Chills and thrills

20th February 2015 at 00:00

I'm not a great fan of the song, but right now I'm absolutely with Dean Martin when he croons "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow". Any time in the next week or two would do nicely. Just one day off for snow, that's all I want.

Don't get me wrong: I love my job. I enjoy my school and am happy to put in just as many ridiculous extra hours as the next teacher. Yet in this rather dreary period of the school year, I do find myself checking the BBC Weather website rather more often than I should. The regularity of my hits suggests an anxious trawlerman or farmer rather than a hopeful humanities teacher.

But this scrutiny means I now have a highly developed feeling for snow and non-snow - at least when it comes to the language used. Adjectives such as "mild", "wet" and "windy" are plainly of no use to us. The ambiguous "wintry showers" offers a bit more hope but, in my experience, usually disappoints. "Snow on higher ground" is another teaser. Likewise, "flurries" are never enough, nor the similarly frustrating "dusting".

In fact, I have started to get quite cross with the weather this winter. In recent years I have come to see the snow day as the last remaining perk for teachers now that the pension's buggered. Last year was the only winter I have been denied it in recent memory, although I am beginning to fear that this year might be another case to take to the court in Strasbourg.

When it does snow, it is always a wonderful day. It starts with a rare tuning in to the local radio station, where the usual fare of Shakin' Stevens and Phil Collins is interrupted - wonderfully - with the name of our school among the list of closures. Then it's snowballs, snowmen and sledging with the children, followed by a rare chance to sit at home with biscuits and a pot of steaming coffee and to break the back of that enormous heap of controlled assessment marking.

This year's "nearly-snow days", however, are quite different - they are possibly the least enjoyable of days. "Sleet days" are a particular menace. Sleet merely raises students' hopes when they see it plopping down pathetically outside the classroom window. Some of them yelp "It's snowing!", but those of us with more experienced eyes know it's just a pale, ephemeral imitation. All sleet ever does is make our classes overexcited but without the pay-off of closing the school.

So far this winter we have only had sleet and one day of "dusting". On the dusting morning, I overheard optimistic students - refusing to be deterred by the fact that it had already stopped snowing at this point - telling tales of forthcoming Arctic storms and blizzards. They saw no point in doing any work at all as we were bound to be sent home soon, before the rumoured "thunder-snow" arrived.

Instead, more temperate weather took over once again and the day ended on an all-round note of damp and grey.

The pupils plainly feel the pain even more than I do.

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire

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