Friday, February 20, 2015

Why do teachers get snow days?: A response to Gene Marks

When I read your article, "Why Do Teachers Get Snow Days?" I threw up in my mouth a little. First, because you basically just gave every teacher who helped you get where you are today a slap in the face. Secondly, because you're so far off-base it's not even funny. Have you ever personally known anyone who teaches? (I hope not, because your article was insulting to them, too!)

First, I want to be clear. Teachers are contracted and PAID a certain amount for the days of the year they work- it varies from state to state, but the average is 180 days. We do not get paid for 365 days a year (or even the 260 days an average worker working Monday-Friday is paid for). We do not get paid for a "summer off" or "winter vacation". On average, a teacher salary is based on the 180 days we work, and the 8 hours spent in school that day (6.5 with students, 30 minutes prior, 30 minutes after, and 30 minutes "planning").

When we are out of school for a snow day, we still have to work that day. It just usually comes later in the year. Any work we do outside of those contract hours or 180 days is unpaid. That means, when a teacher spends a snow day- that he or she will make up in school later in the year- working, it is unpaid. When a teacher grades a paper or plans a lesson at home in the evening, that time is unpaid. A teacher does not get paid for all of the time he or she puts in outside of contract hours.

Now that we got that out of the way, let's review the 10 things you suggest teachers "come in and do" on snow days, one by one:

  • Come in and prepare for the next day, week, month or term’s class work. You're absolutely right- that is a good use of a snow day. In fact, that's what I have spent my snow days doing, thank you very much. The truth is, I don't need to be AT school to plan- my teacher editions, student editions, curriculum and pacing guides, and state standards are all accessible to me online. In fact, I almost ALWAYS plan at home, because every moment of "planning" time allotted at school is filled with meetings and trainings. I don't get to actually "plan" during my "planning time", so it's always done at home. Why risk my safety and the safety of others to do what I can do just as well in the comfort of my home?
  • Grade papers. Yep, did that on my snow day too. Do you know how long it takes to grade and correct 30, 60 or 100 papers? I also spend time grading papers each evening after I get home. Outside my 40 contracted hours. Unpaid.
  • Join with others in the school to do things like maintenance, cleaning, repairs, trash removal, a library reorganization, computer upgrades … or even hanging new artwork in the hallways. First of all, the school district hires people whose job it is to do those things. If I'm doing their job on snow days, then what are they doing? Secondly, even though the maintenance man might be brilliant with a hammer and some power tools, doesn't mean he is qualified or should be teaching reading to my students. Similarly, though I'm brilliant at designing engaging, meaningful lessons, that doesn't mean I'm qualified or should be wielding a hammer and wrench around the school. That would cause more messes for the maintenance person to clean up in the end (my husband is a construction worker and agrees- he doesn't want me running around the house with a hammer or wrench either). As for hanging new artwork in the hallways- that is, again, something I usually stay at school after my contracted hours to complete, and I change it monthly. Plus, if I get my grading and planning done at home on a snow day, then it is even easier to complete the task of changing student work.
  • You could use the day for team-building, meetings, group plans, discussions about the kids, tactical planning or determining long range objectives. This is what the in-service days in the weeks before and after school begins and ends are for. As well as the weekly/monthly staff meetings. And the daily meetings I attend during planning. Again, this is something I am constantly doing at other times during the normal course of duty. 
  • 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. Do you know how long a wait list is for many of these coaches or trainers (at least quality ones)? Most quality coaches and trainers are booked months, even a year or more, in advance. My last presentation outside of my district took place in February- but I was contracted in June. In addition, the budget procedures (required to ensure school districts are using their finances wisely and transparently for taxpayers) for getting a "check" for those folks can take weeks. Most presenters won't come last-minute and wait to be paid when a check clears the purchasing office. Though if you find some quality ones who do, please, let me know. Also, I usually spend my summers attending high-quality trainings and conferences on my own dime & time.
  • You could sit in on online educational forums with your colleagues and then discuss. The great thing about the internet is that I don't have to be in the same room with my colleagues to have a quality discussion (or watch webinars or educational forums together). With the advent of tools like Google Hangouts and Skype, we can do this in our PJs from the comfort of our own living rooms. Without having to set foot in a school building or tire to icy road. In fact, I often use these tools to collaborate with colleagues and learn more about my profession- on weekends and evenings. Outside of contract hours. 
  • Or you could still … teach. You could embrace technology and hold online meetings with parents or online sessions with children over a certain age. As mentioned in the last point, I've already "embraced technology" for instruction, communication and collaboration. I often take time on snow days (evenings, weekends) to communicate with parents. During extended holidays or snow closures, I often create short educational videos or activities and share them with my students. I have held online "homework chats". However, when students are out of school, they are out of school. They aren't required to- and often don't- take advantage of these additional educational activities. I still take my time to create them and make them available because I'm a dedicated professional who cares. If even one student takes advantage, my time has been well spent.
  • Maybe 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. Most school districts, when creating budgets, only include about 190 days worth of operating costs for school buildings. My district even switches to a 4-day, 12-hour schedule for 12 month employees in the summer. That means any day outside that in which the lights are on and everything is up and running might put the school district over budget. Additionally, even non-union school districts I've worked for had policies against teachers doing official "work" at school, during non-contract hours without pay. In every district I've worked for, supervisors can't require teachers to be at school outside of contract hours. If you're going to do this, in most places you'd have to consider it a "school day" and excuse the students whose parents can't bring them to school. If you can't do that, and still have to make it up later, you generally can't require every teacher to be there (they're not being paid for it, if they have to make it up later in the year). Then, you basically end up with free day-care for parents who have to work and can't leave kids at home being offered by a few poor teachers who aren't getting paid. Districts generally don't have the budget to pay those teachers who can show up for an additional day.
Mr. Marks, the items on your list are items that teachers either do at home or during the course of regular daily duties at school, or they are not financially/logistically sound. Not a single one is worth endangering an educator (or someone else on the road) to do in a school building on a snow day what they can do from home. Not to mention, educators wouldn't get paid for doing any of these things since they have to make up the day later in the year (the one they spend in school, in front of students, is the day they're getting paid for). 

The only thing you've done in your article is expose yourself for the fool that you are- you clearly have no understanding of the workings of education. One of the things I teach my fourth graders is that in order to have a sound, logical argument, they must support their opinions with facts. You clearly did not learn that lesson, as I don't see a single fact to support your ill-formed opinion. Educators are highly trained professionals with a great deal of experience, training and knowledge. Stop expecting them to work for free (more than they already do). The fact is, most teachers ARE doing most of what you suggest (unpaid) on a snow day, despite the fact that they're "off". And those who aren't.....well, they're not getting paid anyway. When's the last time you worked for free?

Try shadowing an actual teacher for a month, and I'm positive your tune will change.


  1. Amen to all of that. I am so tired of people foaming at the mouth against educators. I'm still trying to figure out why we've become the enemy. This is especially the case in Pennsylvania. His additional comment that our job is somehow comparable to a person that sends an invoice or drives a cab makes me irate. Let me see them sending an invoice or driving a cab on their day off. SMH

  2. Well said, Laurah! I agree with Rachel above, too. Why have educators become the enemy?

    Thanks for responding to that mess.

  3. Thanks for spending the time writing this response so that I don't have to. ;) Another idiot who thinks that because he used to attend school, he knows what teachers do. And every schoolkid knows that when they don't see their teacher, their teacher must be sitting around eating bon bons in front of a TV somewhere.

  4. My husband has 7 weeks of paid vacation time.....he could take the whole summer off with me and get a check every week. My friends stay home when it snows....their company closes or goes to essential personnel only. Sometimes they even use these things called 'comp time' or 'vacation days' which are unknown to me. Or they work from home for a few hours and then plow themselves out.

  5. BAM!!!! Well stated...."outsiders" will never understand the life of a teacher
    The Techie Teacher

  6. Brilliant, Laurah! Thank your for speaking us with your wise words. You said everything perfectly!


  7. Thank you Laurah, that all needed to be said!

    It is unfortunate that articles like the one you're responding to are published, read, and taken for truth by many. If our students deserve the best, then surely so do the teachers who provide it day after day. The disrespect and falsehoods the original article spreads are not conducive to making education a desirable career choice, retaining quality educators, or improving our education system overall. Such blatant idiocy harms educators and education.

    You did a wonderful job of countering his ignorance - thank you thank you!

  8. Very well stated and thank you for speaking for teachers. It's about time that people who know little about what goes on in the day-to-day world of teaching and learning step to the sidelines, stop judging out of ignorance, and respect teachers as the professionals we are.

  9. Thank you Lauren, Well said!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I wish one of these people who know what teachers do, come spend the week with me. However, I would want them to make the plans, teach the classes, grade the papers and attend all the meetings that I have to. I bet they would change their tune quickly!!!!!

  10. Good Job Laurah!! I have seen this post all over facebook! Your word is getting out there!!! WAHOO :)

  11. Such a well written response! Thank you so much for standing up for teachers! When I read his article, I was IRATE!!! Clearly, he doesn't know a thing about what it is like to be a teacher. If he did, he would realize how foolish he made himself look.

  12. FANTASTIC response!!!! I SO hope he reads EVERY word of it !

  13. Thanks so much to everyone for your kind words!

  14. And all these parents complaining about their kids driving them crazy during these snow days. Take that and multiply it by 30 and you'll partially understand the day of a teacher.

  15. That was a great response, Laurah! Thank you for standing up for teachers.

  16. Great response! People are so quick to judge teachers and don't really know all that we do….

  17. Tha k you for speaking about this topic!!!!! It kills me when others want to tell us how to do our job!!!!!! When to do it and that we are over paid for doing it!!!!! I know I don't got to others and tell them how their job, when to do it and that they are over paid for it!!! Peoe who do t teach don't understand all that goes along with teaching

  18. Laura you wrote wonderful plus unique article and you deserve praise because you are multi talented.
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