Chadwick Boseman and working with cancer

Educators are returning back to schools to teach 100 percent virtual learning

Hi all,

I hope you’re doing okay. I have two new stories to share on this September eve.

By now you’ve probably heard about the passing of Chadwick Boseman, the brilliant actor who played roles like T’Challa in Black Panther and Thurgood Marshall in Marshall. He died of stage 4 colon cancer on Friday, and in an Instagram post the public learned that Boseman had received “countless surgeries and chemotherapy” during and in between filming movies over the last four years.

But virtually no one, including those he worked with closely on set, knew about his illness. For GQ I wrote about what kinds of workplace accommodations are available to cancer patients like Boseman to receive protection and maintain privacy. You can read that here.


I also published a story last week in The Intercept about educators across the country who are being required to return to their schools to provide 100% virtual learning to students. A lot of teachers are really upset about being asked to take this risk during the pandemic, and feel in many ways it represents a lack of trust, and desire for control. Some would like the option to return to their schools, but feel really uncomfortable about it being mandated.

If you’re confused why a teacher might feel uncomfortable — keep in mind that not all educators have their own classrooms, not all classrooms have windows, many buildings are poorly ventilated, and there are shared meeting spaces like kitchens and break rooms and bathrooms. Plus while many schools have mask policies, educators are finding that enforcement of these rules can vary greatly.

Readers of this newsletter may recall a note I shared from my favorite high school teacher, John Grace, back when we were just three weeks into the pandemic. He read my most recent Intercept story over the weekend, and sent over his thoughts by email, which I’m going to paste mostly in full below.

Lower Merion's John Grace earns University of Chicago's Outstanding Educator Award



It was a surprise, not sure about any other LMSD teachers, but certainly to me, discovering that the word 'remote' applied only to students, but not to teachers and staff.  According to our LMEA union officers, there are several other suburban public school districts across the Delaware Valley following a similar plan to open schools.

I agree with the teachers quoting some pretty lame reasons to bring teachers into schools by ourselves.  With the volumes of words devoted to all the elements big and small devoted to planning for returning to school we have all read, and which you have explored well in your writing all summer, the surprise of a definition of remote that splits the community-  to students and parents at home, with teachers and staff in the building seems aligned really with some sort of effort on the part of a school board to control teacher professional behavior.

However, there are some other elements that are part of the LM example.

The Lower Merion Education Association, and the Pennsylvania State Education Association jointly hosted a Zoom meeting for all teachers and staff last week.  About 500-600 members attended.

One of the unexamined, but critical elements to this story was in their joint effort to convince the Pennsylvania legislature, presumably the governor and, by extension, the LMSD board to guarantee continued payment to all staff and teacher members.  The Pennsylvania legislature and Governor Wolf agreed with this proposal originally in March, but guaranteed it only until the end of the 2019-2020 school year, 6.30.20.

Our union leaders communicated how important an issue it was for them, and of course for all of us, for this guarantee to extend to the new school year, despite all the uncertainties of how to return to school.

I am grateful to them.  Sure, I have been an LM teacher for nearly nineteen years and enjoy whatever protections of my job our contract includes.  But, we are also a merged local, one of only a very few across the state, and so there are lots of young folks- listen to me!- in every type of job needed to staff a public school whose lives would be turned upside down like so many other unfortunate folks unemployed if the LMSD no longer guarantees employment.

So, I can live with the surprise announcement, which I might link to this larger, but less scrutinized issue.

So, where does all this stuff leave me?

I plan to be in my classroom, alone I guess, on Tuesday, September 8.  My opening day 'uniform' will be what it has been for many years... I will wear an aloha shirt, Hawaiian shirt for the novice crowd.  I like a blue one for the first day- and I will wear them until the temperature in the morning dips below 60.  I might wear khaki pants, but I might wear khaki shorts.  I get to be old, and just a bit rogue, at the same time.

Why should I see my life as a teacher any differently?

After that certainty, I really have no idea what to expect or what I will encounter.  I know only that there will be about 130-135 LM 10th grade students stuck at home, starting school but in a way no one really wants, and I sure as hell better be great on the first day, don't you think?

Year 43 beckons.