Why Do Teachers Get Snow Days?

Everyone else still goes to work. Here are 10 things teachers could be doing when their students get the day off.

UPDATE: Philadelphia school teacher Steve Clark has written a response to this column

Hey school teachers, I have an idea.

Instead of fighting the School Reform Commission and campaigning for a friendly governor and organizing your efforts for a sympathetic mayor and protesting at City Council meetings and complaining about contributing more to your health insurance and your pensions let me suggest another tactic: How about you actually go to work?

Even when it snows.

Because that’s what employees in Philadelphia and its surrounding suburbs are doing. During yesterday’s snowstorm that dropped 3.7 inches in the city and a couple more in the surrounding suburbs (and that was cleared away by 10 a.m.) you had the day off. And what did you do? Did you celebrate like your students? Sleep in a few hours? Read a book? Watch The Wendy Williams Show? What fun! You had a snow day! Great for you. Unfortunately, not so great for everyone else. That’s because everyone else went to work. Just like we do in all sorts of weather — even, yes, snow. And during your spring and Christmas breaks. And even (gasp) during the summers too!

And this is the root of the problem that the public has with teachers. This is why employees and business owners and people who aren’t school teachers don’t understand school teachers. We get it that you’re smart and excellent with kids. And we get it that if you’re unlucky enough to work in the Philadelphia school system you have to deal with problems that your suburban counterparts can’t even imagine. But that still doesn’t address a core problem: Why aren’t you coming to work like the rest of us? Why aren’t you working harder?

I get why kids don’t come to work on snow days. There’s a safety issue. There are too many transportation challenges. But school teachers are grown-ups. So I’m sure they can manage a bus ride into town when the weather’s not great. Or can navigate the roads. I’m sure because that’s what everyone else is doing. Take a look around — people leave earlier and brave the elements because they’re expected to show up for work. Every business I know was open yesterday. Every business owner I know was at their desks by 8 a.m. And so were their employees. A little snow doesn’t stop them.

Wait, a teacher might say … what’s the point of going to school when none of the kids will be there? Well, don’t you worry! There are puh-lenty of productive things you can be doing during the day. And I’ve got you covered with a few brilliant ideas. For example:

  • You could come in and prepare for the next day, week, month or term’s class work.
  • Or you could grade papers.
  • Or spend a few hours dreaming up new and innovative ways to educate the kids.
  • You could spend the day cleaning your classroom and making it a better environment for learning.
  • Or, you could join together with others and do work around the school building because I’m sure there’s always something to do there — like maintenance, cleaning, repairs, trash removal, a library reorganization, computer upgrades … or even hanging new artwork in the hallways.
  • If you’re not into the whole physical labor thing, you could use the day for team-building, meetings, group plans, discussions about the kids, tactical planning or determining long range objectives.
  • You could have a back-up list of local coaches or trainers who won’t let a little snow deter them (particularly when there’s a check waiting) and who can run last-minute leadership and other educational programs.
  • You could sit in on online educational forums with your colleagues and then discuss.
  • Or you could still … teach. You could embrace technology and hold online meetings with parents or online sessions with children over a certain age.
  • Maybe, in certain circumstances, your school district and union would agree to allow parents to bring their children to the school (after signing an insurance waiver of course) so that you could hold informal learning sessions with those kids.

And that brings me to the teachers’ union. Of course, if a school is closed due to inclement weather nowadays teachers literally just can’t show up. That’s all been negotiated by their unions. I just read this past weekend how teachers are “organizing” for the upcoming city mayor’s race. And no, they’re not organizing to demand that the city allow them to go to work and teach children on marginal snow days or during the summer. They’re organizing for money. They want money from the city and the state. They want to keep their benefits intact. They want more money for supplies. They want more money for added staff in their schools. They’re concerned over the city’s charter school expansion and the powers of the School Reform Commission. And I believe that some of these arguments are valid and justified. But there’s still a problem. And the problem is snow days.

Because snow days are a symbolic example of our perception of teachers. Snow days are at the root of the teachers’ problems. When it snows a few inches and teachers gleefully stay at home while the rest of us go to work, we don’t see talented, dedicated educators who care about their jobs. We see entitled union workers who are out of touch with workplace reality in 2015. If teachers want to get what they desire, that needs to change.

Follow @GeneMarks on Twitter.