Teaching in hot classrooms
CH-UH schools opened on Aug. 20 this year, earlier than the traditional opening days I remembered from the past. Then our elementary and middle schools, along with dozens of schools throughout the state, cancelled classes because of extreme heat. You might say that closing the schools had nothing to do with the early starting date, but, in my opinion, staff and students in those buildings were already pretty worn out from extreme late-August temperatures, even before the Labor Day weekend heat wave hit. Our schools had never before called off classes because of heat, as far as I know.
Some people still may not understand what it’s like to teach students when the temperature in your classroom is in the 90s. One of our fine music teachers, Jenna Hall Tucker, posted some great responses to people who don’t get it. I will paraphrase some of them here.
- Being in a stifling hot room with 25–30 little people is different from laying outside on a lawn chair. Start with [the lack of] air movement, unless the fan you brought into school is blowing hot air around.
- In the past, we may have endured a day here and there when it was hot, not an extended period of days where the oven-like buildings where we teach soak up heat.
- Climate change data shows that our weather is hotter than it was in the “good old days.” Using the “I survived through crappy conditions, and so should you” model is not inspiring to anyone, least of all to children. That is similar to the “I have lousy health insurance, so should you” mentality that teachers hear during negotiations from people in the community who are upset about school funding.
- If students are miserable for a good portion of the beginning of school, it sets a bad tone for the rest of the year. The first weeks of school are important.
- People who believe that “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” need to understand that it does not work well with children whose trust we must earn. Children should know that caring adults who are responsible for their safety, well-being, and education are responsible enough to prevent them from suffering needlessly.
I read many similar posts, but Jenna’s captured the most logical thinking for me. It is also interesting to note that the state requires elementary, middle and high schools to meet a specific number of hours per year. A few years ago, the state changed from counting days of school to hours of instruction.
Luckily, our elementary and middle schools have a buffer in terms of hours required by the state. In fact, our elementary schools exceed the state minimum hours of instruction by well over 100 hours per year. Our middle schools exceed the state minimums by at least 45 hours. The high school has a buffer of only 23 hours per year. So, it is unlikely that the elementary and middle schools closed for the extreme heat will be required to make up hours of instruction before the end of the school year, unless our winter is horrific.
Closing school is a difficult decision. Some parents have to scramble to arrange childcare while others may end up taking time off work. These are inconveniences that negatively affect many families. I believe the administration made the right call when it cancelled school during the recent heat wave. Staff and students had been struggling before Labor Day as well, which would not have occurred if all of our schools had air conditioning. After the middle school renovations this year, there will be only five schools without air conditioning. In the future, we should invest in updating those schools, but this will be impossible without another bond issue. So goes life in public schools without adequate state and federal funding.
Ari Klein is a lifelong community member, math teacher at Cleveland Heights High School, and president of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union.