Opinion: Reward Teachers Who Brave the Snow

Thursday, February 20, 2014 - 04:00 AM

Students study in the cold outside Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan. Students study in the cold outside Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan. (Natalie Fertig/WNYC)

Like thousands of other New Yorkers, I woke up last Thursday waiting to hear if the city’s public schools would be closed due to the snowstorm. And like thousands of others, I was disappointed to find they were not. I'm a big boy, I could handle it. I'm also a teacher at The Computer School, so I had to handle it and then explain to my sixth-grade daughter that she had to handle it as well.

And we did. We left the apartment five minutes earlier than usual, caught the M11 going up Amsterdam Avenue and both made it to our schools half an hour early. Somewhat paradoxically, the lousy weather and road conditions kept many others off the streets which made our commute a relative breeze in the midst of the mini-blizzard.

I've been reading much over the past week about how Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Fariña put our kids and staff in danger by not calling a snow day on the same day there was a state of emergency and New Yorkers were strongly advised to stay off the streets. I get it. I've also read that keeping the schools open put us educators into the roll of babysitters. That I don't get.

My Upper West Side middle school had about 80 percent attendance that day and the only teacher absent had already planned to be out. Admittedly, I did not cover any new material in my sixth-grade math class, but the students who did show up got to delve deeper into the concept of finding the area of composite figures. (The Polar Vortex is no match for the Common Core.)

The science class I co-teach spent a period in the Green Lab checking on their sprouts, making observations, and recording data. The only real downside to the day was the cancellation of recess and lunch out, causing most of the few hundred kids to be in the cafeteria without the benefit of having run around for 20 minutes.

A lot of the kids we teach have parents who can't take a day off from work without being penalized. They don't get the same sick and personal days teachers get. They sent their kids to school that day knowing they'd be safe, and then went off to work themselves. I'm proud of my colleagues for showing up and being there for our children. I'm even proud of my bosses. (That's right, I said it.) One came in from New Jersey and the other drove down from Westchester.

I also understand that many parents chose to keep their kids home and many teachers could not make it safely to school throughout the city. Adults making adult decisions. I'd like to propose a new approach that allows for a range of responses to challenging weather conditions.

Let's create something called an "Exceptional Weather Day." On these days—and let's hope they're rare—parents who choose to keep their kids home may do so without the students being marked absent. Teachers who decide they can't travel safely can also stay home without having to take a sick day. Those of us who can show up safely, get another sick day in our bank.

I've been teaching in the city system for over 26 years so I know there's a bureaucrat—or 50—in some office not anywhere close to an actual student who will tell me why that can't happen. It's not a perfect solution, but let's not make that the enemy of a good one.

As far as the question of what could kids possibly learn on a day like last Thursday, that's an easy one. They learned their schools and educators are there for them in stressful times. They learned there's a place to go when things don't go the way we plan or want. Above all, they were reminded that each and every one of them is part of a school community in an amazing city filled with communities who are not going to let them down.


Patricia Willens


Tim O'Mara


Comments [6]

Anika from ny

In addition I say reward substitute teachers as well and show them that they are appreciated.

Feb. 22 2014 04:20 AM
Tim O'Mara from NYC

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, "although temporary interruptions in services due to bad weather are expected, alternate services should be provided if snow and ice cannot be cleared in a timely manner."

Read more:

David, this would qualify as a "temporary interruption in services" in my view. I'm not a lawyer, but should the entire system be shut down because those with disabilities can't attend? To me, that does not pass the smell test.

Feb. 21 2014 02:39 PM
Great idea from NYC

I love the author's idea of not marking kids absent and making it voluntary. As a parent of a student who uses a wheelchair, we have made it to school the majority of snow days and so have his classmates. It may not be possible for every student/family to make it in but this is a reasonable solution and I don't buy the argument that the ADA would prohibit this. The ADA should prohibit subways and schools from being inaccessible but not schools from being open when it snows.

Feb. 20 2014 10:50 PM

I have quite a commute to get to my school in NYC! A resident of Long Island I drive to the LIRR hoping that I
make it on time to to find parking, walk to the RR because there is never parking close to the stairs leading to the platform. Freeze while waiting on the platform at times enduring precipitation wind and icy conditions. Upon reaching Penn Station I rush to catch the subway and ultimately walk to my final destination. Oh, I left out the amount of time lost while shoveling out the driveway so I can catch my train and the two times I got stuck in snow
at the RR after work because my car was buried in snow! I have braved each and every snow storm that NY has encountered this school year and YES WE SHOULD TOTALLY BE REWARDED FOR OUR ENDURANCE AND COMMITMENT TO BEING PRESENT FOR OUR CHILDREN AND ADMINISTRATION AT OUR SCHOOLS ! More importantly I did all of this without one single fall ! :)

Dedicated Teacher

Feb. 20 2014 04:39 PM

Will never happen. Although it sounds simple, the simplistic nature disregards all intricacies. I will address the ADA(Americans with Disabilities Act) and Equality of education. Disabled Students and staff members for that matter would not have equal opportunity at any benefits, and although it sounds like some crazy liberal idea where we hurt those able to attend, the laws simply don't allow for anything like this. Either everyone is able to attend and it is safe for them to attend, or schools are closed. We could debate whether under the current system everyone can attend...but your idea doesn't pas the smell test.

Feb. 20 2014 10:00 AM
Beth from Massachusetts

The decision to close school is not taken lightly for all the reasons mentioned. Parents think in terms of getting their children to school although a bigger concern is getting them home safely. As a parent and teacher, I was always in favor of a cancellation. It would be a rare circumstance that would make getting home in June a dangerous procedure.

Feb. 20 2014 09:31 AM

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