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Randy Clemens

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The Case of the Abominable Snow Day

by Randy Clemens

When I think about my three years as a high school English teacher, a series of vivid snapshots replay in my memory. I recall the panic of experiencing my first day, the terror of witnessing and disbanding my first fight, the excitement of participating in a few good lessons, and the joy of watching my students mature and graduate. As my friends, family, and former students in the Washington D.C. area are experiencing Snowmageddon, I am remembering the wonderment of snow days (and regretting that I am not home).

As a student, my love affair with snow days began early and continues now. As a teacher, our relationship became muddled. Sometimes teachers, especially rookie teachers, need a break from the unrelenting blitzkrieg of lesson planning and grading. Snow days provide respite. They also cause unique problems.

During my first year, newscasters forecasted a storm to begin during the afternoon and continue overnight. I wandered around the classroom as my 11th grade students explicated passages from The Great Gatsby. I inevitably drifted towards the window, looking for clues of an incipient snow storm. The students noticed. One student exclaimed, “Mr. Clemens just as excited as us!” I was. The snow, along with the excitement, however, eventually melted. 

Teachers and students are obligated to a specific amount of days in school. The missed days are either subtracted from holidays, such as spring break, or added to the end of the year. The change in schedule is more than a minor inconvenience.

The short-term effects of snow days include re-teaching material and re-scheduling assignments. The long-term effects include  missed instructional time. Usually standardized tests, i.e. the district’s assessments and Advanced Placement tests, occur on a fixed timetable. While the number of school days attended stays the same, the make-up days often occur after the standardized tests. And because of the cultures present at many schools, the calendar of the student is set to the test cycle, not the school cycle, making the days in June a perfunctory and fruitless endeavor.

As technology becomes more prevalent inside and outside of the classroom, snow days will become less and less of a problem. Learning will not be as spatially dependent. I envision a scenario where students and a teacher interact via Google Wave, or a similar interface, drawing on and communicating through their iPads, or a similar mobile device. For now, however, numerous teachers and students have some changes to make to their schedules.

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