The glamorous life of a teacher on a Snow Day

Ah, Facebook. The Pinterest for uninformed opinions. This has been an especially brutal winter in the midwest, and the brutality (and banality) of comments on Facebook are proportionate to the windchill factors. Take this gem posted by a “friend” on the last day our district cancelled on a -22 degree wind chill day:
“Sure wish I was a teacher. Once again, they get to stay home, sleep and still earn money while the rest of us have to work for a living.”

This person cannot have children. If he does, then he has no regard for the safety of children who walk to school and are at risk for windburn, frostbite, or just slipping on ice and breaking a bone. Either that, or he believes the Perfect World myth that all parents ensure that their children leave the house protected by the winter suit of armor- gloves, hat, scarf, coat, heavy boots, etc. The reality is that many kids arrive at school with not even a coat for protection, let alone gloves (and forget about a hot breakfast!)

But this comment did not mention the students. This comment (and many others in my feed) was directed at the Lucky, Lazy, Leeches – the Teachers. Obviously we spend our snow days snuggled under blankets, sleeping until noon, and munching cookies as we watch the afternoon soaps. That kind of fiction is fun to propagate, but read on for a glimpse into the TRUE glamorous world of a typical snow day.

  1. We get the call. “THANK GOD,” we think. But not for the reasons you think we think it. We’re thinking “Thank God! Now I can…”
  2. Finish grading 140 argumentative essays
  3. Complete the state-mandated lesson plan template for every class this week that includes 6 categories and involves thoroughly explaining learning activities, the rationale for choose these methods, the specific ways we will differentiate our approach in order to meet students and their various learning styles/abilities/disabilities/skills/behaviors, the exact content standards our lesson addresses, the assessments (both formative and summative) we have developed to gauge their understanding and learning. (I’m leaving out a few more categories here simply because I’m exhausted from typing.)
  4. Continue reading the stack of non-fiction books we purchased with our own money in order to assess their suitability for incorporating more NF into the curriculum as mandated by the Common Core standards.
  5. Spend an hour participating in a Webinar to enhance our knowledge of instructional strategies and help to meet the required six semester hours of credit we need in order to renew our licenses.
  6. Evaluate students’ mid-term SLO test data and pray that their progress thus far will ensure that when we are graded on the new, state-mandated evaluation instrument, their test scores will deem us to be at least “Proficient.”
  7. Read the educational blogs and Twitter feeds that comprise our PLN (Personal Learning Networks) in order to find and exchange fresh ideas for the classroom.
  8. Email our colleagues about the resources, ideas, and tools we find through our reading that we think would be beneficial for their classes as well.
  9. Experiment with a technology tool we are unfamiliar with, but that teachers in our fields in another school are raving about. It might take an hour or more to figure it out, but if we think it could enhance our students’ learning, it’s worth it.
  10. Actually Communicate with our students. Thanks to the flexibility provided by tools such as Edmodo, Moodle, and Remind101 and yes, even email and texting, we can engage with our students even on a snow day. We post project due-date reminders on Edmodo, answer emailed questions from students, read and critique papers shared with us through a Google document, or create and post videos explaining project options to our class website.
  11. Spend some quality time with OUR OWN children.
  12. And if time permits…exercise!

In short, if a teacher posts to Facebook, “YAY! SNOW DAY!” The subtext of that post is “THANK GOD I GET A WHOLE DAY TO CATCH UP ON THE WORK I’M USUALLY DOING FROM 7-10p.m. MOST NIGHTS OF THE WEEK!”

Oh, and Ditto for a Sick Day.

When students are passionate about a subject, the results are astounding.

In the last two weeks of school, I’m used to working extra hard to keep students engaged, on-task, and most importantly, learning. This month has thrown me a pleasantly unexpected curve ball. Two students who are NOT in my Theater class asked if they could “sit in” during my Musical Theater unit. For some reason, despite the fact that I have 29 students, despite the fact that we meet in whatever room happens to be free, and despite the fact that this sometimes makes me crazy, I felt compelled to say, “sure, we’d love to have you.”

Here’s the rub: not only were these young ladies present in class most days, (one had study hall, the other had another academic class, but is an A student and the teacher allowed her to leave early to come to my class if her work was completed) but they actively participated, contributed to instruction, and “asked permission” to complete assignments related to our study of Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables. Their culminating activity occurred today, on the last day for classes before exams, and it was a beautiful experience. (It was also an activity that they asked to be “allowed” to do.)

These talented, inspired young ladies  wanted to “compete”  in a classroom courtroom debate of sorts by writing and delivering well-crafted, researched closing arguments in the case of Erik, the “Phantom of the Opera.”  Both used information from Gaston Leroux’s original novel, the Broadway production, research on the Paris Opera House, and even quotes from The Bible.

The 29 registered members of my class were stunned. First, by the fact that these students willingly (and eagerly) chose to spend time and considerable effort completing “work” for which they would not receive a grade, in a class in which they were not enrolled. And second, by the remarkable closing arguments themselves. These were not  quickly thrown-together assignments. These closing arguments were labors of love. And it showed. And it was remarkable.

To be fair, both girls have deep-rooted passions for musical theater, and they have spent countless hours of their own time researching and experiencing musicals, especially Phantom in all of its inceptions. But I was moved by the realization of what is possible when students are ENGAGED in the subject. When projects are undertaken out of passion and love, without either the threat of or the abstract reward of a grade. What I experienced with these two remarkable young ladies during the last few weeks of this year is what I want my students to experience every day, in every learning situation for the rest of their lives. My mission is to work hard to makes these experiences happen more regularly.