The truth is rarely pure and never simple”

 

Everyone, who has been teaching for many years now,  knows how learning has changed, since we started. We are now requested to be entertaining, dynamic, technological and on this purpose we are continuously overwhelmed by new educational theories in a sort of didactic frenzy. Another thing I keep observing every year is that school books have become way less extensive than they used to be with a great deals of patterns, photos  and alluring covers. When I was a high school student, schoolbooks were made of words only, dull and the very few pictures were usually/unfortunately placed  at the very end of the book, so when we had a daily assignment of twenty pages, twenty meant  twenty, no discount.

 Books nowadays are 50% made of pictures. Learning must have a visual and quick impact to catch the students’ interest, who actually strain in being focused for more than 20 minutes. One of the most recent learning theories is to segment the lesson in 3, 4 different moments in order to keep their attention constantly alive. But, is this what we have become ? Comedians who seek for the audience’s clapping by means of a good laugh or the wonder of a magic trick? As, there is another thing I noticed. There has been  a growing lexical gap between me and them in time, and I don’t mean in English, but in our language: Italian. Not long ago, I remember translating the word “bedside” into “capezzale” and they looked at me as if I had all of a sudden started to speak German. We are talking about  18 year old teenagers who have never come across a simple word like that and  which they understood only translating it literally from the English: bed= letto,  side = lato, “ al lato del  letto”= “capezzale”. They are of age and can vote.  What has become clear to me is that the outcome all our endeavors in order to keep them away from  the  “boredom-land”  of activities like reading, writing etc.  has only brought to a dramatic impoverishment of their language eventually.

Several studies have demonstrated that the outcome of the decrease in lexical knowledge and the impoverishment of the language consists not only  in the reduction of the vocabulary used, but also in the linguistic subtleties that allow to elaborate and formulate a complex thought. The gradual disappearance of tenses, for example,  gives rise to a thought almost always in the present, limited to the moment: incapable of projections in time. How is it possible to capture a temporality, a succession of elements in time, whether past or future, and their relative duration, without a language that distinguishes between what could have been, what has been, what is, what could be, and what will be after what might have happened, actually happened?

The use of capital letters and punctuation has become on option of late. An increasing number of my students (who theoretically  are supposed to  be used to studying  Latin, philosophy, physics..) are absolutely refractory to start the sentence with the capital letter , for example,– due to the extensive usage of WhatsApp, I know -, but,  every now and then,  they use it with some nouns, like “ Book”, for instance.  Why? Are you German? No useful answer is produced, but distraction. Let alone punctuation. They master “the stream of consciousness” technique without having read a single line from Joyce’s Ulysses;  it just comes natural.  These “deadly blows” to precision and variety of expression  are but symptoms of the difficulty in organizing thinking,  which affects not only learning, by the ways.  Fewer words, fewer conjugated verbs, lack of speech organization mean less ability to express emotions and process a thought. Without words to construct an argument, complex thinking is made impossible. The poorer the language, the more the thought disappears. If there are no thoughts, there are no critical thoughts and  there is no thought without words.

The historical moment we are living, dominated by mass medias way of communicating, reflects exactly what we have said so far. What is this constant polarization in any matter : vaccines, masks, politics, football, but the consequence of the habit of simplification, which leads to the rarefaction of critical thought? We are no longer used to seeing or better understanding the nuances of a question; everything  is black or white, and you know why? Because it is the simplest thing to do, but “ the truth is rarely pure and never simple”.

School should give the tools to understand what is complex, rather than yielding to this process of simplification. Let’s start from words again. Let’s make read and practice the language in its most diverse forms, even if it looks complicated, especially if it is complicated, because in this effort there is freedom. Everything that creates complexity is the real architect of the improvement of human mind. Without complex thinking there is not any truth.

What’s Wrong with Teachers

Few years ago my previous principal summoned me to ask my illustrious opinion about the introduction of the latest trend in matter of education, that is: CLIL. Our eminent thinkers, who people the aisles of the Ministry of Education in fervent industriousness, had thought that it would have been fine to introduce the teaching of one of the school subjects in English for at least 50% of the allotted hours, and this the last year of high school. Before my dormant reason could react to make me hold my tongue, I heard myself saying: “bullshit”. Yes, bullshit; because we have a few or no such teachers that can explain a subject like Physics, for example, in another language. Bullshit; because, that is the year of the final exams, and even if there were such experts, this switch in language would inconvertibly mean in a consistent loss in the quality of contents. Anyway, as I feared, I had gone too far – Mrs Tink is not used to such a language, after all – I looked at my principal blushing a little, but she only said: “I agree”, “ the matter is your hands”. Mine? Oh, my! And this is how I have been put in charge of CLIL organization in my school, a position which have held firmly for years as nobody wishes to snatch it from my hands .

Of course, this meant attending tedious meetings at the Ministry of Education, of which I only remember the most amazing lasagne ever tried. I still recall myself attending boring conversations without saying a word , but with the corner of my eyes I endeavoured to spot the next tray carrying, more steaming lasagne to dart over them. Of course, as if the morning sessions were not enough, I was afflicted by  afternoon meetings too. I could hear no word that could convince me of the goodness of the project, till, one last speaker caught my attention, which was still blurred by the enormous  quantity of carbs swallowed. More than a full concept, it was a word: mission. Wait a minute, wait a minute: “How did we get there? What mission are we talking about?” I whispered to my neighbour. They were talking about money and career. This new figure, which they meant to introduce, was actually over qualified for high school, hence, somebody had enquired about which benefits such teacher would have had, in short: “what’s in it for me?”.  “Well, nothing”, he answered. “Let’s call it …. a mission”, he replied candidly.

A mission. This is the greatest trap teachers have fallen into these last years. We have been led to believe that we are not qualified professionals but something more, missionaries, that is people who have received a divine call at the service of education and because of such vocation are expected to grow accustomed to whatever situation or to respond to any requirement students, parents, politicians may develop for……nothing, of course.  That is why for teachers there is not a real career or any prospect of wallowing in gold, we are supposed to be content with the outcome of our vocation only. And whose fault is this? Ours,  just ours, because in time we have abdicated to our original nature of educators to become a sort of hybrid with no more defined identity or clear goal. When did it all start? I don’t know.

The events during this pandemic have made no exception. We have been asked to acquire new skills, mostly technological to tackle remote learning at the best and we did it. Once back to school, we have become computer technicians, Wi-Fi experts, Zoom and Meet masters, but that was not enough yet.  When we realized that the computers we had given or the line did not work properly, we instantly started to bring our own devices or to use our own router Wi-Fi, as it was our impellent mission, of course, to make things work anyhow. When school closed, even if our efforts were actually doubled, or privacy annihilated, for the public we had become do-nothing privileged, who should have gone to work to school in any case, taking the example of supermarket cashiers who never quitted their workstation, real heroes of the situation.

Now, think about any other worker. I would like to know which company requires its employees to use their own devices, or to buy more gigabytes in case the Wi-Fi does not work and use private routers. But we are missionaries, we are expected to find a solution to make things work with nothing in return, and if you dare say something, you are reminded that you are lucky enough in these days to still have a job.

In time we have accepted all this and the pandemic has made it only more clear, if possible . Yielding to all kinds of expectations, different from educating, without even attempting to a fight, has greatly contributed to the breakdown of the old education system, which was mostly based on merit, discipline, effort, to supplant it with a pointless approach where subjects have been replaced by projects, discipline by a maternal, over protective attitude and effort, well, it is a word to be used only for sport, nowadays. We teachers are also responsible for all this and the possibility of a change is all in our hands. I think and it is high time we take off the  – I fear for many comfortable – disguise of  missionaries and change direction; a little exercise could be of help : let’s try and remember what made us want to be teachers and I am sure it was not a matter of vocation , but something more. We have to go back there, from where we started.

The Things I Have Learnt this Year. Part 1.The Digital Generation.

I’ve decided to skip the Christmas posting this year,  as I have not much to celebrate or to say about the topic. Yet, the end of the year, and such a year, is the appropriate moment to stop – it shouldn’t be difficult during lockdown – and ponder on what we have learnt or understood, as desperate times are often so very revealing and the naked truths might be unexpected or even shocking.

I’d like to start with what is generally called the digital generation, that is the generation of those who, according to common belief, were already able to understand the know-how behind any digital device since breastfeeding. Those, whose thumbs slide fast on a phone screen and sneer at you if they catch you “hammering” a text with your index, making you feel an old, pitiful idiot. Those who live constantly connected with their smartphone stuck in the palms of their hands. Well, this year I have discovered that the skills of this digital generation are generally overrated. They are not digital at all, unless we call digital only those who can text, share pics or videos, like posts only and, please, don’t tell me they enjoy the vast prairies of information. They don’t. Their seach for knowledge begins and ends with Wikipedia and however, never goes beyond page 1 of Google.

Before the spreading of remote learning revealed this absolute truth, I had had some clues here and there, but I had never given them much consequence; there wasn’t a pandemic after all. I had noticed once, for example, that the computer my husband and I had bought for my nephews looked quite “neglected” in their room, despite we were told it was a “I can’t do without it “ gift. I also noticed they never seemed to remember where the i Pad we had given them the year before was. Never. By the ways, when they eventually found it, it was regularly dead. So, they actually could do without both of them.

At school I had been misled by the fact that any time I had a problem with devices or connection, I could always rely on one or two “helpers” for each class, but only recently I have realized why they were always the same in any class I taught and the reason is that the others have never had not a clue of what it ought to be done, like me, and two in 25 is the exact percentage of those who consciously use technological devices. 2 in 15, 8 in 100, this is the truth.

Any truth needs to be proved and the occasion was my first remote classwork – quite oxymoronic, isn’t it? – during which the students had to perform the following complex operations: download a text, fill in, save the text, upload it. A piece of cake. Of course, I had given them days to make practice with a mechanism, I was sure they were absolutely familiar with. Well, it was not so. As soon as the test began, I was flooded with the following list or problems:

1.Teach!!! 😱I cannot download the text! It says I have already downloaded it, but this is IMPOSSIBLE! I did NOTHING😇!!! Soon others tagged along behind, but unfortunately for them the rest of the students had succeeded in downloading it, so I understood that the system actually worked. After a quick check, I saw that all of them had “unconsciously” downloaded the text more than once, even seven times.

 Ok. I’ll reset your downloads and try again. Only once now or you are out”😤. A good threat at the right time always works, believe me, in fact, I received no more issues of this kind.

2.Teach!!!!😱😱I cannot fill in the text, I don’t know why 😇!!! Soon others tagged along behind but unfortunately for them the rest of the students had succeeded in writing in it, so the system actually worked.

“How can that be? It is a txt file! Which device are you using? Haven’t you tested it before?”🤔

(more or less they all give the same answer)I’m using my phone! Yesterday it worked!😩

“So, you are telling me that yesterday everything worked?”🤔

“Yes, it worked on the computer!”😥😩

“But you are using your phone now – and I might discuss your choice of device for a classwork, even if from remote – and you should have tried on the device you had planned to use, otherwise what is the point of giving you time and tools to practice? What phone are you using?”😤

“An i Phone.”😥

“You need to download a specific app, to be able to write in a txt file with the i Phone, these issues should have been solved before the classwork and not during the classwork.😤😤

3. (after few minutes)Teach😱😱😱!!! I don’t know what happened, I  did NOTHING, whatever I wrote has just disappeared!!!😱😥😇

“Have you saved you answers?”🤔

“NO, I haven’t.”😥😇

“Well, you’ve learnt something today, you’d better remember next time”.😤😤

4. Teach😱😱😱😱!!! I don’t know what happened, I saved the text , but I can’t find the file anywhere, it has vanished, evaporated, dissolved….😥😥😥

“Like magic, you mean?”😤🤔

😳

“How have you named your file?”🤔

“I have not”.😥

“Good. Well, you’ve learnt something today, you’d better remember next time”. 😑😤

Did anything change in the other classes? Absolutely not. Same issues, same drama, same confusion. Hence, lesson learned: you may even be born digital, but actually being so, well, that’s another story.

 

Nervous Breakdown

It’s  been  only 3 months  since the beginning of school and I have the impression of having lived at least seven lives. I’ve become old, all of a sudden. Whatever I do, whatever I have been asked to do, turns out to be eventually pointless, useless, frustrating. I feel like a caterpillar which is, despite all its efforts, unable to turn into a butterfly. Yes, I feel like a caterpillar, but I remember I was a butterfly once.

If you are not a teacher, I’m sure you would think I’m being dramatic, but I am otherwise sure that the teachers from all over the world, ALL of them, will understand perfectly how I feel. What turns my hopelessness into anger is what I read daily about Government resolutions regarding school opening  after Christmas holidays: no ideas, no plans, everything left to chance, but one thing  they have clearly in mind: we MUST go back to school anyhow.

Of course, when you spent 3 billion euros in one seater  desks, as the only real strategy to tackle this pandemic season, we MUST go back to school, I understand . That is why, with the intent of pursuing this chimera, despite negative figures, spreading infection rate, despite what common sense would suggest, we have been obliged to experiment teaching  in any condition. If you don’t believe me, give a look at this list.

DIDACTIC ESPERIMENTS DURING THREE MONTHS OF PANDEMIC:

  • ALL STUDENTS IN. (done) It lasted two weeks. Then we started to notice that teachers and students were going missing as they were put in quarantine. We noticed it; nobody told us. Eventually, I was one of them.
  • ONE CLASS IN THE GYM(done) Since we were running out of classrooms any space had to be used. Being that big, the sound effect is that of a church, with echoes mostly. No problem if you have a stentorian voice. I haven’t.
  • TWO CLASSES IN THE GYM. (done) Some super smart colleague thought clever to use the mike, while the teacher with no stentorian voice was doing all she could to be heard. Blood ran at the end the hour.
  • TWO CLASSES IN THE LECTURE HALL.(done) Just like in the gym , but with no echo and no lesson actually. Try to imagine about 30 kids who are supposed to follow the English class, while other 30 are following the Math class. Blood very likely to run at the end of the hour.
  • OPEN AIR CLASS.(done) A very romantic option. 30 kids under the school portico, with the soundtrack of the barwoman who makes cappuccinos and coffees – God bless her – while pigeons discharge their excrements on desks and floor, if not on kids or teachers.
  • 50% IN AND 50% REMOTE. (done) Most of the time spent on: Can you hear me? Can you see me? While half of the class watches you amused.
  • 25% IN AND 75% REMOTE. (done) Never reached the 25%, as those who were supposed to stay in class knew that they would have been  the privileged target of teachers’ “attentions”.
  • 100% REMOTE FROM HOME. (done) Paradise. How strange that such a despised option in the past might become absolute perfection in the present.
  • 100% REMOTE FROM SCHOOL. (done) But if any student, for any reason, cannot follow lessons from home, can demand to stay at school and so his teachers are, as a matter of fact, banned from paradise, to stay with him. We might also call this option 100% but one.

YET TO BE EXPERIMENTED AFTER CHRISTMAS:

  • WORKING ON SATURDAYS AND SUNDAYS. No comment.
  • STAGGERED ENTRANCES. Which means starting from 8 in the morning and ending at 8 in the evening.
  • SCHOOL YEAR ENDS IN JULY. I know all those maintaining that teachers  enjoy  long holidays would welcome this option with screams of joy, after all we would look after their children till July, how couldn’t we teachers sympathize with them?

Does it sound like a joke? I’m afraid, it is not.

The Right to Party

We have lived fortunate times, this is for sure. No world conflicts, economic boom,  lucky enough to have inherited fundamental rights we have not fought for, which have made our lives safer, more guaranteed, more dignified. 

We have lived fortunate times, so fortunate that leisure has become the “pillar” of our lives. In the past only a few bunch of people had time and money to enjoy leisure. The others were quite content, if they could provide their families with food, shelter and education for their children. 

We have lived fortunate times; but the “pillar” which has held up our lives  is about crack under the blows of the outbreak, as our leisures are at stake, since a new lockdown is very close. 

We have lived fortunate times, that is why we are unprepared to fight the enemy. We have never bumped into any, so we do not accept its threatening existence, moreover, it cannot be seen, so it is much easier to close our eyes and try to ignore it.

We have lived fortunate times, to be sure, but solidarity and the awareness of belonging to a community have given way to individualism  and selfishness, thus weakening any effort of developing common strategies .

We have lived fortunate times, times which have produced,nevertheless, generations of parents and children who are no longer focused on fundalental values such as education, commitment, effort, for example.

We have lived fortunate times, that is why we cannot conceive a world  made of common sacrifices and limitantions, even when those are due to an unpredictable emergency. We don’t want our lives to be changed, the life of our children cannot be changed, hence, it has become vital to preserve our right and their right to socialization and fun, therefore, pubs, bars, restaurants etc,  ought to remain open. Psycholoysts blabber about the amount of damages this generation of adolescents will suffer from deprived proximity to friends, forgetting that this generation has made of isolation their distinctive trait much before the pandemic. They have always enjoyed being isolated for hours with their playstation, they are isolated even when they are with their group of friends, always stuck to their cellphones, they live isolated in their families. A month of two of lockdown can have no prolongued effect on our children, for one main reason above all: they are young. They have all their life to live and they will forget, that is a privilege of the young. The only risk they might run is that of  learning a lesson from this event, if we allowed them, of course.

We have lived fortunate times, but are we so sure they have been thus fortunate?

The Final Act

There was one Act more to be written to complete my midsummer tragicomedy, the final one, but I had to see things clearly before giving it a proper end and, amid the maze of distress of these first weeks, “clearly” was not a word I could use to describe any of my actions, which have been mostly fretful, clumsy, confused, accidental. But now, I can say I see all the pieces of the puzzle, particularly after a conference call, which has been vastly illuminating. Clouds are now gone. It was held by an eminent ex magistrate who is charge of safety rules in our school (RSPP) and the exciting theme was: “culpa in vigilando” . The usage of Latin suggested that it couldn’t but be a very serious subject. Latin is the language of law, after all.

Act V
RSPP😒 : “As responsible of the protection and prevention service of your school, I am obliged to elucidate some points of the recent dispositions in matter of Covid -19, as from your behaviors, it doesn’t seem to me you are fully aware of your duties, despite the short vademecum of 97 pages of guidelines I gave you to read and memorize”.

One teacher😤: ” 97 pages cannot be considered actually short, it was almost the length of my university dissertation and with no pictures too. I guess a list of rules of one or two pages would have been more likely to be followed”.

RSPP 😑(calmly):”Ignorance is not admitted by the law. You are teachers, after all. What are 97 pages for you?

The same teacher😤: ” A lot, considering the load of things we have to do these days”.

RSPP:😑:” By the ways, you must be aware of the repercussions of your actions, and that’s why we are here. First of all, you MUST bear in mind that the Covid, according to article 42 of the decree-law 18/2020, is equated in all respects to an accident at workplace.”

Teachers (in religious silence) 😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳

RSPP 😏(smiling): “I see I have caught your attention. So, being principals in all respects your EMPLOYERS as stated by D.M. n.292/1996 (general startle) , they are responsible of the safety and health in the workplace as specified by the legislative decree n. 81/2008. This is the reason of the 97 page guidelines. If principals fail in risk assessing they may be charged of “culpa in organizzando” according to art.2043 of the Civil Code, but if YOU don’t observe those rules you may charged of “culpa in vigilando”,art. 2048/51 of the Civil Code (pauses).

Teachers (still in religious silence) 😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳

RSPP 😑(clears his throat): “Let’s be more clear: if a student falls ill with Covid in your school, he is considered as a WORKPLACE VICTIM and if it is demonstrated that it happened because of YOUR negligence, you’ll have to pay the consequences”

Teachers (in unison) “Us”?😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳

RSPP 😑(sternly): “Yes, you. So, we’d better recap the main rules. First, you MUST wear your masks. When the students arrive they will receive new masks to be worn”.

One teacher😒 (sarcastically): “This is ridiculous. Students are all assembled outside school in the morning and don’t wear masks, their parents don’t wear masks when they drive them here and at the end of the day they are assembled once again with no masks;  they quickly take them off, as soon as they walk through the school gate. But if one of them gets ill, I might be blamed. Excellent”.

RSPP😏(with visible satisfaction): “I may agree with you, but this is the law and we are not here to discuss the law. Once the students are in classroom, they must sit where indicated, and they can take off their masks, but you must always control they are seated properly”.

Teachers ( in the Meet chat, as he doesn’t want to be interrupted):” What do you mean by “seated” properly?”😳😳

RSPP 😒(a little annoyed):  “They must keep the upright position and cannot turn, otherwise, they must wear the mask. If you walk along the class, they must put on their masks as you pass by,  if you call one of them to the blackboard, you and those sitting in the first row must put on your masks”.

Teacher (in the Meet chat): “If I have understood well, while one student is at the blackboard, I should control that the others are seated still, like statues?😳

RSPP😑: “Yes”

Same teacher😤 (mike on) :” Do you think it possible? So, any time Jacopo X., for example who has never been still in five years and in his entire life, I suppose, turns his head and, heaven forbid, gets ill, it is my fault, is it correct?

RSPP 😏(visibly satisfied): ” Exactly”. “And you MUST not forget to write on your register those who ask to go the bathroom and those who, for any reason, walk into the classroom, pricipal included.

Another Teacher 😤(takes the floor): ” Excuse me, but that would be hard to follow, if we were all in class, but it is not so. You should not forget that we have also other students on-line to follow. Students who have their needs, often connection problems. How can I guarantee, that Jacopo, as to mention one, does not turn, while somebody at home requires my attention or walks in? How can I demonstrate, I haven’t been neglectful?

RSPP😑: “This is the law. I cannot add anything more”.

Another Teacher😤 (takes the floor): “Let’s recap. Every day I welcome my students and check they have their masks on, once seated  with one eye I control they are still, while with the other I try to connect with the students at home, if everything goes right, if…….,  I make the roll call, always making sure they are still and I have to record any movement in the class. Considering that those at home are allowed to disconnect fifteen minutes before the end of the lesson, when am I allowed to teach, actually? What am I supposed to do exactly? The guardian? The babysitter? This is madness”.

RSPP😏 (nonchalantly): “And, you MUST not forget to sanitize the desk, the chair and the computer you have used. You’ll be alble to find the products in the drawer “.

Teachers (speechless) 😶😶😶😶😶😶😶😶😶😶😶😶😶

Teacher 😂(writes a comment on WhatsApp chat):” How often have I told you, that one day we would have eneded up cleaning the rooms and the toilets of the school? Well, that moment has come!”😭

Learning exeunt.

 

 

 

 

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)

 

 

 

 

Escape

I still remember a question one of my teachers asked us on our first day of high school:
“What’s the use of studying?” “Who can answer this question?”
We were puzzled and stayed silent for a while; nobody actually dared to utter those words of truth but not exactly of wisdom we had in mind, that  is, we had never thought about it, we were there because we had no other choice. He was waiting.  Someone eventually attempted to give some vague answers like : “to have a job“,  “to be better people” etc., but he wasn’t satisfied at all and kept shaking his head. When none of us could come up with fresh ideas, he said with a smile at last: “to escape from prison“. We looked at each other in amazement.

Ignorance is a prison”, he added , “because inside that prison you don’t understand and consequently you don’t know how to act. In these  5 years we have to organize the biggest escape of the century. It won’t be easy. Remember, they want you to be dummies, but if you climb over the wall of ignorance, then you will understand without asking for help and you won’t be deceived easily. You will be free. Who wants to join in?”

This episode came up to my mind when I read that only one adolescent in twenty fully understands a text. And I think of the other 19, who struggle to escape the prison and risk to be sentenced to be ignorant for life. A democratic country must save them, above all because it is right, but also to avoid the greatest risk : weak minds demand “the strong man ” to guide them.

(free adaptation of an article from Corriere della Sera)

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……….💪💪💪

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Online Teacher

I know that it is common belief that in these desperate times of pandemic outbreak, teachers are those lucky ones who stay at home – it has been almost 5 weeks – paid to do nothing, but redecorating the house, baking soft bread, delicious cakes and biscuits all day, with the only concern about what to make for dinner, soon after lunch is over. Long days passed watching all the series Netflix, Prime, Sky can offer and, of course, reading, surfing the net here and there and, it cannot be forgotten, a few necessary gym sessions, as I suspect all those calories will deposit somewhere I don’t wish to very soon. In short: a paradise. Well, if you are one of them, I feel like reassuring you, as nothing of the kind has happened since March 5th: there is no paradise, but rather, a hell.

At first it was like a whisper: “online learning“. The effect was that a breeze, which, however, being that soft leaves you unperturbed.  So, it was easy to pretend to ignore the meaning of that gentle hint for a while; after all, how long were we supposed to stay at home ? Two weeks, top. But two weeks have become a month soon, one month two and now the most likely perspective is that we will go back to school in September, maybe, according to safety protocols. Back to normal won’t be soon; back to school, in a real classroom with walls and 25/30 students in plus the teacher won’t be soon.  Hence, in one fell swoop, that delicate whisper quickly turned into a nightmarish trumpet blast: “ON-LINE LEARNING”!!!!

Just like in any sudden reawakening, fears and anguish overwhelm you, before you can  focus and get in control of the situation. So, having soon discovered that online learning didn’t actually mean sending a few links, homework and a “I hope you are fine” note, we found ourselves facing the inevitable: the screen. Our presence in the life of our students was required either on air or with recorded lessons, and this was really an undiscovered country for us all. The unknown may thrill or frighten, depends on our dispositions, however, it was clear that that foreign land could not be avoided forever.

So, we all began to move our timid steps in “online learning land” watching tutorials about learning platforms, video platforms like  Zoom, Cisco WebEx, Meet, Google classroom, Edmodo, just to mention the most popular here, till we picked the most performing ones. Then, it was the time to plan when and what to do, scheduling the timing of our video lessons with colleagues and students. Hence, to be more efficient and quick, I found myself having 6 WhatsApp groups with my collegues and six with my students. I know, I wrote several times against sharing whatsApp groups with students, but I couldn’t do otherwise and trust me, in these emergency moments, they are extremely useful. Of course, I have no more privacy. You may imagine any time our principal sends a new directive, what hell that happens in my phone.

When everything is set, what remains is one big question: what kind of lesson could I give? And when you start to figure the possible choices at hand, it becomes clear that the old learning material is no longer useful and has to be transformed into something new and more effective on a screen, as powerpoints, for example. Could anybody watch only my face and keep following me, while I am talking about “the Waste Land”  without the help of images or patterns? Impossible. Therefore, before going on air, lessons have to be carefully planned, and I’ll leave to your imagination the amount of work and hours that this job has required and will require.

Was I a little uneasy my first time on the video? Yes. Was I a kind of clumsy ? A lot. Was it a memorable lesson? Nope ( not even the lessons which followed). Do I enjoy my online classes? Very much. And do you know why? Because, I actually feel a certain thrill, just like an explorer who sees new interesting scenarios opening day after day. I believe that these months’ forced experience will eventually project education to another dimension: the future. Of course, online learning cannot fully replace the original model of school, but it can become complementary and make schooling more dynamic. There is always some good even in the worst moments.