While inclement weather is rarely predictable in our part of the nation, reactions to it are as sure as the rising sun. After 46 years on the planet and 33 of those spent as either a student or teacher in schools, I can count on human beings to be steadfast in how they respond to Mother Nature’s fury. In fact, I have found that human patterns are so fixed in this area that they now constitute rules:
Rule 1. Thou shalt have snow before all other gods. Teachers and students start dreaming of snow days in August. It’s wrong, but it’s true. We should dream of power outages (we don’t have to make up cancelled days due to power outages), but we don’t.
Rule 2. Thou shalt make no actual progress on school work on a snow day. We all think we’ll use the snow day to “get ahead” or “catch up” on work. If you have children at home, forget it. Thou shalt play in the snow. Thou shalt make cocoa. Thou shalt make piles of cinnamon toast. This is all as it should be. We pay the piper on snow days by shaving days off of other breaks, so it’s a break. Spend it like one.
Rule 3. Thou shalt take one’s school superintendent’s name in vain. In perhaps another example of the trenches mentality among educators that I mentioned last week, citizens tend to think that the road conditions outside their personal window are the only road conditions in play. They don’t realize that some parts of their district received more or less precipitation than they did, that some parts of their district are more or less remote than their parts are, that some parts of their district have been plowed sooner or later than theirs have been. If we close when the malcontent doesn’t want us to close, he or she will wax nostalgic about his or her childhood in Antarctica, where they never closed schools for snow. If we don’t close when the malcontent wants us to close, then the superintendent of schools is a soulless miscreant who hates children and pokes kittens with fire batons. Which people fall into these two categories changes from day to day and, sometimes, hour to hour.
Rule 4. Thou shalt remember the snow day superstitions and keep them holy. If you don’t have lesson plans ready for the next day, you will not get a snow day. If you are showered, dressed, have packed lunches, and have everything ready for class down to the laminated cut-outs of student names for a cooperative learning activity that you’re super excited about, closure will come.
Rule 5. Thou shalt not honor thy neighbor’s job by shutting up about one’s own. When teachers complain openly on social media about having to go back to school after a snow day (or, worse, after several snow days in a row), they show a profound insensitivity to people in jobs where snow days rarely or never happen (i.e., almost every other job). I am always embarrassed by this and wish my colleagues would shut their ungrateful gobs.
Rule 6. Thou shalt become murderous on two-hour delay days. At 5:00 in the morning, a two-hour delay feels right. It feels leisurely. It feels like a break. It is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. You will come to work distracted and off your game, and students come in angry that they didn’t get the entire day off. If everyone survives the day, pat yourselves on the back.
Rule 7. Thou shalt psychologically commit to a school closure before its time. Here is the scenario for the perfect school closing: Snow falls Wednesday night. The forecasted levels are so severe that the closing call comes on Wednesday night, allowing one to sleep in on Thursday. The call cancels schools for both days: 4-day weekend! Such a phenomenon actually happens every several years, which has unfortunately set this as the standard for all closure days. School superintendents are expected not only to make these difficult decisions regarding opening and closure under intense public scrutiny but are also expected to have winter weather crystal balls before anything actually happens. I never want to be a school superintendent. They can’t win.
Rule 8. Thou shalt not deal with the reality of make-up days. The school calendar lists the potential snow make-up days for the entire year before the school year even begins. These days usually are highlighted in some undeniably large, graphically illustrated way on the heavily distributed calendar, and yet people still make airline reservations on those days as if they are regular vacation days. College-educated people make airline reservations on those days (and they clearly do not understand that merely by booking a flight on those days that they have guaranteed they will lose those days to snow, even though EVERYBODY KNOWS THIS [see Rule 4]). This phenomenon demonstrates that a college education is no vaccine against stupidity.
Rule 9. Thou shalt covet other county’s snow days. If our county is sunny with temps in the 70s but the neighboring county closes because it has a wintry mix and temps in the teens, our folks in swimsuits and flip-flops will cry foul. I can’t explain this.
Rule 10. Thou shalt bear false witness by helping to spread delay/closure rumors on social media. Typically closure rumors will start a week before any weather event is likely to occur. This is the Curse of the Long-Range Forecast, and it always disappoints. I ignore all long-range forecasts. My wedding day taught me that.
In the end, teachers have a job that gives us the occasional, unexpected day off. Enjoy it when it happens, folks, and when it doesn’t--for the love of God--let it go.