Room 106

by Cindi on April 29, 2020

I’ve been in my school building twice in 46 days, 22 hours, and 15 minutes. The first time was shortly after schools closed; I was there for about five minutes to pick up some books and print out some work for a student who doesn’t have internet access. I was shaky, unsettled…my book choices were random, a few picture books and two chapter books. I don’t know why I thought I needed to grab those particular books. I remember thinking that I may use them at some point in my online instruction (I haven’t).

I took a minute to look around my classroom that day; every wall hanging had been placed strategically back in June during a time when I could barely contain my excitement. Do you remember how badly I wanted to be back in a school? Do you remember the interview that almost made me give up?

But I made it – back into a school building, a place where I could hug a kindergartner and then walk down the hall and talk to a junior about college plans. I was happy every day – the faculty meetings, the language arts teacher gatherings (always with cake!), our school-wide Literacy Safari (cut short by two weeks…decorations still on the walls), the giggles and tattle tales of the elementary students, the awkward glances between middle school kids, the feigned confidence of high school students, the tall ones, the hopeful ones – they have nothing but time ahead.

I left my room that day, turning the door knob and spying my insulated coffee mug on my desk. I’m not a big coffee drinker, but our hall was particularly cold this past winter, and the coffee in the break room was particularly hot. So I carried my cup as a teacher rite of passage, waiting 32 years in to take up that habit. I left my mug there that day. “I’ll be back,” I thought. “School will be back in session soon.”

I then walked down the hall and heard squeals from students I couldn’t see. Third graders skipping through my classroom, a shortcut to the bathroom. Fourth graders coming in from recess and lining up at the water fountain outside my room. A first grader running to me with arms extended every time I ever saw her in the hallway, the cafeteria, or the car rider line. A squeezy second grader who hugged me all day long. A sixth grader who took me on a detail-by-detail journey of his life with a failing kidney and then the transplant of his new one, a gift from his dad. A seventh grader who loved to tell me she’s annoying; I continued to argue that although she wants to think she gets on my nerves, she doesn’t. I heard them all, loud voices in my ears in the middle of an echoing, empty hallway.

I’ve video conferenced, texted, and emailed with students since then. It helps. They’re still giggling, seemingly okay with missing school (I ask constantly.) But last week when the Governor said we would not return this school year, I felt that all too present lump in my throat again. I knew it was coming. I did. I know he’s keeping us safe and healthy, but I wonder if he knows: I left school on a random Thursday afternoon, and I never had a chance to say goodbye.

Today I went back to the school again. I needed a few things from my classroom. But first I noticed something going on in the halls. It was then I realized – they were putting down a new floor in the library. All the shelves (and books) were lined up and down the hallways. I’ve seen thirty years of school buildings looking like this during the summer, but never in April. I sighed my way to my classroom, recognizing every green and blue tile I’ve stepped across a zillion times, noticing student artwork from an easier time. Would I have looked at it more carefully every day if I’d known I’d eventually lose that chance?

Then I walked into my classroom. It seemed dark, eerie, unfamiliar in a way…but one click of the lamp, and it looked like home. I stood at the door and could see children in there, sitting in their seats, begging to sit on the bean bag chairs, running in on the way to lunch to give me a hug. There were names on the board, middle school students I was planning to meet with on that fateful day of no return.

I grabbed some headphones and a microphone that I’ll need for videoconferencing. Then I picked up a bin full of books. I forgot why I picked it up so I turned and sat it on a table. I looked around, not sure what to do next.

I walked to my classroom door, stopped, and went back to my desk to get my coffee cup. I then walked down the dark, too quiet hallway and thought about all that didn’t (and won’t) happen this school year.

And I wished I could get a pre-social-distancing hug. Those were the best.

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