23 minutes later

The class ends at 2:05 and, let me tell you, the students are out the door before the bell even finishes ringing. It’s a big school, and if you don’t skedaddle, you could easily be late for your next class – especially if you need to stop and chat with a friend on the way. 

I use the time after they leave to tidy the classroom: putting away the last of the material we used, checking that everything is ready for tomorrow, erasing the white board, closing the windows, gathering my own things. I turn off the lights as I walk out, heading towards my office just as the next class period begins. 

As I close the door, I spy my colleague, Christina, standing in the hallway. Fantastic! She works in the Special Education program, and I want to talk to her about a few students in my classes. Midterm marks are due tomorrow, so I’ve been particularly focused on the larger picture of how students are learning in class, and I’ve seen some gaps for some of the students we share. Taking advantage of those few minutes after late students have made it to class and before students start asking to go to the bathroom, we chat about what is and isn’t working and how we might be able to work together. “He needs tasks broken into really small steps to get started,” I observe. “Yes,” she agrees, “why don’t I work with him on that assignment when he’s here next?” Just as our conversation veers away from students and towards more general topics, a young woman comes to the door, asking for help. I excuse myself so that Christina can focus, and I continue to make my way toward my office. It’s been about ten minutes since class ended.

Today, I turn into the hallway with the bathrooms. Rookie move, but it’s physically the most direct route to my destination. Sure enough, a group of boys is exiting the bathroom – together. They are boisterous and don’t appear to have been using the bathroom for its intended purpose…although what do I know? Maybe all teenage boys now use the bathroom in packs. I pause, several meters away from the group, hoping my quiet presence and raised eyebrows will encourage them to move towards their classrooms. This does not work; instead they pause in the hallway, talking loudly. I move closer and, intentionally pleasant, say, “Time to head to class.” One or two of the students recognize me, smile, and nod their heads, saying, “Yes, Miss” or “Gotcha, Miss.” Everyone starts to disperse. Everyone, that is, except one student, who moves to duck back into the bathroom. Hmm… that’s unusual. Wasn’t he *just* in there? I recognize the young man; I know that he does best when he is in a classroom and in the presence of adults. I invite him to make a different choice. He declines. More young men arrive and try to head into the bathroom with him. I suggest that this is unwise. 

More often than we might want to admit, adolescents perceive behaviour that adults consider “polite but firm” to be, well, not polite. I know that I need to be especially careful that these students don’t feel that I’m targeting them. I’ve asked them several times to make a better decision, but they’re not responding. Time for me to get help. I let them know what I’m doing and turn around to head to the Main Office. Before I get far, a young woman stops me, asking to be let into an empty classroom where she forgot something. Though I haven’t taught her, I know her and I know that she often wants her needs to be met immediately; I’m also certain that allowing her into an empty classroom with no supervision and the young men down the hallway watching is a bad idea. I pause. “I have to run to the Office, but wait right here. I’ll be back in no time and will definitely let you in.” She eyes me warily, then nods.

There’s no running in the hallways, and this isn’t an emergency, so I move into a quick walk and make it to the Office without further interruption. There, the amazing Office Administrator, Laurie, is out of her seat and on her way to help almost before I finish explaining. “It’s X?” she queries over her shoulder, “I’m on it. You go tell the VP.” She leaves with a walkie-talkie and I move deeper into the rabbits’ warren that is home to our administrators. I briefly explain the situation, then head back to keep my promise to the young person who wanted to enter the room. By the time I get back to that door, another teacher has let her in. 

I confirm that Laurie and a VP are with the students I originally spoke to (shaking my head that they didn’t bother to leave when I literally told them I was going to get an VP) and start back towards my office. I turn into the next hallway and see a colleague. We exchange hellos, but do the thing where you say hi but keep moving so that you can’t stop to talk. Another turn. Up the stairs, and I turn into my office. As I settle into my chair to start my work, I check my watch. 2:28 My class ended 23 minutes ago. I open my laptop and pull up my planning doc. This is why it’s hard to get much work done at school. 


“Miss, can you explain Easter in Canada?”

I start to nod, then I realize that have no idea what this student is *really* asking. Perhaps, I think, she is not Christian? I check. Nope, she’s Christian, so that’s not it.

I’m thinking about how to answer the question when, “Oh,” says another, “and I thought Ramadan was over? Didn’t you have that dinner on Thursday? Why are people still fasting?”

Y’all. Class has not even started. Correction: English class has not even started.

I begin eloquently, “Um…”

Ramadan seems easiest. I explain that Ramadan is a period of fasting that lasts… how many days? Dang it. My brain can’t find the number. I hesitate and look to the student teacher. He quickly supplies the number of days left. 

“But you had the dinner,” says one astute student.

Yes, I explain, but Muslims break their fast each night after sundown. Now some students are confused. If people are eating, how are they fasting? I explain that people cannot safely fast for 30 entire days, that they fast between sun up and sun down. Some students look askance, but most seem satisfied, and none of the Muslim students disagrees.

This settled – ish – we move on. Next, I share that this week is also Passover. I say something about Abrahamic religions which, upon reflection, is perhaps not my wisest move. I try to explain what Abrahamic religions are, but simplify to “Judaism, Christianity and Islam” and move on. 

Back to Passover. Israelites. Egypt. Blood on the doors. “Wait – what? They put blood on their doors?” Yes, to save their oldest sons. And now I’m trying to remember the whole story, but it’s been a while, and, again, the student teacher (thank goodness!) adds some details – lamb’s blood, Angel of Death – and most students nod along, though a few are clearly still wondering about the blood, and a few are not paying attention at all.

Whew. On to Easter. This one should be the easiest because I grew up in this tradition, but I stumble as I explain that Jesus is the Son of God because I’m trying to explain, not preach, so in my mind I’m wondering should I say that he is the Son of God or just that we believe he is? And somehow I say that Jesus is a prophet. I’m immediately corrected by a student who says Christians do NOT believe Jesus is a prophet, but by now the back of my brain is at work, and I’m wondering if we can think of the Messiah as a prophet – but then what is he prophesying? So probably not ok to say he’s a prophet – and I really need to keep explaining Easter to this class full of students with really good questions which I thought I could answer, so I go with “Messiah.” Of course, most people in the class don’t know that word so I revert to Son of God, and explain Good Friday in about one sentence because, again, this is English class and finally we get to Easter. And on Easter, the third day, He rose again.

“Like, he came back to life?” And, at last, this is a question I can answer without hesitation, “Yes, in the Christian tradition, Jesus died and then he came back to life on the third day.” No one objects. There’s a brief pause, and I feel relieved that I got something right in this impromptu rundown of this week’s holidays.

Just then, the student who originally asked about Easter, the question that started this all, says, “But I still don’t understand. Why are there so many bunnies?”