Well, a lot of teachers got Tuesday off as schools are increasingly closing on election day to make it easier to operate as polling places. But, as Ed Week reports here and here, teacher absenteeism is a larger issue than that. I get the idea that different policies can influence consumption of sick leave and so forth and those are issues worth considering. Still, aren’t there larger issue here?
Teachers get very frustrated that they end up spending their Saturdays doing the things that other workers get to do during the week. They can’t take lunches with friends for 9 or 10 months of the year. It’s hard to take a morning, or an afternoon, for personal issue. And even trips to the doctor become a logistical hassle.
Of course, when you’re thinking about schools there is a basic custodial function that matters. At a lot of jobs if you show up late it’s not that big of a deal. If you’re a first-grade teacher, it’s a big deal…
Yet shouldn’t we be having a bigger conversation about how to organize schools so that teachers have more discretionary time both for personal issues but also to collaborate together and so forth around the work? We could address some lifestyle issues that matter while also addressing the larger absenteeism issue through creative use of schedules and other ideas in that vein. Someone has to be with the kids at all times, but we can be a lot more creative about who that person is in a way that makes schools a more attractive place to work for the key members of our labor force — teachers. One school I’m aware of uses a concierge to help teachers with basic life maintenance issues to free up their time. Sounds gratuitous but is actually a really smart way to look after your people and one that is not uncommon in some other fields. Other places are experimenting with schedules.
Coupled with sensible policies on leave seems we need a lot more ideas in that spirit.