Another Snow Day?: A Middle School Teacher’s Reflections on Lesson Planning and the Effects on Students

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“Hello, this is the superintendent’s office of the Malden public schools.  There will be no school tomorrow, Tuesday, February…”  Wait… is this a broken record?  Didn’t I just get this phone call yesterday?  And last week – twice?  And the week before last for four days in a row?

This year has been incredible for snow days.

Truth is, though, I absolutely love snow.  I still get giddy with excitement when there is the prediction of a big snow storm coming, and I look forward to watching through my windows as the snow falls, to going out to take walks and pictures in the snow. So, despite the number of days off and the sheer volume of snow, I have been rather content.

Then I think of the impact it all has on my professional life.

Of course, a few days of extra time off can be great for catching up on grading or lesson planning.  However…

The school where I teach runs on a 4-day rotation schedule.  Every odd-numbered day has 65-minute core class blocks, while even-numbered days have 55 minute blocks.  So every time we miss school, I have to go back to my plan book to figure out how my lessons can be adapted to different class lengths.  Sometimes this is easy – the 10-minute quiz that would have been given at the end of class on Tuesday can instead be tacked onto the end of Wednesday’s class.  Sometimes it is really tricky.  I like to schedule laboratory activities to fit into the longer blocks to allow as much time as possible for exploration and inquiry.  When snow days interrupt the schedule it interferes with this timing and I have to get creative to figure out how to fit the activities into shorter amounts of time without throwing off the rest of my planning (I like to plan two to three weeks in advance).

Another complicating factor is the amount of review that must be done to help kids remember the foundational knowledge they have built, especially after a long string of time off as we had last week.  Ultimately, it is not difficult to ask a few questions to help kids remember what we worked on before the disruption, but the time for these questions must be carved out of a lesson that I have already planned down to the minute; I have to prioritize and decide what can be cut to make space.

Finally, and perhaps most frustratingly, is to think about how the weather impacts my students.  Two of my students did not come to school Wednesday and Thursday of last week; we got a message from the assistant principal informing us that their parents said that they could not walk through the snow to school because of a lack of proper footwear.  So they missed even more time due to the weather.  I know, also, how many of the students look forward to and appreciate coming to school because of the safety and security they feel from the daily routine, the adults with whom they interact, and from their friends.  I know that for many of them the additional time away from school can be emotionally stressful.

In the end, I do enjoy snow and snow days – I really can’t see that ever changing.  But, I temper my happiness some in consideration of the full picture of what they mean.  I am not sure what the solution is to these problems – after all, it is winter in New England and there will be snow.  However, it is a subject that demands consideration, especially with the prospect of climate change increasing the strength of snowstorms going forward (I had to drop that in!  Science teacher obligation).

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Post written by Laura Vago, a New Member Committee Member and 7th grade Science teacher in Malden, MA.

Follow Laura on Twitter: @LRVago