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Comments of the week: Schools cope with Hurricane Sandy

In response to the devastation Hurricane Sandy wrought on schools and families last week, city officials and educators have been scrambling to help school communities—some impacted more immediately than others—cope.

For some schools, that means making sure students have access to the resources they need to get their schoolwork done, whether it’s internet they lack, or unable to return to their homes. In other schools, some of the most pressing concerns for teachers and administrators include creating meaningful lessons out of the hurricane, and making up for the lost week of instruction.

In our Community section, iSchool teacher Christina Jenkins argues that schools should take the opportunity to teach students about how communities respond to crisis and natural disasters.

“Real life should trump our lesson plans,” she writes. “There’s so much to analyze: cartography, disaster risk and our ability to mitigate it, the fake disaster images circulating online, the power of crowdsourcing.”

Commenters agreed that engaging students on the challenges facing the city now was a good idea, but they suggested a few different approaches for doing it without preventing them from covering the curriculum they had already planned.

“ms. v” wrote:

I’m teaching a unit on designing emergency shelters that we started before the hurricane, but I’ve adapted it based on our specific situation now. When I taught science, various events worldwide happened at least once or twice a year, but we couldn’t drop everything to study earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, epidemics, etc. every time they were relevant here or abroad. Instead, I addressed them briefly in class at the time, and then looked for the places and times in the curriculum to connect bac to those major events with depth and analysis.

And “nycdoenuts” said teachers at his school were also trying to find a middle ground between ignoring the hurricane in favor of the normal curriculum, and launching into an in depth exploration:

We have real deep reservations about simply picking up where we all left off in our curricula -almost as though nothing ever happened. And on the other hand, we also feel a need to return the students to some routine of normal (particularly mine, who experienced only a minor impact last week). The ambivalence we’re all feeling is deep and raises questions that, frankly, are too big for me and my colleagues (what does a return to normal entail? How Long would that take? What would have to be done? and What parts of the school (the classroom? advisory?guidance?) would play which roles in that?). I totally agree that the city is somewhat broken right now. I think we should expect that classrooms (which are an extension of how we here in the real world live) are going to be somewhat broken for a while as well.

Several readers also offered suggestions for how the city can add school days back into the calendar by taking away previously scheduled time off.

“Travis Dove” suggested getting rid of January final exams in his school, or replacing the January Regents exam period with more classroom time:

In January my school gives us finals for a week where we learn nothing – perhaps we can just skip those and have regular sized tests and get that week back. There’s also January regents week where we basically get another week long vacation. February break is also nicely placed, and Spring Break is the week where my school has planned every one of its international trips, so unless 20-30 kids are okay with being absent for an entire week, I don’t think that will work. As for summer vacation, in July, after AP tests, regents, finals, and everything else, it would basically be a week long board game session.

“An Effective Teacher says…” suggested doing away with professional development days, but not vacation days, which many teachers value as time to rest up:

…Most people simply do not understand how much time an effective teacher puts into this job every day, including weekends. They complain that we have summers “off”, but they don’t realize that during the school year the majority of us are putting in more hours in those 185 days than they do their entire year. I teach from 8am until 6pm every school day (and my lunch break is used organizing/phone calls). Add in the few hours of lesson planning, grading, and phone calls that must be done daily, and all I do during the week is work and barely sleep. On the weekends, I get caught up on whatever paperwork and lesson/curriculum planning I haven’t finished. These breaks allow me to rest a bit, but also continue planning, updating my online class site, gradebook, etc… Taking away the scheduled days “off” will hurt the students I teach and make me a less effective teacher.

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