On my noon hour supervision I am responsible for the well-being of the students in the Student Lounge and Area – a rather awkward part of the building: in the basement, renovated who-knows-how-many-times, resulting in two adjoining rooms with no clear view of both from anywhere, several maze-like hallways, and a whole collection of nooks and crannies. We make the best of what we have and the kids don’t seem to mind. Anyhow, I have a spot from which I can eat my lunch, survey a busy portion of my tiny immediate universe, and interact with any kids who are interested in my company, which is a surprisingly large number, given I am a teacher in a high school.
Today there were the usual crew: a few senior students using the microwave, on their phones, taking up their space on the sofa; a few rowdies claiming all the hallways and stairs by chasing each other or hollering about I don’t know what; a couple of kids lounging around in the adjoining room watching whatever was on the TV over the noonhour. The grade nines make up the vast majority of the noise playing a card game. The grade nines, in the Student Lounge, by far dominate the space this year. At least on my shift. The ones who govern the sound/table-space are extroverted like you have never seen. I sometimes bellow over in their direction that maybe we don’t need to break the decibal levels, but I have to break the decibal levels to get them to hear me! Today I just went over and sat down with them. No one seemed to mind and J. explained what was going on: Speed – essentially a race to see who can get rid of all their cards first. There were three teams racing and the tension was contagious. I was right in there in no time being a rowdy. As soon as the rounds were done they switched places without a word – clearly a well organized Round Robin situation – and J. explained who the clear favourites were. B. beat X., and X. openly admitted to only just learning this game a few weeks ago so it seemed right that he should lose. He smiled and moved into postion for the next round. J. informed me that B. was the best; that she herself was pretty darn good but had to admit that B. usually won. B. was going up against E. right then and so I was shut out. I smiled. They are loud, but good-natured. Well, other than the occassional F-Bomb for which I was immediately offered apologies, and you know what? Even those were good-natured! All good. I moved on.
The adjoining room was quiet today. A student was watching TV still, the others had moved on. A student was reading something on her phone in the corner, legs splayed all over the arms of the lounge chair. And a student was sitting rigid in a straight backed chair, tucked well into a shadowy corner. Her long hair was pulled forward over her face, and her ball cap was low, over her eyes. She was not relaxed: both feet planted squarely on the floor, face too too still and focused on her phone, ear phone lines disappearing into her hair. D. A new student in my Homeroom Class. Grade 9. I wandered over and took up a spot on the stiff chair beside her.
“Hey. How come you’re sitting here in a dark corner all by yourself? Are you hiding?”
Nothing, but there was a little attention in the air. She wasn’t ignoring me.
“Do you know anyone in our school?”
She just barely shook her head. If her hair hadn’t trembled I’d’ve never known her response to that.
“You’ve been here three weeks and you don’t know anyone yet?”
More hair trembling.
“Are there any students you’ve seen that you’d like to get to know?”
Nothing at all.
“What about activities you’d like to do?”
A tiny nod.
“Oh! Can you tell me about that?”
“Have you met Ms. C. yet? She runs a little club for girls only, called The Girls’ Club!” I chuckle here and get nothing in response. “They meet at noons, or maybe after school sometimes, and they just do things together. Other new girls who are looking to get to know people. It’s hard sometimes, eh? Maybe they do a craft or watch a movie. It’s just a place to hang out with people and learn who they are and do something while you’re at it. Are you interested?”
She lifted her head and looked at me. Winner!
“Great! Let’s go find her. Lunch hour’s over anyways!” And off we go. She didn’t even resist! Yay!
But Mrs. C. wasn’t in. I thought Ms. M. was also involved so D. and I pop into her room but she tells me I need to find A., the school’s social worker, who, happily, was just coming down the hall. I’m introducing her to D. when the bell rings. I tell D. that I’ll let her period 4 teacher know why she’s late, to get her off the hook. The social worker is already chatting with (at, really) D. who isn’t moving away and that’s a good sign. I had a class, so off I went.
And didn’t think about my promise to D. about her 4th period teacher at all because my period 4 class is super attention-sucking! Grade 9 ELA. Half the class are done their portfolios and are with the EA in another room watching Romeo and Juliet while I’m in my classroom rotating between the half that remain, who work slower, or have been chronically absent and need to catch up. J. and Q. sign in late (and I still don’t remember my promise to D.!) and I ask Q. if he remembers what he was working on yesterday for his portfolio. He does. I turn to J.
J. is a small boy with a full grown Harley Davidson sized attitude. His hair has recently been cut: shaved right up both sides and long down the top and center. He is dressed all in black and is slouched in a desk. No binder, book, paper, pencil. He’s looking at his hands. His fingernails are dirty. I crouch in front of his desk to get lower than eye level so he doesn’t even have to raise his head to see my face.
“You’ve been absent a lot this first quarter, hey?”
No verbal response to that, but he nods. His face is a stone.
“You have no idea what we’re doing.”
“We’re wrapping up a unit on Romeo and Juliet. Everyone’s already listened to and read along with the whole play and we’ve done all kinds of activities to show our understanding of it. Most are done and in the other room watching the movie. How long do you think it will take to get you caught up?”
His face is still a stone, but just a little bit wilted. A wilty stone.
“Yeah, Too long, I think. How’s your world outside of school? Has it been bumpy?”
No response. I get a lot of no responses and if you were in my job you’d get pretty good at reading which ‘no response’ is a surly one and which is defeated and which is terrified and which is arrogant and well, you get it. This ‘no response’ was a ‘yes but I’m not about to talk about it’. Fair enough.
“Have things settled down a bit? You’re here today and you were here one day last week. Do you think you’ll be here more often now?”
He was staring at me, less stoney, and barely nodded.
“Okay, here’s what I think: I think I want you to join the other kids in the other room watching the movie. We have 75% of the school year to go. That’s a lot of time for you to show me your skills, to learn some new ones, to get through grade 9. Lots of time. It’s too much work to try to catch up but we could just start as if you just moved to the school. How about that?”
He is still staring at me but his face lost its stoney bits. His eyebrows came up ever so slightly. His hands stopped twisting over each other.
“Okay, I’m going to send you into the other room without me. Mrs. B. is in there to supervise. You are not going to give her one bit of trouble because then I’ll come get you and we’ll get to work in here. The kids in there have been watching for a half hour and are into the movie. You haven’t been here and lots of it is going to go right over your head, but you’re going to understand quite a bit anyways because it’s a movie. You’re going to just sit in there, well-behaved, and get into the movie groove, right?”
All agreement. Good. I escort him across the hallway, let Mrs. B. know how well-behaved he’s going to be, and leave him there. I didn’t hear from him or about him again.
Back in my room L. is verbally poking at Q., and C. is giggling over her phone, and both T’s are head down working, and H. is calling me over. I squat beside L. and open her binder for her (again) and order her to erase the scribbles on the desk and tell her in clear tones that she is going to get to work right now because that’s what we’re doing here today and she scowls at me. I walk away and when I look back she’s erasing. Good.
I ask Q. if he needs anything to settle in and he shakes his head. It is 100% surprising to me, when I think about it, how kids get away with so little verbal communication. They are Masters of the Body Language! Anyhow, good, Q’s good. I make my way over to C. and just touch her phone. She jumps and snatches her phone back and stops giggling. I raise an eyebrow. She puts it away. I tilt my head, lowering my chin, and she’s back at work. H. wants to know if she’s done and we go through her work. She’s not. She sighs longingly at the door and I tap her papers. She gets back at it.
The whole of period 4 went this way and when the kids left at the bell I collapsed at my table and put my head on my arms and just breathed for a few minutes. Period 5 is my prep and thank God for that! Then I created an organizational ToDoList for my SLC because right after school (in about 45 minutes!) they were going to turn the upstairs hallways into a dance hall for the Hall-O’Ween Dance – the theme was supposed to be “Broken Dolls” but very few broken dolls materialized so we went with spiders. We’d made webs out of garbage bags (Pinterest is a glorious thing!) and I’d purchased spiders in all shapes and sizes. I had about a dozen workers (the SLC this year is full full full of really good workers!) and they needed jobs to do. I work with two other advisors and we’d split up the crew into committees. I just needed to get the decorations up; Ms. A. was dealing with food, canteen and cashbox issues; and Mr. H. was dealing with our student DJ, sound equipment, lights and playlist stuff. The principal had volunteered to supervise the door to keep the rabble out and make sure the kids dealing with cash and tickets were safe and trouble free. Anyhow, I got busy making my list for my crew. Lots to do!
So it was about a half way through the last hour of the day when I remembered D. and that I’d promised that she wouldn’t be penalized for being late. I headed down to Mr. P.’s room. He was with a class but they were all at work. I explained the situation and he was quiet. Quick face scan = dismay. Oh dear.
He told me that yesterday he’d told his grade 9 kids that if they could all show up after lunch without anyone being late he’d buy them TimBits. But D. was late. So he’d told them, “No TimBits.” And furthermore, D. is frequently late, so he’d taken her into the hall and had a chat about her many lates and reminded her now that she was the only one and he couldn’t buy TimBits.
I clarified that this was certainly all my fault, actually, because I’d forgotten to let him know. He said he’d apologize to D. and I said, “No, no! I’ll apologize to D. This isn’t your fault.” He said he’d pick up TimBits for them tomorrow and I made him promise. I must remember to text him about it tomorrow, or I’ll buy them some myself and they’ll get two helpings of Timbits!! Then I headed back to Mrs. M.’s room where the whole class was for period 5.
They were all working independently. Well, as independently as grade 9s do in the last period of the day before the Hall-O’Ween Dance. Quiet generally, but ready for any distraction. I asked permission to speak with D. and got it. I made eye contact with her across the room and she was not surprised to see me! I went directly over and asked if we could talk in the hallway and she came without a question.
I explained. “I just went down to talk to Mr. P. about your being late and he says he gave you some grief over it!”
“I’m so sorry. I completely got involved with my grade nine class here and was too late to keep you out of trouble! I explained everything to Mr. P. and he feels terrible about his chat with you.”
She was still smiling.
“Is it alright if I explain to the class how the whole No Timbits thing is my fault?” She nodded. Seriously, I did not get one actual word out of her all day!
So I went back in the room and asked Mrs. M. if I could talk to her whole class and she waved me on. I was very quiet, standing in front of them. They were quiet too, looking at me.
I kept my voice quite low and serious, as befitting the situation. “My name is Mrs. G. I teach the other grade nine section.” One said hello and I said hello back.
“I am here to discuss a very serious matter which requires your attention immediately. A great wrong has been done and we have to clear the air and make everything right again.”
“You did not get Timbits today in Mr. P’s class.” The quiet was palpable.
“You did not get Timbits because D. was late. ……… D. was late because I’d asked her to do something and I’d promised her I’d let Mr. P. know. Which I did. But not until period 5. The Great TimBit Depression is 100% my fault. I am so sorry!”
Some smiles and some shoulders relaxed and some breathy sort of snorts.
“None of this is D.’s fault and I have apologized to Mr. P. and take full responsibility for this mess. Mr. P. has agreed to buy you Timbits for tomorrow and I ask your forgiveness.”
At this point the class was playing along. One boy (the same saucy fellow who’d said hello earlier) rolled right off the side of his stability ball and said, “Mrs. G., what have you done??”
“I know.” I hung my head and peered at them from the corner of my eye. I raised my hands. “I know! Apologies all around. I must further ask you to not hold anything against D. for this, and to fully accept my apology!”
I gestured in D.’s direction and she was all heads up, grinning, eyes bright, shoulders back. Yes! I read it right. Sometimes kids feel completely embarrassed if you direct any attention to them in class. Not D. She was enjoying my abasement thoroughly!
And then the best thing ever ever ever happened: the class started to applaud. Not loudly. But one began and two or three followed and soon about 2/3 of the class was pleasantly clapping. No one spoke. But they smiled. And I smiled back. And Mrs. M. smiled at me. And I left.
I didn’t have time to carry on. They had work to do and I had a whole dance to prepare for. But here’s the thing: teachers make a difference. Every single tiny decision we make, makes a difference. According to the people at TeacherVision teachers make about 1500 decisions daily. You have just read about a few of the ones I made today, regarding only a fraction of the students that I deal with. A misstep, a thoughtless word, an uninformed assumption, a misunderstanding, a misinterpreted shrug of the shoulder, a forgotten message, a misplaced apology, … and a student’s day, or self-esteem, or ability to make friends, or hope for a future can go up in flames.
It’s a big job. I hope you all appreciate that.