Back in 2014, when France made it illegal for companies to contact their employees about work-related business after six in the evening, a lot of pundits here in America used the opportunity to point out how the Internet, and the growing availability of powerful smartphones and tablets, were changing the fundamental nature of work and jobs. Plenty had already been written about how new technology was eating up people’s free time more and more, but the news stories coming from France created a wider dialogue about how bosses were not only using this technology to encroach on their employees’ time while they were at home with their families, but often squeezing out what was essentially unpaid work from their employees, since they often weren’t considered “on the clock” as soon as they left their place of employment.
This is true for many jobs, but there have always been plenty of lines of employment with a large, built-in component of unpaid work done at home. For many of us teachers, this is frequently the case, as despite the zombie-like narrative of how “teachers have it easy” because “we all go home at three” and “we get summers off,” many of us spend countless hours at our homes not only reviewing/grading papers and the like, but also staying informed about current news and practices in teaching so we can do our best when we’re in classrooms with our students. While the Internet Age has required more of us teachers (especially with students now able to email drafts of their papers to us at all hours of the day and night), a lot of the problems that people in other lines of work are now confronting aren’t exactly new to teachers.
One of the benefits that we teachers do enjoy more than people in other professions is more frequently getting off work due to inclement weather. It should be emphasized, however, that this has much more to do with keeping kids safe than with any problems teachers may have with going outside in such conditions. (I can’t speak for other teachers, but while I won’t deny being nervous when I’m driving in icy conditions, I’m far more concerned with other drivers’ lack of caution at those times, especially after the experiences I’ve had with Denver-area traffic this past year.) This is why elementary schools are far more likely to cancel classes than junior high or high schools, and why college and university cancellations are comparatively rare.
I’ve written several times about how much I love my work as a teacher, but even I get giddy when a snow day is announced. Just the words “snow day” conjure up a cornucopia of sense memories for me, from the morning game shows I normally only got to watch over the summer (or when I was sick), to all the popular songs about those unexpected days off from school. If nothing else, I know that my students are always happy for the time off, so I can feel good for them getting a needed and deserved break from the rigmarole of college life.
More to the point, as important as I believe education is, there are some things that are far more crucial to students’ lives, and avoiding the dangers of hazardous weather is definitely on that list. Particularly for younger children who are reliant on already-stressed parents to get to and from school (especially since bus service often stops when weather cancellations are announced, due to normal bus schedules being disrupted by individual schools closing at different times), it’s far better to simply announce cancellations early, and let kids stay at home where they’ll be far safer than if they have to travel.
Speaking from my experience as a teacher, it can be a pain to reschedule lessons and such when a snow day pops up, especially if it happens on the day of a test (or the due date of a paper). The thing is, if you live in a part of the country where snow days are a regular occurrence, then it’s incumbent on you as a teacher to know that they might happen, and to plan your classes accordingly. Especially in light of all the other things than can lead to class cancellations these days (weather-related or otherwise), figuring out what material can be condensed (or even cut) from your class if the need arises is something every teacher should be doing before the class starts, and this is something that smart teachers have been doing since long before I was born.
This is why school districts cancelling snow days is, at a very fundamental level, unnecessary. Dealing with snow days is something that nearly every school district in this country has factored into their planning for ages, so it’s not like replacing snow days with “online learning days” is some “fix” to a relatively new problem. It’s just a way to squeeze more learning into a term, and while there are some benefits to keeping education going on snow days, the drawbacks are, in a word, cruel.
Snow days are, for most of this country, as much a part of the American school experience as cardboard cut-out letters stapled to bulletin boards and bad cafeteria food. No matter how much kids may like the school they go to, nothing compares to waking up and getting the news that everyone gets to stay home for the day. It’s a few more hours of fun, at a time of their lives when young people are supposed to be having fun, and while it creates problems for parents and teachers alike, they’re hardly the kind of problems that demand “fixing,” especially since this “fix” does nothing to remedy the problems of parents needing to stay home to keep an eye on their snowbound kids.
The people who’ve made this decision to cancel snow days in this district, to be blunt, probably don’t give a damn about kids having fun. They probably don’t care about the history and lore of snow days, or the joy they bring to young people of all ages. They only care about their bottom line, and if forcing kids into using online learning during snow days means that they can get more “work” for their dollar, from students and teachers alike, then they probably couldn’t care less about the psychological harm this could cause.
Americans are at the mercy of a hyper-capitalist mentality that believes employees should be worked to death (sometimes literally) so executives can make more money off their backs. Even after decades of studies of European employment have proven that people get more work done if they have plenty of personal time to recharge their batteries — not just more work per hour, but more work over the course of a year — Americans are still being forced to toil harder and harder, and sacrifice more and more of their free time, in order to provide the basic necessities of life for themselves and their families. It’s bad enough that so many American adults are locked into a system that becomes more and more like slavery with each passing year, that forces the less powerful into helping the powerful become even more powerful, snatching up more and more of their free time for no remuneration. Subjecting children to that same mentality is nothing short of barbaric.