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.

Facing the Uncertain

I have always followed a successful rule in my life: if you don’t know how to solve a problem, copy those who are better than you – and when possible, make some further improvements afterwards. The point is that for what concerns the reopening of schools in September, it seems that every country is tackling this burning issue without having any real clue. We’ll have to find our own way, I am afraid.

In the name of school autonomy, introduced in the Italian system about 20 years ago, the Ministry of Education has proudly given birth to a series of smoky guidelines, inspired , they say, by the principles of flexibility and simplification, which could be summed up as follows: “it is up to you”. In compliance with health indications, there should be daily or weekly shifts and class reorganization with a division into several parts;  lessons might be provided for groups of students of different classes (and even of different years) and reunification of similar subjects for common explanations.

According to the indications of the Scientifical Technical Committee, no more than 15 students will be allowed for each class ( 25 is the average), a distance of one meter must be ensured between the students and between them and the teachers. It might seem a difficult goal to achieve to anyone, but don’t you worry,  the Ministry has cleverly developed a “computer dashboard” with the data of the students of all the rooms available (classrooms, laboratories and gyms). Apparently they had no cadastral maps, how strange. The instrument in question should allow rapid intervention in the most compromised situations in collaboration with local authorities to offer alternative solutions. Moreover, according to the School Building Registry, there are 3,000 abandoned buildings to be recovered for educational activities. The lessons could also be held at locations such as museums, archives, theaters, etc. .

It would sound splendid, but I know how things work here unfortunately and there is one word that makes me doubt more than any other: rapid. Nothing is rapid as far as bureaucracy is concerned in Italy and in summer time in particular, even in emergency times. An example? In my school we have been waiting for the making of ten rooms for three years and it has been said that very likely they will materialize next January, so how could I expect that 3.000 abandoned buildings will be recovered for educational activities in two months only? Let alone how lessons could be held in museums, theatres etc. respecting the protocol distance or the consequent insurance matters.

This said, we are to divide classes, find new places, imagine on line learning integration, but what about teachers? How many teachers are required to make this plan come true? Twice as much? Can a country with 2.500 thousand euros of public debt afford such  a scheme? In my opinion there will be only 4 options for the future:

FANCIFUL: new buildings miraculously will be erected by August 31th just close to schools, so it will be conceivable to split groups and definitely solve the problem of overcrowded classes. Thousands of teachers will be hired putting an end to the problem of precarious employment in education. If possible, some increase in salary would be much appreciated.

AUSPICABLE: Covid vaccine is found and we will go back to normal.

POSSIBLE: the splitting of groups will necessarily have the consequence of making double shifts and finding new buildings, but if we mean to avoid night shifts, an integration with on-line learning will have to be planned.

CERTAIN: after the first Covid case, the school will be closed and we’ll go back to on line learning.

Mala tempora currunt sed peiora parantur. (bad times are upon us but the worst has yet to come”)