What's the Forecast?
Fear of indoor recess turns teachers into weather watchers.
By Linwood Barclay

Nearly e v e r y n i g ht , Sunday through Thursday, my wife,the kindergarten teacher, asks me what the weather’s going to be for the next day.

She just assumes that I’ll know. Perhaps she’s under the impression that I’m employed by The Weather Network. Or the meteorological division of Environment Canada. Maybe she thinks I’m that oh-so-friendly weather guy on the six o’clock news who looks as though he wouldn’t stop smiling even if you dropped him into the middle of a tsunami.

It’s very important to her to know what the following day is going to bring. At first I thought this had everything to do with wardrobe selection. The females in this house - hold generally put a lot of time and thought into what they will wear the next day, while the guys are more likely to get up in the morning and ask themselves, upon picking up a shirt, “Does that stain fall within the tuck-in range?”

At first I thought my wife wanted to know about temperature. If it’s a hot day, she’ll dress to stay cool. If tomorrow’s going to be cold, she’ll dress to stay warm. That kind of thing.

But this fascination with the forecast turns out to have less to do with temperature and wardrobe, and more to do with precipitation and steeling oneself for the day that is to come.

This is what I have learned from teachers. The only two words that scare them more than “full moon” are “indoor recess.”

I’ve never been a teacher, so for as long as I can remember, whenever presented with news that it’s going to rain tomorrow, I’ve responded with something along the lines of: “Oh well. I guess I won’t wash the car.”

But when a teacher, especially an elementary teacher, knows that it’s going to rain tomorrow, she says, “Oh no.” She is overwhelmed with a sense of danger and foreboding. Doom, if you will.

There are a number of professions where you would expect a preoccupation with the weather.

Airline pilots come to mind. When you’re flying a plane, you need to know if you’re flying into a bad storm. Will you be able to take off and land on schedule? Will you be diverted from your destination because the airport’s been closed by a blinding snowstorm? Will there be tailwinds that get you where you’re going in record time, or will you be flying into the wind and be delayed?

If your work takes you out onto the high seas, it’s worth your life to know the forecast. Anyone who’s read or sat through The Perfect Storm can understand how a boatload of fishermen would like to know whether there’s a really big wave coming their way. (Whether their captain acts on this information is another thing altogether.)

And who cares more about the next day’s weather than your mail carrier? Or traffic cops? Landscapers? Ski resort operators?

If I were a Family Feud contestant (something I don’t want to think about for too long) and the question was to name professions most concerned about the weather, these are the folks that would come to mind first. You would never hear the host say, “Survey says: Teachers!” But now I know better.

Since I don’t have a leg that aches when bad weather’s approaching, I turn on the radio or TV to get brought up to speed. As soon as I know anything, I pass this information on to my wife.

“Showers,” I say.

Like, intermittent showers? The odd shower? A mere chance of showers?”

“All they said was showers.”

This is never enough information for a teacher. A teacher is looking for a more detailed forecast. For example, will there be rain from 10:30 to 10:45 a.m., or 2:30 to 2:45 p.m.? Non-teachers think that it’s only NASA—looking for windows in which to launch space shuttles—that needs forecasts this specific.

I remember, when my daughter was in Grade 2, she came home one stormy day and reported that she’d had an indoor recess that morning. The principal made an announcement around 10 a.m. to inform staff and students that the children would not be going out when the bell rang in half an hour.

My daughter was baffled by the reaction this produced in her teacher. “She slowly put her head on the desk and left it there.” It’s a powerful image of despair that sticks with me years later.

The thing is, I remember loving indoor recess as a kid. While it was always a nice break to head out to the playground to run around or play some ball or trade sports cards, an unexpected indoor recess was a novelty, a change in the routine.

This was an opportunity to actually be in the classroom, but not do classroom-related things.

You could talk as loud as you wanted to your friends, dig out a board game, use the blackboard for hangman or tic-tac-toe instead of long division or parsing a sentence. You could goof around, maybe roughhouse a little. Knock the desks about. Play tag. Pull somebody’s hair. Pinch someone. Make armpit noises.

In short, it was a chance to bring about the fall of civilization, inside.

Not once did it occur to me that this was not as much fun for the teacher as it was for the rest of us.

Children in a classroom are like highly volatile gases kept under pressure. Unless some of that pressure is allowed to be released periodically, you run the risk of a horrible explosion. Recess was the safety valve invented by schoolmasters long ago to allow some of that pressure to be released. The more widely these gases were allowed to disperse, as in a schoolyard, the less likelihood there was of a catastrophe. (If you find some of these scientific analogies wanting, you should know I failed chemistry.)

As I’ve had it explained to me by people working in the teaching profession, it’s not that indoor recesses rob you of a much-needed break. The fact is, many teachers spend recess patrolling the playground, or monitoring halls, or making calls home to a parent, or preparing for a lesson that immediately follows recess. They wouldn’t have had a break anyway.

The problem is that pent-up energy. How do you get students to concentrate when every molecule in their bodies is screaming to be taken for a run around the block?

In some ways, I don’t get it. If I were a teacher of very young children, and it was a snowy day, I think I’d prefer an indoor recess. It seems so much better than the alternative, which is easier to explain by way of a schedule:

10:24: Tell class of 30 that morning recess is in six minutes, it’s time to put away their things and get ready.

10:25: Tell class of 30 recess is now in five minutes, and it’s REALLY time to put away their things and get ready.

10:26: Herd class of 30 toward back of classroom, tell them to put on their snowpants, boots, coats, mitts, hats, and scarves.

10:27: Remind several of the children that the whole process goes better if the snowpants go on BEFORE the boots.

10:28: Deal with first of 30 requests to do up zippers.

10:29: Deal with first of 30 requests to find missing mittens.

10:30: Bell signals beginning of recess.

10:31: Thirty children, all missing various items of snowpants, boots, coats, mitts, hats, and scarves, with zippers undone and boots unbuckled, flock to the door, bouncing off each other like they’ve all deployed their air bags.

10:32: No one’s leaving, you say, until everyone’s dressed PROPERLY, and that means zippers done up right to the top. One child, who is so well bundled into his snowsuit that he looks like he could do an ad for radial tires, announces that he has to go to the bathroom.

10:33: Another child runs into technical difficulties. You lean in close, struggling with a jammed zipper. You put everything you’ve got into it, and the zipper suddenly breaks free, zooming upward, and catching your nose. (This actually happened to a friend of mine.)

10:34: You ask your most responsible student to go to the office for help to get your nose disentangled from the child’s jacket.

10:35-10:39: A team consisting of the principal, vice-principal, the janitor and a bus driver works to free your nose.

10:40: Kids are released into the yard for recess.

10:41: Fifteen come back in, say it’s too cold.

10:42: Office buzzes your room, asks why you’re not on yard duty.

10:43: You put on your own boots, jacket, mitts and scarf and go outside.

10:44: You walk about the yard. It’s so nice to get a breath of fresh air.

10:45: Bell rings signalling end of recess. Repeat in the afternoon. Of course, recess may not be the only reason why an educator is interested in the weather.

There are fun fairs, field days, soccer matches, walkathons and dozens of other school events that can succeed or fail based on the whims of Mother Narure. Nature. How many principals have watched the skies, right up to the last minute, wondering whether an evening fundraiser can go ahead or not?

The only ones who might care more than teachers about the weather, and its effect on schools, are the students. Certainly when it comes to the possibility of snow days. The hope that, someday,

just maybe, there will be a storm so crippling that it forces the schools to shut down is the only thing that gets many kids through the winter.

My kids never give up the dream of a snow day. One recent morning I went into my daughter’s room to get her up, and mentioned to her that it was a pretty rotten day outside.

“Is it a snow day?” she asked, bleary eyed under her comforter. “Are the schools closed?”

“I don’t think so, honey,” I said. “It’s June.”

On a snowy day, teachers monitor the morning radio broadcasts as closely as students, wondering whether a storm will be deemed serious enoug to keep them home. I wouldn’t want to

suggest for a moment that there are any teachers out there who aren’t dedicated to their profession 100 per cent, but I have seen some come close to tears upon hearing the words: “The buses are cancelled, but the schools are open.”

To come so close, and have your dreams dashed. It is a terrible thing.

Here’s my three-pronged plan to deal with this whole situation:

The Teacher’s Weather Channel: A 24-hour forecasting service for educators that would, with the most sophisticated weather-tracking equipment ever invented, be able to determine which parts of your school’s yard would get the most precipitation, thereby allowing you to tell students, “Go play in the south end, it’s only going to be a bit drizzly over there.” This channel would also provide information on the phases of the moon. (Many elementary teachers swear that young children are bouncing off the walls during a full moon, which always leads me to ask, “And what were they like the other days?”)

PIRSS counselling: That stands, of course, for Post Indoor Recess Stress Syndrome. Now that it’s been officially recognized by the psychiatric community, it’s time teachers were entitled to the odd counselling session through their benefits plan. Says one Grade 2 teacher: “I find, after an indoor recess, it just helps if you have someone to talk to.”

Inflatable domes: As soon as the principal hears that bad weather is coming, the button is pushed, and POOF! The yard is covered. The kids go out.

I know it may take awhile before all my measures are implemented. In the meantime, teachers are just going to have to cope as best they can. And their spouses are going to have to break the news of the next day’s forecasts to them as gently as possible.

In fact, as I write this, with the radio on in the background, I hear that they’re calling for rain tomorrow.

Heavy rain.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Linwood Barclay is a Toronto Star columnist and author of Last Resort: Coming of Age in Cottage Country.

Magazine Home | Masthead | Archives

From the Chair  |   Registrar's Report  |   Remarkable Teachers  |   Blue Pages
News  |   Reviews  |   Calendar  |   Netwatch  |   FAQ  |   Letters to the Editor

Ontario College of Teachers
121 Bloor Street East, 6th Floor Toronto  ON M4W 3M5
Phone: 416-961-8800 Toll-free: 1-888-534-2222 Fax: 416-961-8822