Like many school districts in the US, we had a "cold day" today. Not nearly as magical as a snow day since it lacked the beautiful white blanket that seems to whisper "stay in bed, don't do anything taxing" to teachers, but the results were the same. A surprise day off to fill at our leisure- either to catch up on work or to catch up on rest. I used the day to catch up on work and spent many hours in the warm school building trying to work through IEP paperwork that I should have completed over br
The last time we had a day when we were off because it was too cold I was in my second year of teaching. My roommates and I decided the best place we should live as 20 somethings in the big city would be in one of the sketchier parts of DC. It was "up and coming" we told ourselves. (10 years later it still has not "come up"). The house was a gorgeous row house that was over 100 years old with four fire places. In addition to the safety concerns we faced living there we also discovered that once winter hit we had no heat. Our landlords ignored our attempts to contact them, or told us that we were asking too much from a house that old and that we should have known better when we rented it. (The fire places had no flu- when it snowed that winter the snow piled up inside. But a flu was expecting too much).
It was COLD. So cold that if you opened the refrigerator you felt no change between the inside of the fridge and the kitchen. We slept in our gloves, hats and winter coats. We had elaborate routines developed to avoid being home at all except at night. Five blocks away was a coffee shop/bar/Ska concert hall. We'd sit there until closing time, watching the teenage guys in kilts and trying to blend into the background so no one would notice we had been sipping one cup of coffee for three hours and were not a part of the concert crowd. We had colds and sicknesses we couldn't shake. A doctor gave me a long lecture on the need to get heat and take care of myself. I tried to explain the ins and outs of breaking a lease and relying on a landlord but she told me she couldn't treat me if I wasn't committed to staying warm and healthy. (Ten years between that January and this one I can see the doctor's perspective. But at the time, when all my roommates and I were doing were trying to stay warm we'd somehow lost our ability to problem solve and use logic. It's amazing how much of your common sense you lose when you are putting so much of your energy into surviving).
You can only imagine the sadness I felt when they closed school one day because it was too cold. Too cold?!? I was too cold in my own house- I had to go to school to stay warm! I needed to go to school that day. For maybe the only time in my career as a teacher I was sad to have a day off. Of course, I had a car and so I was capable of going in to work, driving to coffee shops and finding other warm hiding places to spend the day.
As crazy as that time was, it is an experience I value because it gave me a completely different perspective- a perspective that I imagine many of my children and their families face. What if a day off from school because it's too cold means that you are actually stuck in your house that doesn't have heat? What if it means you won't eat because you rely on school for your breakfast and lunch? Sometimes we forget just what a haven our schools are for our neediest students.
As I sat in my warm office this morning getting my paperwork done in peace and quiet my mind kept wandering back to that beautiful, cold row house and my students who may be in similar situations. I hope that none of my students faced that today, and if they did I hope they were able to find a warm place to go since school was closed. It certainly gave the day off a different perspective.