Today was the first day back after what felt like months of snow days. But also somehow felt like not enough time off. You probably know the feeling?
I was out of practice. My students were out of practice. We were a mess. I couldn’t quite remember when to take them to snack. They couldn’t seem to remember how to stop talking. Ever. I raised my voice. They raised their voices. I tried to stay calm but really, we were all exhausted.
By the time dismissal hit each of us was ready to race out of the building and into the bitingly cold air. The pink and blue sky reflected off a world of ice crystals and I bent my head into the wind, willing myself to just make it to the bus stop. If I could get there, I figured, one of the kids would brighten my day and remind me of why I do my job. I needed a reminder.
At the bus stop I said hello to a few kids but no one was really in the mood to talk. K, of pit bull fame, barely acknowledged me. E, the self-advocate, stayed hidden under his hat, his sister close to his side.
“Zip up your coat!” I admonished a 7th grader who responded with serious side-eye.
Resigned and feeling even more desperately like I needed a reminder of why I do my job, I slowly made my way over to the other group of kids. Another teacher stood in front of them and we chatted briefly. I put on a brave face and mostly just tried to listen. His day went pretty well. Or maybe he was putting on a brave face too?
Then, out of nowhere, N (the trash-tossing 6th grader) appeared. The volume of her voice is always turned up to 11.
“Ms. I’m not coming to school tomorrow! It is too cold!”
“Aw come on, you have to come! You’ve missed too many days! The Dean of Students is gonna be mad!”
“Naw it is too cold. But wait he told you that?”
“Yeah,” my grave-toned, white-lie response. “Listen, tomorrow I’m wearing two pairs of socks and you should too.”
As a seventh grader sidled up, N hollered at him: “Why is there so much 7th grade drama?!”
“Good you aren’t involved in any of it,” I replied, the sarcasm going over her head.
“Ms. listen, KM and I aren’t friends anymore because people be saying stuff about us and wanting us to fight so we just not talking.”
“Hmm not talking? How does that make you feel?”
“Sad. But it is for the best you know cause I don’t want to fight.”
“Yeah fighting wouldn’t turn out well. But not talking? Do you have other friends?”
“Yeah Ms like all the kids in your class.” Which I’d noticed — she’s the only 6th grader who sits with my 8th graders at lunch while her former friend, KM, is the only 8th grader who sits with the 6th graders at lunch. Match made in heaven?
“Well it seems a bit extreme. Maybe there’s a way to still talk sometimes?”
“I don’t think so Ms.” At which point the bus pulled up and we said goodbye. As I walked away I wasn’t sure if this interaction made me feel redeemed. Sure, maybe I helped her think through some social dynamics or provided a listening ear in a world of distractions and the distracted. Maybe all you get are tiny moments of nebulous progress? Either way it was hard not to feel like my time would be better spent having more of those conversations and fewer “conversations” in a classroom about whether or not students should be talking. All of that is speculation. What is true is that when my students and I get back into a routine, things will be better.