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Posted at 2:32 PM ET, 02/10/2010

What teachers really think about snow days

By Valerie Strauss

I asked teachers to tell me what they really think about how the school year will be affected by the unscheduled vacation from school because of the snow. Following are a few responses that cover a range of thought. Tell me what you think in the comments section or at theanswersheet@washpost.com

Patrick Welsh, English teacher at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria:
I think that in some ways the succession of snow days shows how bankrupt high schools are. So what if kids miss a week of school; in the long run, it will mean nothing. Teachers who have to worry about kids taking SOL or AP exams can push kids harder and kids can cut down on texting and their other amusements and spend some more time studying.

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Mark Lewis, reading teacher at John Eaton Elementary School in the District
It’s fun and it’s beautiful and it’s different, but for school, it’s a pretty big hit to teaching and learning because this is a month that is very fecund for teaching. February up through spring break is a time when kids are pretty focused on learning and you get more mileage out of this period than pretty much any other time of the year....

The truth is that I think that might have been part of what went into [D.C. Public Schools Chancellor] Michelle Rhee’s decision to try to keep schools open that first day [on Monday]. The weather made it too difficult to move around but I could see the thought....

And this hits at-risk kids really hard. If you have at-risk students and you are trying to remediate, every second counts. The clock is really ticking.


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Middle school teacher who asked not to be identified
If teachers have to make up the days later on in the year, they shouldn't have to work during the emergency days off. I don't think the teachers would get an extra paycheck if they have to work a week longer--but you'd have to check with someone official on that.

As a [foreign language] teacher, I will find it hard to catch up. My level one curriculum is jam-packed as it is, and with one less week to teach it, I will spend less time on some important concepts. But that can happen at any time with individual students if they get sick or take an extra-long vacation.

As for giving assignments during the emergency days, it is tough to try to teach foreign language long-distance...

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High school teacher in Maryland who asked not to be identified:
I personally think this break is great. I think the kids are driven driven driven and never get a chance to breathe. I’m sure it’s a disaster for some; they won’t do a thing at all. But they don’t do a thing in school either....

Yes, it’s bad that we’re missing school, but it’s just so novel to have this time. We can make it up; we’ll just cut stuff out of the full full overfull curriculum. i think it’s magical, and there’s also something about it being unplanned that makes it great. No holiday, no relatives, no vacations, no nothin', just hanging out and passing the time as people once did, before our brave new world went totally nuts.

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By Valerie Strauss  | February 10, 2010; 2:32 PM ET
Categories:  Teachers  | Tags:  snow days, teachers  
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Comments

I agree with Mr. Lewis. As much as I love the snow and relish the unexpected time off, it's difficult to think about the time lost in such a precious part of the year. We talk a lot as we head into winter vacation about recharging our batteries because the most learning happens between January and March. Now that we've lost a week, we have that much more to do to prepare our students for the next level. I just hope my first graders have spent some of the their time reading and writing while they've been cooped up! But, I also hope they got out and built snowmen, ate snow, and played with their families and friends. I remember snow days from my childhood and they are some of the most fun memories I have. These kids deserve those memories as much as they deserve a quality education.

Posted by: linguistpunky | February 10, 2010 3:16 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps I'm naive (and as a first year teacher that is a definite possibility!) but shouldn't we be focused on what's best for our students rather than whether or not we're going to get paid for the additional school days that will get added to the schedule? I have used the FCPS Blackboard system to post some work for my third graders in the hope that at least some of them will find time for school during this unanticipated "vacation." At least they will be better off when we finally return to school and resume instruction. While not every child will have access to computers and online resources at home, those that do can at least put their time to better use than just sitting in front of the television or playing video games by the hour. And the time I spent putting together some material and making it available to students online will be a good investment in their education, whether I get paid for it or not.

Posted by: NYFanfromBirth | February 10, 2010 3:16 PM | Report abuse

The worst of all possible worlds is to add on days in June after state assessments and AP exams are finished. That is not education it is expensive babysitting. However, moving state assessments after Memorial Day weekend is an excellent idea. It allows mored time for preparation and avoids the wasteland of post-holiday school when as far as students are concerned summer has already started.

Posted by: sopranovcm | February 10, 2010 4:55 PM | Report abuse

Will MAryland move the March MSA back a week?
They should.

Posted by: phillipmarlowe | February 10, 2010 5:40 PM | Report abuse

Ok, so we are lying if we don't admit when we wake up at our normal time and realize we can sleep there is a "moment of glee" (common we are human.) But when it gets to be day after day, I start to reconfigure in my head how I am going to get the kids back on track. Hhow am I going to make up for lost time? How am I going to cover all of the content required by state testing in May? What people don't realize is that snow days are not the only disruption to the school year (I teach in a West Virginia school, so things may be a bit different in other places.) The week before this storm I lost my classes to 2 hour delays, 2 days of scheduling and one day of practice testing for the state test. Not to mention the fact that there are days when we go to school and half the population doesn't come (Thanksgiving week.) Those are wasted as well.
In response to NYFanfromBirth, you are a bit naive (and I envy you for that) and a bit right. It IS about the kids but you also must realize that a time will come when your devotion has be the vehicle for others to take advantage of you. We must make the school environment a place where the most qualified are in the classroom. If good teachers are being cheated left and right, they will leave. As far as putting work on the internet,that is a great idea great. But remember there are many low socioeconomic students who do not have access to the internet. Some of your students may not have had a real meal since that last school lunch. Some may have not even had heat.

Posted by: denisemkfn | February 10, 2010 5:47 PM | Report abuse

Wow OK I need to edit somethings (geesh I hit send accidentally )
-Come on we are human not common
-How not Hhow
-Has been not has be
-NO great after idea again
So much for being the most qualified in the classroom :-/

Posted by: denisemkfn | February 10, 2010 5:51 PM | Report abuse

State testing aside, a day lost in February is not equivalent to a day in June. At this time of the year, the students are more focused, and it is possible to make great strides with them. In June, it is much more difficult to motivate students to produce the same, high quality work when they would rather be on vacation and they are counting down the hours until summer vacation. If time can be found before Memorial Day, then it will benefit more than just the results on state testing.

Posted by: bobbierosnik | February 10, 2010 6:17 PM | Report abuse

Re: comments about how meaningful teaching is more difficult to do in June. I agree, but as an educational system, we created that monster. Part of it, yes, is students being ready for summer and being sick of being in school, but much of how they feel about school in May and June comes straight from the adults in charge.

When we make it ALL ABOUT THE TEST (in DCPS, 80% of your IMPACT score is student test scores), no wonder students think that after they take the test, there's no point in being in school. We put inordinate amounts of pressure on these kids based on their DC-BAS scores, and stress out about the tiniest changes in scores (on tests that assess content they haven't learned yet!) We gave them this attitude- we can hardly blame them for internalizing that THE TEST IS ALL THAT MATTERS. And in DCPS we test at the end of April! We're in school for 6 weeks after that! That's 1/6th of the year that *we* have taught students doesn't count for anything. We made our bed, now we get to sleep in it.

Posted by: uva007 | February 10, 2010 6:34 PM | Report abuse

Back in the 90's, during a particularly snowy year, MCPS made up the time by tacking on an extra 1/2 hour to the school day. That was a great solution. The extra time is easily filled each day, and it was much better utilized time than extra days in June. This year Maryland state testing is the first week in March (if we're back at school yet!)

Posted by: peaceandjoy | February 10, 2010 6:53 PM | Report abuse

It's not like snow days should be a surprise. Why aren't testing schedules set to happen in the last month of school instead happening when there is still 3 months of school left?

Posted by: RedBird27 | February 10, 2010 7:11 PM | Report abuse

Maybe now elementary, middle and high schools will consider the beauty of using Blackboard, the distance learning system. It works well for college students and working adults attending college and I don't see any reason why it shouldn't work for kids. Of course it shouldn't replace face to face classroom time, but it's a viable option when kids are unable to attend school because of weather related or other conditions.

Posted by: jameon | February 10, 2010 9:11 PM | Report abuse

Starting in Novemeber I tell my students that after the first snow day it is their obligation to check the blackboard site by 9am for an assignment of some kind which they will have to turn in when we get back. In my community, where its virtually unheard of for students not to have their own computer with high speed internet that's an acceptable demand. In other communities it wouldn't be acceptable and I understand that. That said, the date of the AP Exam will not change so we need to plow ahead some way somehow. My biggest concern though is the nature of how we schedule classes in high schools. Because of the block scheduling format where classes meet every other day, I haven't seen my 2nd or 6th period class at all this semester; while I've at least seen my odd numbered periods for 2 class blocks (the equivalent of four days of instruction). Now you may say this is no big deal, but I will need to have interim grades for them two weeks from Friday. How realistic do you think those will be? Yet I am still required to issue grades.

Posted by: Rob63 | February 10, 2010 10:14 PM | Report abuse

As a DCPS teacher, I see these few snow days as the least of our problems. I view the fact that one of the strongest arguments for keeping school open was the need to provide so-called free lunches and to prevent parents from obtaining daycare as a more serious issue. I feel that in general a few (4 days, not the "week and a half" quoted in the Post article)snow days should be expected and included by any responsible, realistic planner in our school calendar. Perhaps we'll end school early or get an instructional bonus if we don't use them (for example, last year) but, presto!, there they are when we need them.

DCPS didn't seem to see any problems with moving our last BAS test date up three weeks from the planned date, nor from scheduling a P-SAT session with little prior notice--and these scheduling changes significantly affected both our students' preparedness and their testing confidence. If we could help our students through those intimidating experiences that I can bet would not have happened in a wealthier, higher-performing district, then we can help them make up the time lost from four snow days.

Posted by: justthefacts13 | February 11, 2010 12:11 AM | Report abuse

The significant point of education is the quality of the teaching, and not the number of days or hours. All to often, teachers are put in a position of having to focus on, and emphasize quantity instead of quality. There' too much focus on cramming "more stuff" into a lesson, less focus on ensuring the lesson is meaningful and purposful. All too often teachers are told their lesson lacks "Rigor." When in truth, the only thing lacking is application and usage. that is, apply the standards to the lesson, and use the available resources. What's the point of having manipulatives and they just sit in a box unused? Education is about learning, not about how much time spent. 1 quality hour of teaching and learning accomplishes more than a whole day of crammed in stuff.

Posted by: Rhojon56 | February 11, 2010 7:01 AM | Report abuse

Time is a resource that cannot be made up!
Are the government workers who missed this week going to work extra days taken from their vacation time?
Snow is a real blessing to the D.C Metro area. It forces the people who think they CANNOT take time...to take that time.
They can be with their families, rest, and maybe reflect on why they are working too hard.
Do you think workaholics ever think they work too hard?
Do you think the people of ego ever think they are not important?
NO PLACE LIKE HOME...Washington Metro area..
Stay safe, everyone. :)

Posted by: linda26 | February 11, 2010 7:57 AM | Report abuse

How many HOURS of class time have the schools lost? And how many of these could they make up by eliminating all the assemblies through which the students sleep and the announcements that wish the band, chorus, or some team good luck in a contest or remind students that a group is selling Valentine candy or that interrupt all classes to ask one student to come to the office? (I've heard that teachers who were horrified that they would have to teach in trailers behind the school often decide it's an advantage because they are shielded from most interruptions.)

Posted by: sideswiththekids | February 11, 2010 6:37 PM | Report abuse

When we lived in The United Kingdom, school ended in mid July. The kids were still focused throughout June into July because that was the expectation. We did not have the 3 week party time that is late May through June here. We did have the wonderful 3 week breaks at Christmas and Easter. Kids were able to recharge in that time and not forget as much as they do here with the too long 10 week summer vacation. There were still tests. The A levels and O levels but you studied towards passing those one time tests, rather than being subjected to continuous testing all year round. Here in Howard county an entire week each quarter is devoted to assessments. This is a time of less homework and less useful classtime, as material is reviewed (boring the kids who got it the first time) and tested. There ought to be a reworking of our education system. Our children are not needed to work on farms and bring in the harvest. The agricultural based school year should go.

Posted by: rit21042 | February 12, 2010 10:11 AM | Report abuse

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