There is really no way to describe the feeling in a school the day before a major production. I know in some region of my brain that every workplace has its own feel but schools …. well … there are personalities for each school. And every morning when I arrive there I know there will be a new twist on that personality. I cannot begin to tell you what today was like except, well, to tell you. So I’m going to try. Hang on.
7:30 – I arrive at work and wonder if I should park somewhere else. We have wind warnings all over the region from here south, and freezing rain from here north. My parking stall is under a few old elm trees with branches precariously hung right over my hood. I ponder this for a moment before my mind drifts to thinking about work and I can’t remember why I’m still sitting in the car.
7:35 – Before I even turn on my classroom lights I can hear the panes in the windows banging around on the aluminum frames. As I walk through the room I flip switches: lights, sound field system, Smartboard, laptop. Dropping purse, lunch and gym bag on my desk I peel off layers and drape them over the back of my chair. And then I turn to the windows. Three wonderfully huge windows facing the west, all shaking. I think to myself, if one of them blew out of its sliders how much damage would occur? Should I move my class just for the day – visions of the Halifax Explosion cross my mind and all the injuries that resulted from glass in peoples’ eyes…. I start organizing my goods and leave my room to take lunch to the staff room fridge. Didn’t think about that again until fourth period when the students noted the huge pines threatening to fall into each other just out the windows. Hmmm…. if one of those fell this way would it reach those windows?
8:00 – Sitting at my laptop and Smartboard, updating the file for each class with schedules and goals and tasks for the day. I have to get this done right now because there won’t be another moment in the day to do it. I flip open my Outlook files to start bringing in the day’s emails and I don’t get a chance to look at it again until nearly 5:30.
8:30 – I go looking for C., one of the MCs for tomorrow’s program. He and the other MC, O., have a date with me to rehearse the script and practice their stage voices before school starts. C. and I begin on our own – he on the stage and I at the back of the gym. I can be heard at the far end of the school without any trouble but C. talks way too fast. Funny I never noticed how fast he speaks until this moment! Part way through our practice O. shows up and I have her stand where I was so they have to project their voices across the gym at each other.
9:00 – The gym is claimed by the dance teacher who wants her dancers to practice their pieces on the stage, getting ready for tomorrow night. I send C., and O. off to get permission from their period one teachers to miss class in order to rehearse. We move to the dance studio to continue. O. needs to add some drama to her reading; C., still needs to slow down. There are a lot of giggles and sighs and frustrations as I say for the umpteenth time, “Whoa! Try that again.” They do – over and over again, laughing at their own mistakes, catching themselves more frequently, getting the hang of this. After about the fourth try at a line O. says, “Crap!” My eyebrows go up. “There will be no crapping, verbal or otherwise, on the stage. Is that clear?” She and C. crack up. We do this again and again for the rest of the hour.
10:00 – My prep is over. I’m back in class. The morning flies. In period two we are preparing for the final exams next week. I get everyone working on their projects for the final assessment while I interview each student about his or her progress on the project. Each student gets advice about how to address their problems or what to try next. Everyone’s just working away in their own little world. Awesome. Really productive. Period three is way more busy enterprise: making grammar palatable takes a lot of output. We Jabberwockied our way through nouns and verbs, suffixes and prefixes, root words and inflected forms right up until noon.
12:20: I still haven’t made it out of my classroom. D. and I need to make a plan to get his assignment in – I get him on the phone with his grandmother who is going to remind him tonight to bring that paper back to class. One of the mentors comes in with N. who wants to know if he’s even got a chance of passing his class – of course he does; is he going to start coming to class again? Yes? Okay, we make a quick plan and agree to follow up later in the day. J. wants to know if I shared that youtube video he shared with me and what everybody thought of it? Yup, I did share it and everyone laughed – thanks, J., for bringing it to my attention. M. is concerned that I won’t have time this week to write that reference letter – should she ask another teacher? No. No, I’ll do it first thing Friday morning, I promise. Look! I’ve written myself a note and it’s right here on my laptop screen.
My team of culture-changers start coming in for a meeting – the one I called yesterday after school. None of them have remembered to bring the items they need: no schedules or ToDo Lists that I so carefully organized; no silent auction items; no baking items for the sale; no lunches or agendas or anything. They’re laughing and giggling and making fun of each other. I make an announcement, calling all of them to class unless they are in the rehearsal right now. B. and Z. are in math and can’t come; M. needs to get back to math; R., can’t make it this lunch hour. I feel my stress and tension rising and the more I try to get them to focus the more they are acting like teenagers on their lunch break.
I snap. Yes. S-n-a-p-p-e-d.
Quiet. Looking up I see Mr. W. standing in the doorway, grinning. “Is this a good time?” I laugh at myself. “No. This week there is no good time.” The students are all quiet, just watching me recover. Not very gracious, but trying the best I can. Mr. W. wants to alert me to an email he sent about an opportunity for this very group of kids to assist in a cool event happening this February. Inside my head: “February?? I am not going to be alive by the end of tomorrow! Who the heck is thinking about February???”. Mr. W. is, bless his soul. I work hard and finally clear out all my inner dialogue to focus on what the man is telling me. It is a great chance; yes, thanks; I’ll check the email as soon as the Winter Showcase is over; no, the kids will really like it; thanks again for thinking of us; this is great!
I turn. The kids are all still staring at me. I begin with a series of “I feel….” statements. “I feel like I’m working really hard to organize all of us into teams so all the tasks get done and you are not taking this seriously.” “I feel that tomorrow is very close and we are not ready, but you aren’t aware of how much there is to do yet.” “I feel my blood pressure is going to explode if we don’t get ourselves organized and thinking about how to meet our commitments responsibly.” They just listen, but when I put them into their teams they are serious; they do focus; discussion does happen. And when we get back together again to share what we each are going to do they are trying their best. Which really is good enough.
I struggle to understand what R. is telling me. She’s saying she can’t come tomorrow after school. I say, “But you agreed to take responsibility for that task.” She tries again, saying the same thing. Sometimes all of us struggle to make ourselves clear and end up repeating the same confusing line over again, thinking the other person will be able to make more sense of it the second time around. I didn’t. And her partner, K., stepped out because she needed to finish an exam for another teacher. So K., can’t help, and I am not understanding and R. is staring at me like she just doesn’t know how else to explain herself.
I’m beginning to lose my temper. My blood sugar is low. I had a good breakfast of protein and healthy carbs but that was four and a half hours ago. I am mildly hypoglycemic so I need input every few hours or my thinking goes fuzzy and I begin to get a little migraine – I can feel it creeping in around the edges of my vision. I haven’t had a minute. I haven’t had a drink of water or a nibble of protein or a chance to get to the bathroom even. And it is beginning to dawn on me that what R. is telling me makes sense and I see that she’s double booked because she’s also in the play and she can’t be in rehearsal and preparing the bake sale at the same time! Ah! My scheduling error is the problem!!
I apologize. The room breathes again. I ask the team if there are a few who can take care of packaging the baking so R. can be free to do go to rehearsal. Yes, three volunteer. Terrific. R., doesn’t smile at me but she does look relieved. These are good kids. Kids. They are kids, and so maybe they aren’t behaving like the responsible mature people I want them to be in five years but for now they are who they are. Good. Growing. Figuring out how to do complex organization under pressure. I’m not sure I have the hang of how to do this. Really, I’m not sure.
1:00 – I still haven’t eaten, or had anything to drink, or gone to the washroom. The bell rings for period four and kids are tumbling both in and out of the room like conflicting currents bumping into each other making little eddies at the doorway. I switch files on my Smartboard and pull up the attendance program. Ms. A pops her head in. She also looks a little migrainy. She apologizes for two boys who will be late – she kept them back at basketball practice. She doesn’t elaborate and I don’t care – it’s enough to know they’ll be coming along. Mrs. G pops in to ask if the Student Leadership Council is responsible for setting the tables for the Showcase or only for making the centerpieces. “I’ve been confused about the same thing.” She nods, points out that we might as well figure that out between us. “Yes. Why don’t you let our kids do that? We have to put the tables together and set up the space anyhow.” Yes. Good. That’s that.
My second ELA A10 class of the day. Attendance, get the lesson going, remind them about the final exam schedule, give a few review instructions about their projects, get them working – K. stop interrupting; T., that is not acceptable language; V., can I answer your question after everyone’s settled; no we won’t be reading today unless everyone’s work is ready for tomorrow; K., please put T.’s binder back; D., why are you in A.’s desk? I breathe deeply. It’s not their fault – I’m wired tight as a bowstring and they can sense the tension I’m breathing out of me. I sit back and smile. It’s weak but sincere. They smile back. Well, the ones who are paying attention do. They do settle down and I prepare to interview each one – same as period two. I want each one to get personal attention and advice on their projects. I start with the weakest students, the ones who need the most attention. This class consumes energy like a dozen black holes.
How did I end up downstairs in the middle of my class? I can’t remember. It had something to do with the Showcase. I needed to …. what? I don’t know but I ended up in the gym talking with Mr. M whose class was setting up tables and chairs. Mr.S., whose Phys. Ed. classes are being interrupted for a day and a half due to his space being full of the tables and chairs, is also helping. I mention to Mr. M what some of the arrangements will be – the silent auction will need five tables along that wall; and the beverage tables will be over there; the bake sale needs that space; so can we keep these tables in this area? He nods, having more information, and starts redirecting his students to move the heavy solid wood tables they just brought in back over to the other side of the room. God bless them, every one.
I remember my Black Holes and turn to get back to class, returning just in time to get in one more interview before the bell rings again. What?? I only got through half the class. Nothing can be done. The hour is gone.
2:10 – I still haven’t had a sip of water or a bite to eat in six and a half hours. I haven’t been to the washroom or sat down once for a moment to think. I haven’t checked my emails for memos or announcements. I must look a wreck. A few girls notice: “Mrs. G., we hear you’re having a rough day.” “You can’t even know the half of it.” “You and Ms. W. and Mr. P. are just going crazy over this Showcase. You need yoga and meditation. Tomorrow at noon instead of running around you need to just get on your yoga mats and breathe in good air.” I smile. “Sure. We’ll get to that just as soon as everything’s done.” “You look awful, Mrs. G.” “Uh, yeah. I haven’t eaten yet.” A few look concerned. “You should eat, Mrs. G. Seriously. Go get your lunch.” Instead, I switch files on my Smartboard and open up attendance again, for the fourth time today. Reminders about exam schedules, discussions about the assignments, permission to leave class to go organize the tables in the gym, discussions about the trees crashing into the classroom with all that wind; concern about the rattling pipes – it’s just a custodian in the hall with his head in the ceiling tile – not PACI Pete, the school’s phantom reported to live in the duct work.
I somehow end up back in the gym again. I do not know how this happens. One minute I’m teaching class and the next minute I’m called out to check on this or go find that or answer some question. Just go. Mr. P. asked if I needed anything and I should leave a note for him – he said he’d get his Drama class to do it tomorrow. Gratitude oozes out of my high strung pores. I need to make a list – maybe pricing the baking goods? Whipping cream for dessert? Setting up serving trays? Arranging the silent auction tables? Make a list reminding me to make his list.
I don’t care if my grade twelves are abandoned for the moment. I am going to heat and eat my soup. I heat it, but I take it back to the room and eat it there, by my laptop, answering questions about how to start a formal speech. We pull up several examples of TED Talks online and check out how other people do it. We chat about tones and moods set by various introductory strategies between spoonfuls of carrots and chicken broth. Thank goodness they are grade twelves – they can work independently and I’m less stressed.
The bell rings and the work day is technically done. A. is there though, with a half dozen questions. Fair enough. And the mentor comes back with N. as per our noon hour agreement – we beat out a plan. And C. shows up to ask if I have an extra script because O. has misplaced hers somewhere. V. is still confused about what he’s supposed to do for his presentation. F. wants to know if she can borrow the meter sticks to cut the paper for the tables?
3:30 – A. hands me her phone. Will I speak with her mother? She’s not supposed to be here after school – her mom wants her to go straight home on the bus and stop hanging out with F. Apparently they hang out too much and A. isn’t getting her homework done. Mom is concerned about A.’s manipulation, lying about how much work she has to do, always with F – a good girl, she assures me – but A is staying up all night doing the homework she should’ve been doing when she was out with F. Mom is worried. Is A. telling the truth about having to stay after school to help? Mom’s ok with that if it’s true, but she wants to get after A. and make sure she’s being responsible and honest about how she’s spending her time. I assure her I will keep A. working hard. But as I say this, as I am listening to Mom’s concerns A is giggling and not doing the work she’s agreed to do – she’s skipping down the hallway with F. I am not amused. I hang up and A and I have a serious conversation about what she’s really doing here – working? Hanging out with F.? Manipulating Mom? A. is unhappy with me.
4:00 – The dress rehearsal is not my concern except for the MCs. Everything we practiced for an hour in period one seems to be forgotten. I ask Mr. W. if there’s an extra video recorder I can use to record the two MCs. They are in grade nine. This is new to them. They need to see for themselves and hear for themselves how they look and how they sound. I record segments of their rehearsal.
I check on A and F. F and her sister J are doing the work: A is lounging around watching, laughing with the boys, looking shocked at the expression on my face. I rearrange the work tasks and get A on the floor doing some of the cutting work. I go fill up a water bottle and drain it on the spot. I fill it up again.
Popping my head into the storage room I find a different A and N working on organizing the baking onto trays. I finally get a good look at the shopping they’d done. I’d been sick Monday and no one had thoroughly supervised their inventory and shopping list before they went out to get supplies. Oh my goodness. They had trays and covers, saran wrap and coffee whitener, Tang and Iced Tea mix, napkins and stir stix….. how much was spent? I don’t have time to get into those details. We discuss the most attractive means of arranging the platters, how to keep them fresh until tomorrow night, their awesome and appropriate use of latex gloves. They have separated the broken cookies. I steal a piece of chocolate chunk. They ask if they can too. Absolutely.
Back to the gym and the rehearsal. It’s over. I pull out the MCs to view their video footage. They see and hear for themselves. They make appropriate comments on their own performances. I ask them to slow down and use more energy. They agree and run off. But not before we discuss what to do with those flopping papers – the script – that they are holding in front of their faces for the whole time. The lights are dim on stage. Hard to read. Need a solution. O says she’ll cut and paste all nine pages of the script onto cue cards. “No, no. O. That’s not a great use of your time.” And we confer with Mr. P – can we get a podium up there? Yes, we can. And we’ll put the script into a binder and colour code their lines. Awesome. They go home tired.
4:45 – Ms. A., the math teacher, stops me in the hallway. Z needs to do some math. He’s been so involved in basketball and SLC and the Showcase and the culture-changers that he has fallen behind. Z. nods, not looking guilty, but acknowledging the truth of the situation. I know he’s stretched to his limit. So is J. and B, for that matter. Several students do everything. They are involved in everything. Earlier this week Z made a call to fulfill one of his commitments to me and in so doing missed his rehearsal. His drama teacher was on his case. I feel for him. He’s too busy for a grade twelve student. He and I already discussed this earlier that day, at noon. He needs time to focus on some of his school work and I released him from a few commitments. Ms. A and I agree that he will spend tomorrow after school working on his math in between rehearsals. Z sighs, relieved that he isn’t being pulled between teachers anymore. I notice his awesome attitude – not shifting blame but taking responsibility for not communicating or scheduling his time well.
I return to the storage room. N and A are finishing with the baking trays. The tray of cookie pieces is empty. N explains how everyone kept popping in to grab a piece. I smile. Sure. Whatever. Over one hallway and I check on the other A and her work crew, F and J. Not done yet. F. and J. have gone home. A is languishing on a chair like she’s run three marathons. N., from the storage room, is picking up papers, helping her clean up and he tells me A.’s really mad. Like, really mad. I don’t have time for A.’s meltdown. I ask if she’s done her job. She tells me she’ll never get done and she doesn’t see how she’s supposed to do all this and when is it going to happen? “Make a good plan, A. It has to be all ready by 6:30 tomorrow when the doors open.” She sighs dramatically and doesn’t move. N. continues to pick things up, working nonstop to do what has to be done.
We teachers, we notice these things. Who lounges and who keeps going.
5:30 – The principal asks if I’m going for supper, would I like to go out for supper? She’s pooped. I agree. But I’m too tired for supper. How about next week? Yes, that will do. She passes by the storage room and sees all the supplies. Coming out of her office a few minutes later she hands me a receipt for all the stuff those boys bought – do we need all that? “Nope. This is excessive.” She sighs and we start picking out what we can return and what we can use for another event. We haul the ‘return’ goods back to her office. We can have those boys return those goods on Friday. This isn’t their fault either. I was sick and couldn’t supervise or moderate their shopping list; the principal gave them permission to go shopping because she knew I’d asked them to do it – perhaps she assumed I’d supervised more closely. Certainly closer supervision was required. Not a crisis, but a point for future consideration.
5:45 – On the way out the door A asks if there’s a laptop she can use. She’s missed her ride and wants to work on an essay for the hour it’ll take for her next ride to get there. Yes. We set her up. And I leave the building to go to Giant Tiger who has a donation for our silent auction sitting at Till #1 for a teacher to come pick up. I get there but it’s gone. Who picked it up? The manager doesn’t know who it was, but it was picked up earlier that day. Great. I thank her. I’ll have to figure that out tomorrow.
I go to my parents’ house. They’d asked me to stop by on my way home to pick out a Christmas decoration. They are starting to downsize and before putting away their decorations they want people to come take what they like. I choose a set of candle holders – ceramic letters spellling J-O-Y with little cherubs nestled into the curves of the letters. I’ve always admired it. We pack it up and discuss whether they’ll come to the performance tomorrow night. They will. Wonderful!
6:15 – I step over all the blown branches and look at the spot where my parents’ windmill used to be – a favourite lawn ornament gifted to them from my sister has been recently stolen. There’s a hole in the flower bed, now covered with snow. I sigh. I’m tired. Getting into my car I push my gym bag over to make room for the box with JOY in it. No way I’m even thinking about going to the gym. I point my car into the wind – it was one of those days that no matter which way I pointed I was heading into the wind – and drive home.
6:40 – I read my text messages. My husband is giving blood tonight. I’d forgotten about that. I send a text back – all this warm wind has caused an ice dam in our eaves just above the vent from the boiler where frost and ice has been accumulating. There’s water dripping down into my newly painted cupboards, splashing down each shelf. It’s streaming off the countertop and has pooled on the tile floor, slipping between the grout lines and the toe kick of the cabinets, into the electric pad that heats the floor. I grab a few towels and clean it all up, finding bubbled paint in the cabinets, and set out a bowl to catch the drips.That’s all I can do for now. I pour Rice Krispies into a bowl of milk and sit at my computer to decompress.
9:40 – Tomorrow starts at 7:30 again. And instead of getting home at 6:40 I’ll be coming home much later – maybe 9:00 if cleanup goes quickly. But before that I’ll be enjoying the Winter Showcase, an evening of drama, dance and song, performed by our talented students, with a silent auction and bake sale to raise funds for the drama department. Dessert and coffee served by the students.
Come! Doors open at 6:30. There’ll be a silver collection at the door and smiling students to offer you coffee!