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Progress Reports: Recharge Our Mental Health

2020 October 10
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by Mike Vial

Happy Saturday! Alton is still sleeping, so Paw Patrol is on pause here in the Vial/Burg household; however, DJ Ginny is awake, and the song of the morning is Trolls 2, “Just Sing”. I guess this is better than the “Pup Pup Boogie,” right?

Today will be a perfect autumn day: The myriad of colors in the trees remind me that no matter how disappointing this pandemic can be, there are moments to make the best of it. Ginny and I will take our dog, Lois, for her first walk in two weeks. (She’s not out of the woods with her pneumonia and health complications, but we think she is ready for a walk in the park.)

What will you be doing today, for you? Friday revealed to me that I needed a major mental health recharge. Do you feel that way, too?

I need to drink at least one less cup of coffee, play one more hour of guitar, lace up my running shoes for short jog; read a few poems by Rupi Kaur or Billy Collins, and pick out some happy poems for our class next week; read the new best seller novel Dear Justyce (the sequel to Dear Martin); go to bed at a reasonable hour tonight; call a friend I haven’t seen in seven months; write a little bit in my notebook, whether it be a few lines of verse, lyrics, or prose.

Like above, write our your list of actions that you want to do. Then go make some time to do it.

We are in a group project to “live with the virus” and protect others during the pandemic. All must participate, but we also must focus on recharging before Monday.

And Monday, progress reports are due for teachers at Huron, but today is Saturday. Let’s make Saturday about mental health. The world is bigger.

Sincerely, Mr. Vial


For the Covid Longhaulers, a Plea to Refrain from Hosting Homecoming Parties

2020 October 8
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by Mike Vial

Ginny says, “Wear your masks! Keep my teacher safe.”

This is a plea, from a teacher finishing week five of mask-to-mask/hybrid teaching.

I’ve now heard another family plans to host another unofficial homecoming party, this time renting a hall, so I’m going to be really blunt here:

On October 7, it’s reported another 994 people died of Covid-19 in the United States, but what I fear right now are more longhaulers.

Oh, you still don’t know that term? That’s because they haven’t gotten enough attention.

Recently, I asked three adults, ones who weren’t wearing masks correctly or at all, if they had heard of longhaulers; none of them knew this growing crisis caused by Covid.

I told them what a longhauler was, and now I’m going to tell you:

A longhauler is a person who contracts Coronavirus, and the Covid-19 symptoms don’t go away for two, four, six months. We still don’t know why.

*There are many longhaulers.*

Doctors didn’t believe these patients at first in April and May. They had to create their own support groups, often on Facebook. Epidemiologists are studying longhaulers now, since May.

Here’s the irony: The majority of long-haulers are women, between the ages of late thirties, early forties.


And more: These people were usually healthy and active before getting Coronavirus: Parents, runners, bikers, etc.

They now face long days and can’t live a normal life yet. Some days, they feel like they are getting better. They try to be a bit more active. They go for a longer walk. The next day, they can’t walk without being out of breathe. That’s just one common, longhauler symptom.

Science journalist, Ed Yong, from the Atlantic, has been reporting about it *since May.* I know three people–all musicians–who are long haulers.

When I hear about another family in a school district planning to rent a hall for an unofficial Homecoming party, I’m fearing my wife becoming a long-hauler. The last parties were attended, maskless. The photos are out there.

I’m doing what I can to protect you, my students, my staff. I bought a large room Honeywell HEPA Air Purifier for my classroom; I’m wearing an N95 mask to work now; I have not expanded my social bubble beyond my work circle; I haven’t seen a friend (beyond my colleagues) in SEVEN months; my parents have not seen their grandkids since August.

After teaching in an N95 mask all week, my face looks like a nurse after a shift at the ward. But I do it–because I mostly want to protect my wife from getting the virus.

Yet every party thrown is another chance that two weeks later, an entire classroom will be quarantined, even the school closed for a few days.

There are students barely getting by right now. I don’t want their routines disrupted. I don’t want them getting less sleep.

Please, parents, you need to be parents. We have to sacrifice now, so the physical school can continue tomorrow.


CDC Says Coronavirus Airborne, What Parents Can Do to Help Schools

2020 October 6
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by Mike Vial


I’m glad the CDC has acknowledged what parents and teachers already have known for months: Coronavirus spreads in the air.

As a parent, I’m calling all of you parents to be vocal about safety for your children. Many schools will be returning in October or November, joining me, as a teacher, in what I’ve been doing for five weeks.

I’m sharing this list of tips as a parent of two kids. When I’m thinking about the safety of my child, I’m advocating for their needs, if and when we return.

Do you want your kids safe in schools? Here’s a list of things WE AS PARENTS CAN DO:

1. Most Important: Air Safety In Classrooms
Email your school’s leaders and school board about air safety.

According to Harvard research, 90% of school buildings were not meeting air quality expectations before the pandemic.

* * * There must be upgraded filters in the HVAC or air purifiers in the rooms to actually say that we have done everything we can to ensure safety for staff and students. * * *

Listen to Joseph Allen from Harvard on On Point from 8-11 minutes of this interview, and ask your school leaders what they are doing NOW:…/2020/07/27/back-to-school-safely

If admin says they are only doing what’s required of them, then tell them that’s not enough now, during an airborne pandemic. Start calling your state reps and addressing this concern. We as parents must sound the alarm on this.

And we must do this before the weather gets so cold, and flu symptoms complicate classrooms.

The CDC just acknowledged this is an AIRBORNE pandemic. The truth is there is an incongruence of requirements in the classroom, which isn’t school leaders’ fault.

But here it is, none the less:

15 minutes or more of exposure in a classroom that can only ensure three feet distance means one positive Covid case in the room causes most people in that room to be quarantined for two weeks.

The rules required to run class are different than the effects of contract tracing after there is a positive case.

2. Review correct mask wearing with your child. If noses are out, aerosols are out, too, in the air.

3. Review social distancing rules in the halls with your young adult. They will naturally get lax. We are in this together. Do not shame kids. They are doing the best they can, and they turn to us for guidance, reminders, and confidence building.

4. Don’t send your children to school sick. Have a plan of someone who can watch them this year.

5. Advocate for your child’s needs about homework expectations.

Teachers can’t treat school curriculum like they would in a normal day, but we have never tested out our online lessons before. We are creating this in real time, like jazz musicians.

If teachers are stressed finding the time and energy to “grade” the work, then they must also recognize students are stressed trying to complete homework during a pandemic.

But kids don’t tell their teachers when they are stressed unless asked. Parents, we must help students and teachers have this conversation.

6. If your young adult child claims they are focused at home, but you see missing work on the online gradebook, they are not telling you the full story.
Parents ask me what they can do to help their young adults in Language Arts, and the most important thing is guiding the child to have a system of knowing do dates and making task lists. Knowing how long an assignment should take, and gauging why it’s taking them double or triple to complete it.

Guide the child to email the teacher when they are confused and need extra time. Make a schedule with them. Teach them to use task lists to prioritize.

7. Advocate for your child’s late work (in reasonable amount of time) to be graded for full credit.

Students can’t expect to turn in week one work during week five, but they must know we are supporting them in their education, not playing a game.

8. Ask your child weekly how well they are sleeping.

There is a 75% chance your young adult, your high schooler, isn’t getting enough sleep. They weren’t before the pandemic, and us adults are struggling to get enough sleep during the pandemic, too. Lack of sleep increases stress and anxiety; it affects memory.

* * *

In conclusion, remind your kids, weekly, this is not normal. Remind them that they are doing their best, and we are proud of them. Remind them that their teachers are doing their best, and we are proud of them. Remind them that support staff and administrators are completing a Herculean task, and we are appreciative of their countless hours of work.

Remind your children and young adults that all of us are experiencing the pandemic at the same time.

We can do this. My school community is revealing that we can do this. All of us are going to have set backs, but you can too. I believe in us. We can get our kids back in school safely. But this is a group project that all must participate.


Dispatches from Room D127, Day 19

2020 October 3
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by Mike Vial

Room D127 exhaled its anxious breathe, after the final bell rang during the 19th day of pandemic teaching.

I was unable to find that catharsis, that release of stress after work. My nerves were shot—I felt nauseated after dinner. As I read Ginny books and poems before bed, I got the tummy troubles, like a dragon who likes tacos, but hates spicy salsa. I had to stop reading to Ginny, and I got sick in the bathroom.

One would assume I would have rested after my kids were down for the night, but my mind was racing. I had been awake for 18 hours, but I couldn’t sleep. So I commented and graded on my students’ work.

That’s right. I worked for another 88 minutes Friday night.

Silly? No. I don’t want to work when my kids want to spend time with me on Saturday and Sunday.

And Natalie works from 5-6:45 every morning before trying to work and help Ginny with online kindergarten at the same time, so I’m not complaining. But I have so much work to do to prepare week five, another impossible teaching experience of online and physical class at the same time.

But I can handle the work. It’s the unknowns about health and safety that is wearing me thin.

Consider history: The virus had an invisible seat in the room in 1919, and President Wilson most likely contracted H1N1 during WWI peace negotiations in Paris. Day 19, my Greek myth class discussed the Pandora’s box myth. Even though the story reveals how pestilence came to the world, the last thing to depart from the open chest is hope.

Keep hope alive, friends and family. D127 hopes we can do this right before winter complicates things.

But this morning? I’m just breathing. (And cuddling with Ginny, as we finish that Junie B. Jones book we stopped reading last night.)

Hope, Superspreaders & Symbolic Names

2020 October 2
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by Mike Vial

I woke up from a leg cramp at 3:20 AM, and I read the news on my iPhone. I predict I won’t fall back asleep; I also predict the second debate isn’t happening on October 15.

Am I dreaming?

No, I’m pondering how, in great literature, names contain symbolism*: Mercutio from Romeo & Juliet, Mercy from The Crucible, Raskolnikov from Crime & Punishment, Pilate Dead in Song of Solomon…
Like Pandora’s Box being opened in the Greek myth, this unbelievable soap opera of 2020 has given us Hope.

I hope everyone sick recovers, and we now take testing even more seriously. I hope this is a moment where we think of students and teachers preparing for a long winter in windowless classrooms, hoping that no one gets sick when their schools can’t order HEPA filters now that they are backordered.

Hope leads to responsibility and actions.

Note, we are learning how super spreaders play an essential role in Coronavirus’s infection rates. The R0 of this day’s news will follow that trend. I hope I am wrong.

*other literary device terms pondered: charactonym, aptronym, foreshadowing, irony, and OMG.