An Ordinary Day

I’m no technician, this is for sure, and I have never had the smallest inclination for plugs and wires; as far as I am concerned what happens before pushing the power botton is a mystery.

So the morning of September 15 at 8:00 a.m., when I stepped into my class, ready to tackle for the first time the abyss of what is here called “integrated didactic”, that is the new emergency educational strategy to “safely” re-open school with half class at school, while the other one is connected at home, you may imagine my distress, when I saw that there was no computer connected on my desk, but only a key hanging from the locker as to hint:”do it yourself“. 

Myself? Oh, my! With no Mr Run around, I am lost in these matters, plus I had to solve the problem quickly, as the students would have arrived in few minutes. I opened the locker and I found a tangled maze of wires, a sort of nest where the computer cozily rested. I stood there, watching that puzzle from a while, when I heard a boy say : “Hi Teach, do you want me to help you?” But for the distancing rules, I would have hugged him with gratitude: “Yes, please! ” And he quickly set to work, as I tried to memorize exactly what he was doing, because I had a feeling I would have had to reproduce those movements again and again. Fortunately, he ended right before his mates came in, and so it started that first nightmarish schoolday, a sort of madness that has become my daily routine.

Once the connection was established with those at home and after having done the call roll, I welcomed them all with the usual words (It was 8:15):

Me 😄:Good morning everybody, I hope you enjoyed your holidays, despite the restrictions of covid rules……I know this year will he weird, but I am sure………..bla bla bla.

Giuseppe at Home and the others 😩😩😩(waving trying to catch my attention ): “I can’t hear you”!

Me 😐(faking a certain familiarity with the matter using Meet chat): “Giuseppe, you should check your connection and sound options or…….”

Giuseppe at Home (politely ): “Teach, could you please check YOUR mike?”

Me 😳(blushing): “ My mike? Oh, you are right! It is off! (trying to hide my discomfort) 😊Now, can you hear me?

All at Home :“Yeeessssss”

Me 🤗(with a sigh of relief): “Splendid, splendid! So, what a start! Well, we will begin this year with a quick revision of some grammar rules, even to check if what we did during on-line learning did actually work. So let’s start with the usage of the Simple Past. I hope you remember that the Simple Past is used to….. ( taking a piece of chalk and  slowly moving to the blackboard, but with a corner on my eyes I see all the faces on the screen waving again and making indinstict noises. Voices come and go), what is the matter?😩

Students in class (everybody buzzing, while Andrea says) : “I think they can’t hear you”!

Me😤: Again! (to those at home) “Can you hear me?”

Elena at Home😔: “Only if you speak close to the computer’s mike. When you move I can’t hear you. Actually, your voice sounds more like a whisper even when you are closer”.

Me🤔: “All right. What time is it? 8:35 already! Let me think, 🤔what if I use my headphones? (Taking the headphones out of my bag ) This must be the audio jack…so ….where is the audio port? Here. Let’s try……. the pink goes with the pink… 🤔( meanwhile the students in class watch me amused, how they love to see me in trouble, for once). Done, can you hear me ?😕

Students at home: (everybody but one) “Yessss. (Beatrice shakes her head)

Me: “What is the matter Beatrice?”😩

Beatrice: “I can only hear an echo”💁

Me: ” If all the others can hear me, I can’t help you.😒 There must be something wrong with  your computer. Try and read my labial while I speak, I am sorry. What time is it? 8:45! So…….(speaking close to the screen so that Beatrice can see and writing in the Meet chat at the same time). In English there are regular and irregular verbs, to go, for example……oh, wait a minute! What’s going on?😭😭(Beatrice, Roberto, Maria, Sofia are leaving the meeting while the others’ images are still………3….2..1….all disconnected).

Students in class: “They have just written in our chat that they can’t manage to get back in again!”

Me😥: (visibly uneasy) “Tell them😥…tell them😥…..what time is it ? 8:55. Tell them, I’ll write what they have to do on the register” (the bell rings, I leave the classroom fretfully).

Students in class🙋‍♂️🙋🏼 (warmly): ” See you tomorrow Teach!”

Me:😄 “Oh, yes, see you tomorrow !” (maybe they had some doubts about it after such an exploit and definitely they must have felt pity for me. Definitely)

 

 

 

 

A Midsummer Comedy

September 14th: back to school. So close! Too close! Yet, we don’t have a clue about how the new school year will start. Of course, I understand that everything depends on the trend of data and I don’t want to preach about what ought to be done, because I really don’t know and I respect whoever holds such an office as Minister of Education these days, this said, I think it is worth telling what has happened in these two past months, just to get the picture to what degree of confusion and dismay we’ll tackle our going back to work. It may sounds like a comedy but it is more like a tragedy and one act is yet to be written, the most important one.

Act I

The Minister of Education and her advisers have summoned 20 teachers, each as representative of one Italian region, to inform them of her decisions about the start of the new school year.

Minister of Education (smiling with satisfaction 😏): “As we have to keep distanced according to our guidelines, I order that from now on there will be no more crowded classes. 15 students each class top. This is my wish. I am happy to say that this is the dawn of a new era for schooling in Italy.”😑

Teachers (with deference): “Splendid! It was about time! We all rejoice with this resolution Madam, but, if it has been so decided, I am sure you have considered  that at least 200.000 teachers are to be hired plus, doing the Math, we need twice as many classrooms”.

Minister of Education: “How dare you mistrust your Minister, you dummies! Of course, I have thought about the spaces required (haven’t I 🤔?)! There is no need to build new schools: there are cinemas, theatres, B&Bs and much more that can be of use in this emergency. You, for example, you!

Teacher (😳):” Me?”

Minister of Education: “Yes, you? Where do you teach?”

Teacher (😳😥) : Casalpalocco… near Ostia Lido… Rome.

Minister of Education (triumphantly): “You see? You are the perfect example!!

Teacher (😳): “Me?” “How so?”

Minister of Education: “Yes! There are plenty of suitable sites where you work: apart from the splendid beaches, which can be utilised from September to early November and, if the season is fine, from March to June, you have the fortune of being close to the Roman site of Ostia Antica.” 

Teacher (😰):” I wouldn’t call 10 km close, Madam, but even if this were an option, how  could we get there? There are about 1.300 students in my school. Do you mean that 650 of them should be sorted among cinemas, beaches, B&Bs, theatres and Ostia Antica Roman site?”

Minister of Education (smiling): “Clever, isn’t? And after two weeks they will rotate with the other half!!”

Teacher(😤): ” I beg you pardon, but I, for example, teach in 6 different courses, so do you actually mean that in a day I could bounce from school, to the cinema, to the theatre, to the B&B, to the beach and eventually end at Ostia Antica to meet my students? Did I get it right?”

Minister of Education (😡): “Are You telling me, that you don’t wish to help your country and make sacrifices in such desperate times?”

Teacher (😢): “Of course I am not, Madam, but I was wondering, what about December, January and February in my case? And what about those who live in places where they are not so fortunate in sites or weather? Any tips?”

Adviser : (whispering)” May I suggest to take some time and think about new solutions, Madam ?”

Minister of Education ( quite annoyed): “As I see you don’t wish to oblige me, you are all dismissed for now. You will be summoned, you as soon as I can break something new to you.

All teachers exeunt

 Act II

A week has passed and the Minister has summoned another meeting.

Minister of Education: I am proud to announce that in only a week we have found the proper solution. The school year will start and we will be able to satisfy all the safety protocols and the wishes of those who selfishly seem to care only about their needs (glancing  at the teacher who had spoken the week before). I decided to divide each class in two halves and while one half remains in class the other one will follow the lessons at home. Well, what do you have to say now?”

(The teachers confabulate for a while till one takes the floor😟 )Teacher: ” Hem! Splendid! We all rejoice with this resolution Madam, but, if it has been so decided, I am sure you have considered that since the quantities of the data flow uploading will enormously increase with this option, the IT connection of thousands of schools will have to be enhanced, so…..there is a chance that we may not be ready.”

Minister of Education (😤) : ” Again! ” ” Of course, I’ve thought about the general situation of IT connection in schools ( 🤔haven’t I ?), by the way, ( she hesitates), as representatives of the school community, how many of you would be or will be ready by September? 

 6 Teachers (in unison) : ” We would “!

Minister of Education ( 😳) :” Six!!” ” Six out of twenty?” ” And what do the others have to say ?”

Teacher (😟): “I am glad to hear that some of my collegues may boast such effective connections, in my case I can only say that despite our numerous requests, we have received no funds yet, we have also been waiting for the making of 10 classrooms for three years, but still in vain”,

Minister of Education (very annoyed). “Who is speaking?” ” Ah, it is still you from Ostia Antica,…..”

Teacher (😩) “Casalpalocco”

Minister of Education : “Whatever”!😡

Adviser ( whispering): ” As you can see Madam, those who declare to be ready come mostly from the North of the country. Large investiments will be required for the South in particular and, if I may (passes a letter), a note has just arrived: the State Council has given an adverse opinion about the matter. May I suggest to take some more time and think about new solutions, Madam?”

Minister of Education (muttering): ” It seems the the State Council has nothing to do but meddling with school matters these days”. (to the teachers): ” You are all dismissed for now. You will be summoned, you as soon as I can break something new to you.

All teachers exeunt

Act III

It is almost the end of July and the Minister has just summoned another meeting.

Minister of Education (visibly satisfied)😃: “ I am very proud to annouce that we have reached a final and definite plan. As one meter distance has to be guaranteed, I have disposed to buy one and a half million brand new one-seater desks with wheels (general startle😳😳😳), which will replace those old two-seater desks at the cost of 325 Euros each. Hence, never say again that this Ministry doesn’t invest on education. We do. I do”

(The teachers confabulate in agitation, till one takes the floor😟 )Teacher: ” Hem! Splendid! We all rejoice with this resolution Madam, but, if it has been so decided, I am sure you have considered that those desks are quite….. cramped. We are all aware these kind of desks are largely used in other countries, but they have different systems of education, they use tablets and test through multiple choice. We don’t. We still have books and use dictionaries to translate from Latin or Greek and to write compositions, let alone the wheels………”

Minister of Education (now infuriated, interrupts the teacher 😡). “I have had Enough!” “The point is that you live in the Middle Age, YOU are the Middle Age. You don’t want to update you teaching methods, you have made a crusade agaist the use of technology and on-line learning, you despise any novelty! It’s about time you renew your strategies and make them more suitable for the new generations. The mind of our students is not a funnel to be filled but a fire to be lit”😑

Teachers (all together😕😳): ” A funnel !” “You mean, a vase!”

Minister of Education (out of her senses 😡😡) : ” You have not come here to impart ME a lesson!” “If I said a funnel, it is a funnel!” “Check Wikipedia and you’ll see” (somebody laughs😆 ). “Who dares? I am sure, it is always you from Ostia Antica!”

Teacher : “But, I didn’t say a word!” 🤐”By the ways, Casalpalocco”.

Minister of Education (shouting): ” Whatever!”😡

(A teacher attempts to say something after a few minutes of silence) Teacher (gently): “It is not a bad idea after all, Madam, the wheels…..a more lively ….. why not? But, may we ask to be informed if the desks can be sent by September 14th, so that we may arrange things in our schools?

Minister of Education (to her advisors): “What do you answer to this?”

Advisor (clumsily🙄) : “They will arrive, of course, in due time”.

Teachers : “And when is it ?”

Advisor (whispering to the Minister) : ” May I suggest to take some more time so that we may check this matter about the desks, Madam?”

Minister of Education (to her advisor😩) :” I can’t believe it, we don’t know when they are ready!” (addressing the teachers) “You are all dismissed for now. I’ll call you as soon as I can break something new to you”.

All teachers exeunt

Act IV (a short one)

It is August and the Minister has summoned another meeting.

Minister of Education: ” You will all wear masks at school”. “That is all”.😑

All teachers exeunt 😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳

Act V

September……….💪💪💪

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is There a Future for Teaching?

April September is the cruellest month. It smells of sirocco, which with its warm breath and threatening clouds confounds the bright serenity of summer days thus foreshadowing the coming of autumn. There are still a few good days to be enjoyed of course, few, but they have the bitter taste of the awareness that something is just about to end. I guess this is the sort of melancholy which affects those who, like me, live by the sea, love the sound of the waves and looking out at the horizon. We are accustomed to live outdoor so many months of the years that home seems like a prison when September comes.

April Sempember is the cruellest month. In such a miserable state of mind the month begins with its most terrible mortal blow: teaching staff meetings. I believe that any teacher in any part of the world would agree with me if I say that the most salutary effect of summer vacations is: forgetfulness. Only few weeks and you realize that you have almost forgotten everything: papers, passwords, the inevitable conflicts you had in the past.  I am sure that two or three colleagues of mine must have given me reasons to get on my nerves last year, but actually, I can’t remember why at the moment and so I just say hello to them with a smile. That’s why before the first teaching staff meeting there is always a certain cheerfulness and excitement in the air, we are all tanned, friendly, light-hearted. Before.

April September is the cruellest month.The reading of the agenda of the meeting has the immediate effect of quickly awakening minds from the summer slumber and in that very moment illusory forgetfulness gives its way to memory and harsh reality. From the list of the issues to be discussed, school appeared to be a cautious bureaucratic system with no real identity or goal different from satisfying the wishes of families, who have actually become our customers and we know that customers must always be satisfied. So, if we don’t want to lose ground in the competition with other schools, we have learnt in time to dedicate a lot of our efforts in creating and customizing learning products, with the hope our customers might find them appealing, we have become travel agents, project makers, data analysts, advisors and what more! Is this what we wanted to be when we started?

April September is the cruellest month. After at least two hours of an endless discussion on school trips, on which destinations even the closest stations to go, hadn’t been all of us fully in such process of metamorphosis into somebody/thing we don’t know yet, had we had a shred of dignity left, we should have stood up and say, what has it all to do with me? And quit the assembly then. My friends, teaching once was a sort of romantic, generous job. Teachers were those who had the task of transmitting knowledge or better the curiosity of knowledge to generations. They made the difference, but now, if the nature of the activities we are involved into are often so very far from teaching, is it still so? In a time when information can be easily got on the web, if teachers no longer make the difference, why should society need them?

There are already apps with avatar trainers who teach how to work your glutes, abs, Pilates, Yoga, cooking etc. , I’m sure very soon they will be programmed to teach Latin, Math, History with customized lessons and looks as well. It seems that one of them has already been tested. His name is Will. So, my dear friends, if we accept to give up making the difference not only September will be the cruellest month, but also October and November and all the months of the years as the teaching system, as it is now, will have no reason to exist.

 

 

Back to school!!!

 

back 1

back 2When a new school year begins, teachers display clear signs of a disease of a peculiar kind :forgetfulness. The first day of September you see them advance indolently to work, their faces, altered by a couple of months of holidays under the sun, manifest all the frustration of having been torn away from their lazy summer days to be thrown into the pit again. Believe me, it is a shock. Soon after the first convivial moment, when new and old colleagues are engaged in conversations about the wonders of the past summer days, the usual routine which regards work planning, exam organization and stuff of this kind should get started, but you soon realize that you can’t, because your mind is blank, as you had removed all, even the most common operations you’ve repeated every single year. What would a Freudian psychologist say? That we have put a veil on everything we reject of our job and hidden in a remote part of our mind and now, that is about to surface again, we are under stress, maybe. That’s why I am about to tell this story again, because I want it to be a reminder of what I do love of my job.

back3Some years ago, my husband and I joined a program of long distance adoptions in Paraguay. The idea of helping the minors of the poor countries and their families, providing them with an economical help, so that they could receive the primary goods, education and the medical care they need, made us feel, I don’t know, better people, if I may say so. Once subscribed, after few weeks, we received a letter with all the personal data of the adopted child, which, unexpectedly, turned out to be a very exciting moment, as we hadn’t had the name of the kid yet. I still remember my husband slowly unfolding the letter, looking at the picture and saying with a big smile: “it’s a boy”.

His name was Wilfrido. In the picture, a little brat of about five was doing his best to show us his gratitude with a big toothless smile, even if he seemed a kind of uncomfortable in his brand new school pinafore, maybe too large for his age. Once our adopted son had materialized in that picture, we started to be pervaded by a strange sort enthusiasm. We began to think that we might do many things for him, for example providing him with a high school education and even more, Harvard, Stanford, why not? At a closest inspection of the picture, the boy didn’t really look like the student type, but maybe I was wrong.

back 4Wilfrido didn’t pass the first grade that year. We were shattered .Fortunately, the following years went much better. He eventually learnt to read and write, even Maths. When he improved enough to write a letter, he started to give me information bout his life and family. I was particularly impressed when he told me that he usually reached school on foot walking for seven miles (!!!) or on horseback. He also added that he liked studying after all. But one day, we were informed that Wilfrido and his family had left the village and I have never heard from him since then. I was disappointed, maybe I could have done more to give him the opportunity of having a better future, maybe.

Few years later, I would have seen the whole experience from another angle. I was in San Josè, in Costa Rica and I needed some directions. One boy offered to write down the address I needed for me ; I could have written it myself, but just he didn’t let me do it. He picked a pen and diligently started to move it on a piece of paper, as if he were drawing. It took him five endless minutes to write that piece of information, but somehow we didn’t dare hurry him even if, I confess, we were a little annoyed. Eventually, he handed me the note. I soon noticed that his handwriting was incredibly neat and elegant, but it was only when I met his eyes that I could clearly see that sparkle, I saw his great satisfaction, pride and dignity. He smiled. He might be one of the many Wifrido that people the world. I had done something good after all.That’s why I teach. Because I think education can make people conscious, stronger and free and even because I feel useful every time I see that sparkle in the eyes of one of my students. Wish you a great new school year. 🙂