This week was weird. We started with not one, but two days closed due to the cold. This time the district had teachers report to work. In the 8 days we’ve had of second semester, I’ve now seen my kids five times.
What are teachers to do without students? It was weird. I wasn’t in a big rush to get to school. I could ease into my day. I had time to plan. I had time to catch up with colleagues. I had more than 20 minutes to eat my lunch. I could go to the bathroom whenever I needed to. I could do things that had been shoved down to the bottom of my to-do list. I set up my second semester grade book, did my yearly health assessment for insurance, took a survey about our PLC work, prepped for my re-scheduled math meet. For one week, I did not bring home work to do in the evenings. Even though the district technically violated our contract by having us come in, most of us were fine with it. We got stuff done.
In the 187 contracted days, we only have one day that the district allows for us to determine our own work. For senior high, it’s the day between semesters. We just had ours on January 21st. Finalizing grades and getting ready for new students, new classes is the purpose of that day. We work like fiends to get it all done on time so we can have a nice fresh start to the new semester without the old one hanging over our heads. So lots of us stay late and work throughout the prior weekend to make sure we’ve finished everything. In other words, we put in a ton of time even prior to having that one work day. And you still feel like you don’t get everything done that is needed. So when we had to come into work without students this week, most of us were already caught up since we had only had two days with them.
In the midst of planning ahead, we took a little time for some staff activities. We’re having a pep fest next week. We haven’t had a pep fest in years. As a fun little surprise, we’re doing a “flash mob” dance. There were at least 50 of us learning and practicing the dance both days. Now that’s a fun way to get to know your colleagues! On the second day, a few of us took a little time out of working for a quick game of volleyball. I hadn’t played volleyball in years. It was a blast! Then I went back to my desk and got more work done. So in these two crazy days, I really enjoyed spending time with my colleagues. We’ve really got a great group of teachers that work extremely hard and care deeply about our students and their achievement.
Wednesday the kids were back. I think they were glad to be back in school. My math meet went off without a hitch. The 100+ mathletes that came to my school and participated were great.
Thursday. Because of the lack of progress with our contract, we had a planned union action. My district doesn’t have a defined day. We are expected in the building 15 minutes prior and 15 minutes after students. We are not required to be in the building to prep for our classes and do the additional work that all teachers do. It is understood that you get the necessary work done outside of that designated time in the building to be ready for your classes. As a result of this policy, we cannot do a “work-to-rule” action. This is good. Teachers have one heck of a time with that. There’s no way you can get everything done in 8 hours per day. When districts do work-to-rule, teachers are torn about participating because it’s just not in their nature to leave work undone for the next day. Work-to-rule is a drastic step when contract talks aren’t going well. Our action was much different and has a much more positive tone.
At 55 sites, with approximately 2500 teachers, parents and students, we organized Walk-Ins. Thursday morning’s snow storm just made it more dramatic. With the worst commute of the winter thus far, we gathered outside our buildings, with signs and our colleagues to welcome kids to school, wave to drivers, and all walk in together, prior to our 15 minutes, required by contract. My building started at 6:50am. Considering how bad the roads were, our 40 teachers that made it in that early were fantastic! We had signs, red scarves, glow sticks, and a nice crowd on the main street in front of the school, waving at cars going by. It was actually really fun! The crappy weather just showed that we’re determined to fight for better learning conditions for our kids. What’s good for kids is good for teachers. Our signs were all about what our kids deserve. Smaller class sizes, school nurses, counselors, librarians, art, music, phy ed, special education, less testing and more learning. At 7:10 we all walked into the building together, brushed off the snow, and got down to the business of teaching and caring for our kids.
I don’t know the impact of our walk-in on the district. We did make the front page of the paper on Friday. The news media is always reluctant to side with teachers and unions. They’re coverage was pretty vanilla. But if you took the time to look at the photos from so many sites, you can easily the dedication of our teachers to students.
It was definitely an unusual week. But one of the most fun weeks I’ve had on the job in a while.