I’m looking down the hallway at the kids running around, scattering in every direction in the five minutes between classes. I’m remembering what it felt to be one of those kids.
The kid with the outrageous fashion, the kid talking to her friends in hushed tones. The kid with the entourage spearheading her way through the crowd joking with another girl, implying “I own this hall.” The kid who’s about to start a family.
The drama queen. The seven-foot basketball player. The bully. The one who stands up to bullies on behalf of kids who won’t. The one who hates school but will talk to me. The one who I hope will not try to kill herself this year. The one who acts like a jerk but I think there’s something going on at home and I just can’t get the time to figure it all out yet. I feel bad about that. The kid who annoyed everyone two years ago and is now featured in articles on the fast track to success.
The kid with the hipster glasses and Chucks, who half-a decade ago would have gotten himself locked in a gym locker but in today’s hip-is-cool fashion stands out a leader. A group of “those that care.” A group of “those that do not.”
Tons of girls holding each other’s hands–gay rights buttons, shirts, artsy fashion. Tons more throwback jerseys. Some I-want-to-be-Japanese outfits. Kids with phones-that-are-illegal-in-schools popping out of pockets for one last check of the social media making sure all’s clear for 40 minutes of lockdown in a class they didn’t choose.
The bell’s about to ring. Someone peeks out the door to see if any teachers are watching. To see if I am watching. I am. I say, “Sit down, the bell’s about to ring.”
The bell–that relic of the factory era to which we still teach like hamsters in a cage or Pavlov’s dogs. It rings. I obey. I enter. I teach.
I struggle lately. There’s too much to teach. Too many students. Too many systems. Too many requirements. Too much in my mind. I’m buried in systems. No time to make larger connections. To build relationships. Will have to do it all online. “Email me your homework.” I wonder if they feel that way, too. “Okay, Miss.” I’m starting to have nightmares. I can’t keep up with the numbers. There are too many. They don’t pass the test. I can’t save them all. They can’t become numbers. They are my kids.
My husband tells me not to be ridiculous. I try to listen. He makes a lot of sense. He’s expanding a business. An entrepreneur. Worrying about real things like funding, contractors, plans, paying his staff. Not just about data, a million students, a new evaluation system, and my first bad evaluation. EVER. People are starving in the world. There are bigger things to worry about.
But today, I try to make class fun, engaging, less like a tread mill of prep-for-tests-wait-for-another-evaluation-did-you-use-higher-level-questioning-do-your-senior-project-I-failed-my-evaluation-rubrics-checklists-teacher-training-oh-my-god-I-have-252-students-and-I-really-want-to-read-their-stuff-I’m-overwhelmed-you’re-overwhelmed-are-we-all-in-a-sinking-ship?
I try to make it real. More like the magic that swirled around me when I first walked through the doors in education. When I got all the time in the world to teach lessons that made kids return from their busy lives to say, “Remember when you said…” “That time we learned…” “When we discussed…” It mattered. It still matters. It matters more.
I remember when my heroes transformed me when I was that nerd wearing India cotton walking down the hallway talking to my friends, knowing that the biggest thing of the day was the crush I felt on the kid coming my way…that if I just stayed in that spot one extra second after the bell–that bell–I could have a decent conversation and feel the butterflies in my stomach. Even though he liked my best friend.
Back to the class I am presently teaching–I make some big connections. I share some laughs. I ask about someone’s mom. Someone else has been out all week. I email a link to the kid who’s in Columbia for a month–he can participate, too, thanks to technology. I talk about opportunity cost. I take some late papers. Someone says, “I handed that in.” I say, “You did not.” They find the paper and hand it over. “My bad.” I tell them not to forget to study. Someone asks me if they can have a cup of coffee. “You have to earn your cup. Report before school. We’ll talk.”
“Miss, what time does class end?”
I shrug my shoulders. “I don’t know. When the bell rings. The bell rings, you leave, It rings again, more of you come…the bell….” It’s always the bell.
I remember feeling freedom in school.
Lunches outside near the track. Finishing projects into the afternoon unsupervised. Secret meetings in the band room, theatre, drama, picnics, games. Freedom. Writing notes. Folding notes. Stuffing them in locker vents to wait for the 20 years until trees would be rescued by texting. Walking to school early–5AM–to run the track for an hour then shower before school–to get a piece of peace. Alone. Freedom.
Back to the present. I smile. I wish these kids freedom. They may never taste it. Things are different now. Tough to think outside the box in schools and buildings with locks, chains, and gates. With high-stakes tests. With cameras. With so many rules. With police. I’m thankful we don’t have police. Yet.
Oops. There it is. The bell. They get up. Some say “thanks.” I say, “See you tomorrow. Don’t forget to finish…” Someone complains about a test. I say, “Come in the morning. We’ll fix it.” I take a sip of coffee. I’m hungry. Didn’t eat lunch again. Corrected papers. Went to the bathroom. Got ready for the next class. Five periods gone, a million connections made, a billion more left to make, two more periods left to teach.
One more day till vacation.
I think I’ll make it.
I need to relax.