Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Make Up Days (Dear Katie V2 #15)

Dear Katie,

Teaching in the northeast it is a certainty that one year you will face multiple cancellations of school due to snow storms.  And when your school runs out of their built in snow days in the schedule, your Board of Ed will have the task of determining when the day will be made up to reach that magical number of 180 days at which time all students receive a complete education for the year.  How to plan that day as a teacher is something you probably will not discuss in your education courses.

Much of what you do as a teacher will not be discussed in education courses.  
Have they taught you how to fix a jammed copier?

One choice is to tack on the day at the end of the year.  For me, that is my solution of choice, it is the least disruptive for my planning and my life outside of school.  If parents pull their kids due to vacation a day or two early, it doesn't affect their standing in my class.  The last day or two of school is for checking out and completing missed assignments for me.

The most ignorant reason I have ever heard against this choice is that teachers will just have another day at the end of the year to throw parties for their students.  

Trust me, no teacher in their right mind wants to throw a week's worth of parties.  They are nightmares in terms of classroom management, especially at the end of the year when kids are ramped up for summer.  Let's say the original end of the year is June 17.  That would mean I would try to give my last assessment on June 15, giving me two days to have kids who missed the assessment to make it up, and get my grades in on the 17th.  The 16th I usually play a review game on information we learned throughout the year, and the half day on the 17th is usually a celebration of the year (and I find nothing wrong in that, I teach kids who need to celebrate their passage to the next grade, not unfeeling, uncaring robots).  If the school year is extended to the 18th, that just means my last assessment becomes the 16th.  Everything just slides down one day.

Another choice is to take a day away from spring break.  That is the choice my school made this year.  The issue you run into is that families have planned out trips and other parents made decide not to send their child into school because spring break is spring break (and I do not fault a parent whose child has good attendance the rest of the year for keeping their child home on the make up day).  At our school, about 50% of the kids were in attendance yesterday.

As a teacher, the trick is that you will need to create a lesson plan that doesn't go so far ahead that when the other 50% return to class after break you will have to reteach it and at the same time fight the urge to do nothing amounting to a waste of the day.

For example, this year the seventh grade team I am on, allowed our students to work on their biome project the whole day (the biome project consists of separate science and history projects).  Now, a parent who is clueless might complain that this is no different than having their child work on it at home, but just because a parent went to a school as a kid doesn't mean they have a clue about school as an adult.  It was one of the best choices we have ever made for a make up day.

1) It took the pressure off the teachers deciding what to do.

2) We had several teachers missing due to their own planned trips, so by dividing the students who came to school by the number of teachers, we saved our principal from the logistical nightmare of determining coverage when we were short on subs (he was happy). 

3) It allowed the students access to the library, computers, magazines, textbooks, etc that they may not have at home.

4) Most importantly, it allowed the students access to their instructors who could answer any specific question about the project as they worked on it in real time.

I did not have an issue of any of my students not using their time wisely.  And interspersed between the hard work, they were talking and laughing.  There is nothing wrong with conversation as long as you maintain working on the task.  At the end of the day, one student put down his pencil, shut down his computer, looked up at me and said, "History project done!".  

His expression of accomplishment confirmed to me it wasn't a wasted day.

Uncle Kevin


  1. So true Kevin. The proof of the value of the day actually came at 9th period. We had planned on having the whole class gather in the cafeteria to watch the Planet Earth 'Pole to Pole' episode since it encapsulated many of their biomes and we felt it was a relaxing but educational way to end the day. However - students asked if they could keep working! Of the 80 students at school only about 20 gathered to watch the video - 60 students asked to keep working! When students have the environment and resources they realized the value of work! It was a very good day from the teachers' perspective - and obviously a very good day for the students present too.

  2. They wanted to keep working! How cool is that! I love the biome project!
    (This is Lois.... I had to post anonymous because I made the mistake of trying to log in to my google account with school account, and it wouldn't let me....)