Granted, there are teachers who don’t love snow days. There are also teachers who have no souls, but most teachers I know still revel in the crack-in-time loophole called a “snow day.”
One night about a month ago, I discovered myself in line at the Dollar General behind two local teachers. Even though I teach in a neighboring county, the entire region was under the gun for a pounding snow storm, and all three of us were giddy with the possibilities. We excitedly compared metrological reports and wondered aloud when The Call would come.
“I don’t understand you teachers,” the guy behind the counter, who is also the owner, said. “Why in the world would you want a day off in the middle of the winter when you can’t do anything and can’t go anywhere instead of having a day off in the summer when it’s sunny outside and you can do stuff?”
We three teachers looked at each other and shook our heads. How can anyone else know that the “We regret to inform you school has been cancelled” phone call is still the best sound in the world right behind babies laughing and puppies snuffling your ear? It would have been too hard to stand there in the Dollar General and explain, but let me attempt to here:
- Teachers’ days are not like yours. I don’t care what you do, your day is not as relentless as a teacher’s. Can you urinate when you feel the urge? Do you have more than 22 minutes to eat lunch? Do you have 32 clients—some of whom are openly hostile— staring you in the face at 8 am? Then, don’t even. Unless maybe you’re an ER nurse and you are solely responsible for 32 patients (some critical, some scared, some neurotic) non-stop for 8 hours, during which time, you are on your feet, thinking, answering questions, making split-second decisions, talking, giving directions (the same ones, over and over). And then when your shift is over, you have a few patients that still need more attention, and you stay, even though you aren’t being paid for it, and when you finally go home – sometimes two, sometimes three hours after your shift is over—you still have at least two hours of phone calls and paperwork to do. Maybe that. Maybe then you’d understand why a snow day in the middle of a week is such a freaking delight.
- The operative words are: can’t do anything/can’t go anywhere. The Dollar General owner unwittingly answered his own puzzlement. Teachers love snow days because there’s nothing to do and nowhere to go. An unexpected day off is the divine gift of time that rings your doorbell in the morning and says, “Hello! Nothing is on the calendar.” Sleep, read, Pinterest, paint, cook, work puzzles, play with your kids, completely waste time. Some resourceful teachers get caught up on laundry or grading. I don’t personally understand those people, and they are dangerously close to having no soul, but still… they have a day in which to do all the things that are normally left undone in the frenzy of a school week.
- Snow days are nostalgic. When I woke up this morning with almost a foot of snow on the ground and it snowing so hard I could barely see the houses down the street, the crushingly beautiful spectacle was a reminder of a time when these days were deliriously celebrated and revered. This day brings back memories of being bound up in 72 layers of clothes and trundled out on our farm where my brothers, sisters, and I sledded and tunneled and forted and snowmanned. When our faces froze off, we stumbled back inside, and Mom made real cocoa in a thick saucepan, and we ate fried bologna and draped our wet clothes over the furnace registers. And then someone broke out the Monopoly game or Pinochle cards or the plastic bowling pins and ball that we hurled down the hall. These were moments of love and belonging and safety. Snow days are time machines to enter those sweeter, simpler moments.
- No one is promised tomorrow. Teachers, of all people, understand this. We live our life in divisions of time – a class period is 52 minutes; a unit lasts six weeks; a semester lasts 14; a year is 175 days. 9 months teaching, 3 months learning, 55/27 until retirement. We know how to make the most out of a teachable moment because we know the next day or the next week that moment will be gone. It’s the same thing with snow days. A meteor might strike the earth tomorrow. Summer may never show up, but today— oh glorious, magical Today—is here and ready and waiting for us, yawning out, unspoiled and full of potential. Something beautiful will most likely be waiting for us in the summer as well, but today, to paraphrase Annie Dillard’s advice, we will spend it all, shoot it, play it, all, right away, every time.