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. 

7 thoughts on “23 minutes later

  1. Amanda,
    There’s something in the air in both your corner of the planet and here. Maybe it’s spring, even though the weather indicates otherwise. Situation like the one you described are difficult. Today I had to call for admin to come to a class I was subbing in. It was a flex period and most of the kids were so rude and obnoxious I could barely take attendance. The rest of the classes were perfect. Maybe it’s rebellion against testing. I don’t know. I just know it’s unusual behavior. Summer needs to speed up her arrival.


  2. I love your description of all the little things that pull us off our trajectory and make it hard to get done all we plan to do during planning times. You have brought these hallways and the “joys” of working with kids to life.


  3. That is a very dramatic description of 23 minutes in one corner of a school, t::old in a very matter-of-fact fashion. I wonder what the boys were up to: smoking pot? smoking ordinary cigarettes? something else illicit? You knew how to handle the kids. Too bad they took up so much of your free time.


  4. I can easily burn an entire prep just trying to go from Point A to Point B and making stops and getting distracted by different kids and situations along the way. Your slice beautifully captures how 23 minutes can fly by!


  5. This is my life as a librarian, without even leaving the library. We’re located smack in the middle of the school, hallways on both sides, and sound carries when I have both doors open. I was holding my breath for you during the interaction outside the bathrooms…glad you were able to get assistance!


  6. Goodness, time goes too quickly!

    BTW: I know a pre-teen who lives with me who perceives my “polite, but firm” comments to be lacking in politeness. (Oh what a night we had here!)


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