Friday, March 21, 2008

"What did you do at school today?"

This is my eighth year of teaching. Today may have been the most ridiculous day of my career.

For many,many years my school district has taken Good Friday as a holiday. Sometimes Spring Break coincides with Easter so it's not really an issue, but this year, in the interest of being "politically correct," our school board made it a point not to include Good Friday in our days off. We will have a full week of vacation in April, but regular classes were scheduled for both Good Friday and Easter Monday.

Apparently a lot of employees--teachers, staff, and even bus drivers--were unhappy with the school board's decision to work today. Many were generally upset because of their religious obligations, but most of the angry people seemed to care only because this has always been an off-day in the past and now they had to work. (We receive our district calendar about 18 months in advance; this new schedule may have been inconvenient but it was no surprise.)

The craziness started late last week when it became clear that many of these employess would be taking a personal day. The media ran with it, and daily there was paranoia that kids wouldn't be served lunch and schools would be full of substitutes. Some schools told their high school students that the absence wouldn't count against them so they "shouldn't bother coming."

Parents got wind of all this (it was all over the news this week) and by Thursday it was obvious that we were going to be making some adjustments. But nothing would have prepared me for the attendance today.

I usually teach 106 students on Friday. Today I saw a grand total of 13. My high school with a normal enrollment of 2400 kids? Attendance today was 138. And this was pretty much the standard throughout the district. The rough estimate was that district-wide we saw about 10% of the kids.

On the other hand, all the hype about the teachers skipping school turned out to be a huge overreaction. We were missing 12 teachers at my high school and only 8 at my middle school. But those of us who got up at 5:30, showed up on time with lesson plans prepared? We couldn't teach because these parents chose to buck the system and keep their kids home. I cleaned my classrooms, ordered some supplies, went out to lunch, and chatted with other teachers while our students watched movies and played outside. Your tax dollars at work.

A lot of people are upset with the school board, blaming them for scheduling school in the first place. But what's wrong with these parents? How can this many people just look at the calendar--keeping in mind this is not a federal holiday, most people had to work today--and tell their kids "screw it, school's not that important."

This kind of thing makes it harder and harder for me to set that alarm clock every night.

No comments: