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I Get 'Snow Emotional'

Snow days have a big impact on the psyches of educators and students.

By Kathy Sydnor

“It’s snowing outside!” Few sentences evoke a wider range of emotions—both positive and negative—than does this one. A sentence almost equally powerful in creating feelings is “The weatherman is calling for snow!” Especially for educators, the possibility of a snow day calls forth a scale of extremely intense reactions.

Students, too, seem to run a similar gamut of emotions—judging by their more childlike, less inhibited sharing of their responses. For example, we teachers hesitantly discuss this important subject and politely try to restrain our enthusiasm—almost as if such deference and courtesy will appease the ambiguous, mythical “they” who make the forecasts and “they” who decide school closings. Students, however, declare with absolute assurance and glee, “No school tomorrow! They said it’s going to snow! They’re going to have to close schools!” Certainly, it’s a teachable moment—an opportunity for a mini-grammar lesson on pronoun references, but who can concentrate on the antecedent of “they” when flakes are dancing across the screen depicting the Doppler radar?

Even retired teachers (like me) never outgrow this instinctive flood of emotions. No matter how little we retirees can actually benefit from an early dismissal, delayed opening, or day (or more) of schools closed, we watch the weather just as avidly as active educators. We still respond to some inner clock that tells us to get up before dawn on those special mornings, turn on the radio or TV, and huddle vicariously with all of our colleagues who are straining to hear those wonderful words:  “______ County/City Schools: closed.”

As snow season is upon us, I’d like to acknowledge two of these typical feelings:  excitement (“It’s finally snowing!”) and disappointment (“If it snows on a weekend, we’ll need a freak blizzard for Monday to be affected”). Let’s also take a closer look at some of the other good and not-so-good reactions that this weather phenomenon engenders.

Foremost among evoked emotions is hopefulness. Even the most pessimistic person has to give in to the pressure of positivity when snow is in the future. Maybe it’s a barometric thing, but spirits literally rise when we admit that it could snow!

Excitement, as noted earlier, is another reaction. While most teachers try to keep from being distracted by their own optimism and also try to keep students from losing focus as the youngsters sit before them aglow in snow hope, many educators do fall prey to the potency of possibility. And so they should, for aren’t teachers always talking and writing about potential—of a student, of a lesson plan, of a new approach or advocate? Possibility, potential, optimism and excitement are all typical teacher topics.

Closely connected to excitement is anticipation. Snowflakes drifting from the sky—like manna from heaven—are even better than Heinz’s slow ketchup at creating this feeling. In anticipation, we stay up late and watch The Weather Channel, even if it’s not usually among our favorite TV choices. In extreme cases, we stay up way past our normal bedtimes, even all night if necessary, to scan the edges of the TV screen for scrolling announcements of delays or closings.

This commonly felt anticipation creates a shared closeness. On days when snow is in the air, both verbally and meteorologically, a special, oddly energizing vibe runs through an entire school. Almost any person, given hope and excitement, is a little more pleasant. Camaraderie develops out of the mutual longing to get out for snow. Unity ensues. No matter the department, role, seniority status, or level of acquaintance with the co-worker, all have something in common (besides school issues) on those days. The basic reaction to the possibility of snow reminds us that, beneath our different philosophies and experiences, we’re all human.
And in those moments of shared, weighty weather talk, we admit to our secretiveness. Many have surreptitiously checked the latest weather report, and—in lowered voices—we communicate the updates to our colleagues. Now we have become co-conspirators! Back when computers weren’t readily or widely accessible, some covert operatives would make excuses to visit the library or any site of a working TV. Ah—weather intel to share (in a whisper)!
We should also probably acknowledge our superstitiousness. Who hasn’t done a snow dance, worn pajamas inside out, or (heaven forbid!) tried both? Repetition was my approach. Many times would I mutter my mantra, “Please let it snow!”
Now comes the most magnificent emotion of them all: ecstasy. The sheer joy of hearing a  P. A. announcement of an early dismissal is beyond belief! Students’ cheers usually drown out the rest of the statement. Teachers try in vain to hear the remaining important comments; they may become a little annoyed. However, secretly we too may want to yell or jump up and down like maniacs. But we must set good examples for students, for it is a tad inappropriate to appear so deliriously happy about delaying education.
But we have our reasons! The overwhelming happiness that erupts at the declaration of a snow day is produced partly by teachers’ constant need for a little break. Everyone appreciates a surprise day off—a little unplanned holiday, a very mini-vacation, but teachers in particular are always in need of more time to do everything that needs to be done. The relaxation granted by any snow relief is a true gift. Also true is that much of the now-not-at-school time will probably still be filled with school-related tasks. Since teachers work many hours beyond the scheduled ones, they’ll continue to work even when school is technically not in session—i.e., a snow day.  At least they can do so under more personally chosen conditions on such a day. Indeed, nature itself recognizes the justice of these arguments. Snow is our vindication.
To the powers-that-be, both nature and official school decision-makers, we feel gratitude. Even to the people and forces that have no real part in making a snow day happen, we are thankful. In fact, on those mornings when the radio personalities cheerfully announced that schools were closed in my system, I could have said with heartfelt sincerity those three little words that have even more impact than the three at the beginning of this article! 
On the other hand, when schools are not closed, delayed or dismissed, we experience another extreme of emotion mentioned previously: disappointment. This feeling is especially keen when multiple days off occur. Indulging in hope, we turn to our chosen media source for the pronouncement but often find we must deal with disappointment. We also confront this sadness when snow falls on an already scheduled school holiday or a weekend. We certainly encounter it on those times when forecasted snow doesn’t amount to anything and we go to school a full day. Consequently, we learn to cope.
While learning to handle being “snow disappointed,” we may also give in to (hopefully only a little) jealousy. When surrounding school systems announce their decisions early, we complain about why our system hasn’t done the same. When nearby systems decide to delay or close and our system doesn’t, we dwell on what they did and we didn’t. The dark side creeps in. As with the positive effect of unity, we experience the negative effect of envy.
In a milder form comes frustration. Out of dissatisfaction, we bombard the radio, TV, anyone who will listen and even those who won’t with the questions, “When will (the ambiguously referenced) they announce?” and, once the announcement is made, “What are (the ambiguously referenced) they thinking?”
Still on the not-so-positive side of the “emotion-o-meter” is anxiety. Sometimes part of our frustration stems from concern that the school-closing-or-not decision will cause problems, even safety issues. We worry whether the buses can transport students home safely and whether we can drive home safely. We worry whether the statement about school cancellation, delay or early dismissal is made in time to ensure as much safety as possible. We’re apprehensive, uneasy and probably a little unpleasant.
If our worrying is left unchecked or unanswered, we devolve into fear. Here, we have serious concerns about getting to school intact, much less getting there by the required time. Very unpleasant memories of driving in snow haunted me when I honestly disagreed with an official pronouncement. Although those in charge always did and do their best when deciding, I’ll admit that a few times I have been as completely afraid as I have been euphoric. 
Accompanying that feeling of fear is the ultimate relief felt upon safe arrival at home or at school. The tensed, exhausting driving position is released, and we feel exponentially better upon failure to hear news of others’ accidents or harm. Yes, relief is a great . . . relief.
Two more emotions are closely associated with snow and snow days, too. First is surprise; probably an element of hopefulness, it definitely enhances relaxation. The entire premise of snow events is that they are not 100 percent certain. Nature decides when to throw teachers a surprise party by spreading a white cloth over yards and roads and, well, everything for us to discover one morning. Occasionally, additional surprises follow the first one—for example, the cancellation of semester exams. Of course, in some school systems, a not-so-pleasant “surprise” requires snow make-up days. That takes us back to disappointment and dealing with things that don’t turn out as anticipated.
Finally, let’s not forget amazement. It’s hard to believe that snow and snow days can cause such a gamut of emotional responses. Snow is quite natural; yet, it is quite unpredictable, and we cannot control it. Snow days are times that we can “control” since people decide whether or not to have school. That these two phenomena produce so much angst and awe is astonishing.
Quite possibly, amazement may also be the reaction that another specific group of people may have to my descriptions of how snow affects us educators. I dare say that parents may provide entirely different supporting details for some of these very same feelings. Therefore, perhaps it would be helpful for us all—educators, students and parents—to agree upon an emotion to get us through snowy times. That feeling could be the one already recognized as a constructive consequence of disappointment: acceptance.  Ultimately, we all just need to “go with the . . . snow”!

Sydnor is a retired lifetime member of the NEA and VEA.  She was a member of the King George Education Association for her entire 31-year teaching career.

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