So, I’m in my 26th year of teaching and I guess that means I’ve taught a lot of kids, seen a lot, done a lot, been through a lot. Many moments stand out: amazing, sad, touching, frustrating, mundane, hilarious….
The business of a classroom, first thing in the morning, is a relatively routine moment – teachers greeting, students organizing for the day. As any teacher will tell you, part of that routine is The Kid Who Wants to Tell You Something.
I’ve heard all kinds of things during that time:
Ms. Hopping, my cat had kittens.
Ms. Hopping, I went to the book store and got a boxed set of Harry Potter.
Ms. Hopping, my dog was hit by a car.
Ms. Hopping, did you see the Michigan State game yesterday?
Ms. Hopping, we won our hockey game last night, but there was a fight in the stands. Ms. Hopping, my cousin is getting married and I’m in the wedding!
Ms. Hopping, I'm going to Disney World over Easter Break.
Ms. Hopping, I went to the Tiger game last night.
It’s a delicate, multi-tasking jugging act to listen and respond, take attendance, remind so-and-so to get out such-and-such materials, answer the phone, mediate a minor conflict, release a stuck zipper on a backpack.
After teaching nearly 5,000 such mornings, I am happy to say that I can maneuver smoothly through the matrix: everyone gets on task and our day begins.
But, more times than should happen, the morning routine becomes not routine. A tragedy strikes and shakes us all—the Columbine shootings, the 9-11 attacks, a tsunami and nuclear accident, the Sandy Hook shootings, and most recently, the San Bernardino massacre.
Each time that happens, I have to balance my own feelings, trying to make sense of these shocking events in my own mind, while understanding and being sensitive to the diverse needs of my students.
This week, one of my more vivacious students stopped me in my tracks. She put her heart in her hands and held it out to me and time seemed to stop. All in one breath, she blurted out:
Ms. Hopping, I saw my grandpa watching the news about the shooting in California. I had to ask my grandma to lie in bed with me until I fell asleep. I told her I loved her and couldn’t go to sleep until she said it back because if one of us died in the night, I wanted that to be the last thing we said to each other.
What I replied to her, exactly, I really can’t remember. Maybe I said some platitude about how wonderful to have a grandma who loves you so much... and then the phone rang and the busy school day galloped on, non-stop.
After the dismissal bell, I finally had time to take a breath and reflect on the day. I couldn't stop thinking about that morning's Kid Who Had Something to Tell Me. The encounter lasted a matter of seconds, but it's a moment that will stay with me always. It's the type of moment that every teacher experiences, surrounded by students all day long who have things on their minds. Important things.