the door.

For one day of work, it was significant progress. But you can bet I’ll be there late on Tuesday. There is just so much to be done, it’s actually insane. It takes me back to my first year when things were all over the room as the kids walked in, probably thinking they accidentally stumbled into a warehouse for incompetent teachers. I’m going to have to pick up a lot as I go, but thankfully, I’ve got a new AP who should be fairly helpful, and have a decent amount of friends in these grades on which I can rely to a certain degree.

So that’s that. I’m on the way, things are falling into place. Year Three kicks off Wednesday, when 4 first graders and 8 second graders drag their little selves up to the roof and slip in past a brightly decorated door into a tiny but inviting room that will be our’s to share and learn in.

I’d like to say more, but I’m half asleep, and I did warn you that I might fall asleep in the middle of…zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.