Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Snow days don't just bring snow...

...every year when we start to get snow and people postulate whether school will or won't be cancelled, there's the inevitable bevy of media banter about how too much time for learning is lost due to inclement weather in Nova Scotia and an ill ignored factor in low student performance overall in terms of academic basics (and, yes, I'm talking about the thankfully departed Andrew Krystal and the perpetually teacher-dogging Rick Howe).

I get that these guys are paid to get people riled up as a means to generate listenership and revenue, so, to a degree, their annual anti-school cancellation due to inclement weather campaign isn't that big a deal.

BUT, their everlasting griping about how teachers get days off at student expense goes uncontested by the highly overpaid president and executive directorship of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union. Because it's uncontested, it festers in the public mind as incontrovertible fact, and it makes doing a job that's already perceived as a glorified country club gig in modern media even tougher.

It's getting harder and harder to accept that Ms. Allen and company earn well over six figures to remain silent on this issue and fail to call the public and media to account on this, in addition to inaction and apathy on far more important issues in education besides snow days.

It's really tough to know that teachers agreed, knowing that school days lost to cancellations for inclement weather impact student learning negatively, to a longer instructional year in the 1990's to compensate for the days that might be lost within a year.

It's even harder to take when I know that Nova Scotia's teachers already teach more minutes per year than any other teachers in the country.

The arguments for banning school cancellation are idiotic- parents need their kids at schools so they can work. So let's put legal minors on buses on roads that no lesser authorities than the police and RCMP advise all drivers to stay off of for risk of severe injury or death to get to schools potentially hours late so Mom and Dad can go or not go to work that day? The fact that a student may not work on academic items for a day imperils their long term academic success and competence?

In Halifax Metro, we've had two or less days lost to inclement weather per year over the past five years, but we still have people complaining about the year we suffered more than two weeks of time lost due to Hurricane Juan and White Juan in the space of four months, and using that as justification for needing to ban school cancellations.

I appreciate that the debate is different in areas of Nova Scotia that are more rural and more days are lost annually because of road conditions, but it's disturbing that the people who rant about how this problem is crippling students so quickly forget that schools in rural areas are almost universally not located within the communities their students reside in and require students to be bused long distances each way daily- sometimes commutes are nearly an hour each way. How long would those commutes be in terrible winter conditions? Twenty years ago, schools were in communities with kids around the corner. The population has shifted dramatically in that time- fewer and fewer young families remain in rural communities, which makes consolidating rural schools a financial necessity in providing public education. However, this also means that busing becomes a logistical obstacle at times, and especially during winter months.

Most frustrating are those who posture that teachers decide to cancel school, as if the board higher ups that make the call to cancel or not cancel school survey teachers on their feeling about going or not going to work the next day as part of their decision. WE HAVE NO SAY IN THE MATTER, ONE WAY OR THE OTHER!

The decision is made by someone against the backdrop of whether it's safe to require children to walk or travel on roads to and from school. These same people have, in the past, requested that teachers able to get to school do so anyway, provided they are not risking life and safety to do so. I've done it, but I can tell you that more often than not I'm at home marking and preparing for classes for as much time as I would at school anyway. It's like people think teachers are downing hot toddies at 8 am and getting sauced and coming in hung over and late the day after a school closure... Seriously...

Anyway, here's to another winter season of complete and total radio silence on the NSTU's part while they figure out a way to pay for prime time ad space to air TV commercials where Alexis Allen kisses babies with the head of the nurses union that do NOTHING to show the public what teachers do to contribute to the health and vitality of our province. I guess NSTU members, who can't call these shows themselves because they happen to be WORKING while they're on, will just have to send emails the day after that Rick Howe won't read because it doesn't support his agenda.

And yes, I pay almost $700 per year for this quality of leadership and public representation. Think of all the snow that could clear!

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