For most city high school teachers, today was a lesson in how to make do with less.
All were asked to return to school for the first time since Hurricane Sandy hit, in order to prepare for the schools to reopen to students next week. But many did so without their usual subway routes, and without internet or access to their classrooms or school buildings.
And for the ones who were not told to relocate to other school buildings, the task of the day was to decide which parts of the curriculum to re-arrange or cut to make up for five days worth of instructional time, and how to address the emotional needs of students effected by the hurricane. Some school communities were organized and had ambitious plans for the day, but others were more scattered.
The education department’s last-minute instructions to displaced staff did not include specifics on what today would look like. After commuting for up to three hours on foot, bus or by bike this morning, many teachers arrived at schools uncertain of how they should use their time.
Hundreds of teachers were relocated to large school buildings like LaGuardia High School for Music and Art and the Performing Arts and the Martin Luther King campus because their schools lacked electricity or experienced flooding. Some said they tried to make the most of their first day back to work in a week, even though the vast majority lacked the supplies they needed.
“We have no access to computers, and no materials here,” wrote one teacher who was relocated to Art and Design High School in Midtown East on twitter. “Our principal and my AP won’t make it in today.”Catherine Burch, the principal of Harvest Collegiate High School in Union Square, said she had ambitious plans for her staff as they waited in the auditorium of LaGuardia High School for directions alongside groups of teachers from other schools.
“We have a full agenda,” she said. “We have an initiative to do a January intensive, which is two weeks of studying one thing in depth. Our main goal is to plan that, and it’s cross curricular. One is on computer programming, I want to do a Cold War one. So that’s our big goal.”
Burch said most of her students are from Manhattan and the Bronx and have not lost internet access, so she has stayed in touch over email.
“I emailed all students just saying ‘I hope you’re okay,’ and ‘let’s look at the causes behind this,’” she said. “I gave them a link to the EPA site on climate change so many of them said they were looking at that.”
Other school groups stationed at LaGuardia for the day were less organized, and less optimistic.
“What are we doing today?” one teacher shouted across a row of seats to her principal after Harvest Collegiate’s group left the auditorium in search of an empty classroom.
“Well, it’s going to be ping pong at 11, and then we’ll just make it up as we go along,” the school leader replied, sarcastically.
Many relocated teachers said they are trying to make the best of a bad situation, but are not able to get much work done without their usual classrooms, computers, or materials.
Andrew Ahn, an English teacher from the City-As-School High School in the West Village, made the trip to the Upper West Side in an hour by bike from his home in Queens.
Ahn said his fellow teachers spent much of today discussing how to reschedule assignments and exams. The school runs on an eight-week marking period schedule, he explained, and students may return to school unprepared to pick up where they left off, seven weeks into the cycle.
“We’re talking about extending the first cycle and shortening the second cycle,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to be productive if we’re not back in our building. I think there’s just some planning we can do, and thinking about scheduling.”
“We’re not really sure why we’re here,” said Rachel Pitkin, a social studies teacher at Lower Manhattan Community Middle School. Because of flooding, it is likely her school community will be relocated on Monday, but she does not know where yet. “Today might have been valuable for those of us who were able to come together, but this could have been done in a different way, if that was the only goal of the day. But we didn’t know what the goal was.”
“A lot of our students and families are from Chinatown, and Staten island, so our school community has been hit really hard,” Pitkin added. “Some teachers live in Long Island and Hoboken, and they don’t have anything.”
Without supplies, some teachers used today to discuss how to address the hurricane and its aftermath with students in lessons on Monday, and what supports to offer to students who may have been forced to leave their homes.
“We talked about what the kids could possibly need. A lot of our kids are from the Lower East Side and are without water,” said a teacher from P.S./M.S. 34 who did not want to be identified. “I know it was scary.”
But one of his colleagues was less optimistic as they walked around the Upper West Side looking for lunch. “No, absolutely nothing is getting done,” she said.
Grace O’Keeffe, a math teacher at Hudson High School, wrote on twitter that her colleagues spent the day at Martin Luther King contacting students and developing a new curriculum for advisory groups to teach students about the hurricane.
Sheriene Sultan, an assistant principal from the International High School at Lafayette, wrote that she and staff were planning a pizza lunch for building custodians.
Christine Fryer, a social studies teacher from the Martin Luther King High School for Law, Advocacy and Community Justice said her goal for the day was to figure out what assignments to reschedule, and what lessons would have to be tossed out because of the loss of instructional time.
“The French Revolution is out the window,” she said.