LEARN NC was a program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education from 1997 – 2013. It provided lesson plans, professional development, and innovative web resources to support teachers, build community, and improve K-12 education in North Carolina. Learn NC is no longer supported by the School of Education – this is a historical archive of their website.

Remember snow days as a kid? Waking up in the morning, seeing the powdery white stuff outside and running to the television or radio to find out if the list of school closings included your school’s name?

Well, as a teacher, I learned to look at that list a little more closely. Because sometimes, when my school’s name appeared, it would be followed by a hyphen and the words “teacher workday.”

Initially, I assumed that “teacher workday” was my cue to immediately strap on my boots and warm up my car. On one snowy day early in my teaching career, I did exactly that. By 6:45 am, I was pulling into the school parking lot. It made sense to me. 7 am was the time teachers were normally required to sign in.

But by 7:30, there was only one other car in the parking lot — the car of another new teacher. None of the veterans showed up until well after nine-thirty, and many of them never arrived.

A little research into my school’s official policy, and a little insight into the unofficial practices everyone seemed to adopt, revealed that snow days at our school had very loose requirements. Although my district insisted that its schools label all snow days as teacher workdays, and that those labels be posted on all television and radio stations, in reality that simply meant that teachers would be required to “somehow” make up those seven hours of missed time. We could come in on a Saturday (if the building was open) or stay late on a few regular school days (something I was already doing anyway and simply needed to document). I learned that even if I did decide to come in on the actual snow day, the building would never be opened before nine.

Know your school’s policies!

I don’t know what your school’s policies are, but I do know that it is worth looking into before that first snow falls. I spent a very cold morning on dangerous roads because I wanted to meet my administrators’ expectations for an unanticipated workday. Only later did I realize that I had never really asked what their expectations were.

So ask how snow days work at your school. What television or radio stations will announce your school’s closing? If those stations post a teacher workday, what does that mean? Is there a specific number you should call to let someone know that you can’t make it in for a “mandatory” workday if the roads near your house are too risky for travel? Remember that, regardless of administrative expectations, safety should be your primary concern.

Finally, ask if there is ever a time when all of the rules get thrown out the window. I once worked in a school that used a phone tree to inform teachers about the expectations for snow days. The rule was that we should assume that every snow day was a teacher workday, with required attendance by faculty and staff, unless we received a call from someone in the administration by 7 am. One night, this school received a ten-inch snowy blanket. Everyone who worked in the school, which was located in a southern state, was completely shocked and overwhelmed by the snow. Having grown up in a similar area, I knew that the town would be completely immobilized. The administrators, deciding that the impossibility of travel would be obvious to everyone, decided to cancel the workday without actually making the calls.

That would have been fine, except for the two new teachers who had just moved to our town from Alaska. When they received no phone call by 7 am, they assumed their attendance at school was required. To them, the roads seemed completely navigable. While the rest of us were sleeping, reassured by visions of a snowy school parking lot and locked doors to the building, they were putting on the snow chains and starting their commute!

So new teachers, check your school policies, and veterans, don’t forget to keep those new teachers notified. Everyone, stay safe if you’re out in snowy weather. And if you don’t feel comfortable on the roads, regardless of your school’s policy, know it is ok to call and let someone know you simply can’t make it. Don’t risk your safety by making a dangerous drive.