“I cannot believe that the kids are going to have another snow day tomorrow,” my daughter said Monday, as Portland faced another nor’easter. “This is the seventh one this year!”

Like other districts around Maine, Portland wound up canceling school Wednesday as well as Tuesday — and as a former teacher and administrator myself, I fully understand parents’ and teachers’ frustration with the thought of another day of kids staying home and watching TV or playing video games.

My oldest grandson is taking the SATs in just weeks; my daughter complained that she would have to follow him around all day to be sure that he spent time practicing vocabulary skills while she and her husband attempted to work from home. The other children, who have no assigned work, would be outside playing and sneaking junk food.

This disruption is just as frustrating to teachers, who are trying to cram an overzealous curriculum into a shortened time frame. “It’s really hard to teach a new concept or skill on one day and then have the next day off without reinforcing,” said one of my other daughters, a middle school teacher. “We have to reintroduce the material and, in fact, are behind another day of instruction.” With all the testing that’s now required, we are losing more and more time to non-instructional days. If the students do poorly on state assessments, teachers are held responsible. They need time to do their job.

These days, many parents are working from home. Why can’t teachers and the students do the same? All middle and high school students in Maine are assigned laptops to take home from school. Why can’t teachers post assignments right on the computer on emergency “stay at home” days? A well-planned schedule could allow a social studies teacher, for example, to teach a lesson online, followed by an English teacher handing out a reading and writing assignment. Students can participate online and submit work directly into an inbox as they currently do in many of their classes.

For the younger students, who do not have computers assigned to them, their assignments can be sent to their parents’ emails, the same way all schools now communicate directly to parents. A second-grade teacher, for example, can email a writing prompt that allows a student to write about the main character in the book they’re reading in class. They can read the next chapter in their assigned leveled book or, if they did not bring it home, another book that they have at home.

If having materials readily available at home is an issue, a teacher can have a prepared emergency packet in every student’s book bag ready to go for a stay-at-home day. Teachers have an emergency packet ready for the substitute teacher on days they call in sick. So why not one ready for students? It can be filled with a reading article, writing prompts, practice math problems and a nonfiction social studies or science article with vocabulary and comprehension questions. These materials can be completed and returned the next day for evaluation by the teachers.

Although teachers are paid for the days when they are told to stay home, they find their calendar extended in June to cover the mandatory 175 days a year of classes. The extended calendars are sometimes a problem for summer camps and for the many teachers and students who work over summer vacation. If teachers and students work on at-home days with evidence-based assignments, then there may not be a need to hold classes in the summer.

The teachers can also have professional development videos made available to them to watch at home. Faculty meetings, team meetings and departmental meetings can allot time to discuss these new ideas with staff after the snow day. Early-release days have always been too few for sufficient teacher training time, so why not use snow days as an opportunity to extend teacher learning? Teachers can also use online chats to work together on interdisciplinary projects. Staying home because of weather is not a reason for students or teachers to not make the most of an instructional day.

More and more adults work from home, charter schools are offering online education, colleges are offering online courses, professional development for teachers is available online — let’s get these kids online learning and not just playing. Working together we should be able to expand the range of higher-level, challenging assignments that can be completed independently at home, with parents, grandparents or in open day care facilities. There is too much to learn and too little time for kids to continue to miss days of instruction for snow, power outages, prank phone calls, flu season and real threats to their safety.

Mary Capobianco of Scarborough is a former teacher and school administrator.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: