… just waiting for it to start snowing. Already, UMBC has cancelled its first day of classes; no matter for me, really, as I am on sabbatical, and already every day feels a little bit like a snow day: lucky, open, forgiving, tinged in the evenings with that little bit of dread at the thought of a return to normal. But it’s not technically a sabbatical until everyone else has to show up for things that I don’t, so I guess that means Monday for me will be a combination sabbatical snow day, which still feels like something even if the fact of the sabbatical diminishes the reward of the snow day.
Not long ago I was chatting with a colleague who said he found snow days incredibly frustrating, that he resented their interruption of his classes and the rhythm of the semester. If his students have assignments due on a day when classes are cancelled, he still expects them to submit the work electronically and on time. For future snow days, he says, he is thinking about experimenting with ways to convene class online. I admired his dedication, but something about the conversation made me sad.
Sad in the same way that I feel sad when I hear academics say they never take days off or humblebrag about their 80-hour workweeks, the same way I feel when I get emails timestamped from the very wee hours or on weekend evenings. In those instances, it’s a sadness overlaid with writing guilt, which spills into annoyance, which gets tangled with compassion (which I suppose allows me to offset the writing guilt by feeling superior) for them, for their families, their pets, their bodies, their friends. It’s a rich text.
The snow day is an assertion that there is something bigger than my priorities, my ego, my expectations. To be an adult is to be reminded, daily, that the world is almost entirely unconcerned with these things, and most of those reminders are unpleasant at a minimum. But the snow day delivers a reminder in a different, gentler form: it takes the shape of a reprieve (of course, I have the supreme luxuries of a job that will pay me anyway, and a house that will keep me warm so I can simply take it.)
None of this is to say I don’t work on snow days. I do, but less than usual and with a sense of relief, gratitude even. And sometimes that little perceptual shift is enough to make the day feel really different. If possible, I try to reapportion snow days for my own work, reading and thinking and writing.
But beyond the pleasure of a break from grading and class prep, I think there is a pedagogical value for students in snow days as well. Doubtless, administrators would prefer that we find some creative way to teach despite the circumstances, but beyond communicating with my students about how we’ll adapt to the change in plans, I don’t. I let them have their snow day.
More than anything, I want to cultivate curiosity in my students, and curiosity requires an openness to the world, a divestment of their expectations, a relinquishment of their position at the center of the universe, an awareness and a willingness to be surprised, and sometimes even derailed. Snow days, I think, reinforce these lessons.
Surely, the routinization of crisis under neoliberalism can have a similar effect, and some of my students probably don’t need much education about precarity, because they live it. All the more reason, then, to give them the day off.