Waiting

Happy early days, my friends in education. 

I stepped back into my classroom for the 11th year after another summer of learning and growth. I was armed with new ideas, a thicker suit of armor to protect my sensitive empath soul, and, of course, a heart full of unconditional love. I ditched my plans to go over the syllabus on my first day, choosing instead to have students engage in a series of stations to break up the monotony of their day, giving them a chance to move rather than to sit and get.

One of these stations included a “Meet Me” survey for students to fill out information about themselves. I’ll come back to this in a moment.

I stood at my door, which I had decked out in shiplap paper and adorned with the words “Hello, in case no one told you today: I believe in you. You belong here.” I greeted each student with a smile and an enthusiastic, “G’morning!” No one spoke back, but I figured, I just need to wait. I started each class with my usual energy and didn’t get flustered when we had to ditch the stations because technology was not working in our favor. I didn’t even get ruffled when I tripped over a pencil and dumped an entire cart of iPads on the floor in the hallway in front of the student body. I kept smiling widely even when students shuffled out of the classroom silently after the bell, ignoring my cheerful, “Have a great day!” With every beat of my heart, I tried to exude nothing but love and excitement to see each and every student I encountered.

I played a game with students on day two, then set them to finish a personality assessment they had started so I could go through their “Meet Me” survey answers and start to get to know my newbies and see how my seniors had evolved since last year.

The first survey was mostly blank.

That didn’t faze me, though I thought it odd. We had some tech issues; maybe this student was rushed for time.

The second survey was mostly blank. And the third. And the fourth.

The fifth one said “Idk” for every answer except where he put his nickname.

The tenth one said, “I’d rather be dead.”

The 23rd one said, “School is nothing more than an instrument to beat the joy out of childhood.”

One after the other, mostly blank survey after survey, except a lot of “School sucks,” “I hate this,” “I’d rather be sleeping,” “I am never happy here.”

“I don’t have a favorite subject.”

“No one here really cares.”

“I don’t read and you can’t make me.”

One hundred and eleven surveys later (I have 127 students, so who knows what happened to the other ones), I shut my laptop and closed my eyes. I knew I had my work cut out for me this year, but it couldn’t be this dismal already, could it?

I sought out the counsel of my teacher bestie. She suggested maybe they had done too many “getting to know you” things on day one and that’s where the lack of effort and negativity was coming from.

So on day three, I stood in front of my class and asked what had happened. “Did you fill out too many of those surveys?”

Silence. They shook their heads. “No,” someone piped up, “yours was the only one.”

“Did you think I wasn’t going to read them?”

Some nods. Mostly blank stares. More silence.

I tried again. “Do you really hate school that much?”

A resounding chorus of “yeah” blasted me back.

I paused, and then I said, “I am so sorry. I am so sorry that the joy of learning has been taken from you for so long.”

We talked some more and then moved on to a book speed dating activity so they could choose their own reading material. I walked out of the building on day three feeling good about the day’s work, but wondering how long it would take to earn their trust and truly restore humanity to my classroom.

The cloud that hung over me dissipated, though, when, on day four, tiny beams of sunlight began to filter through. This time, when I stood bouncing on the balls of my feet outside my room, genuinely excited to see each student passing through the door, many of them greeted me in return. Indeed, many students, even ones that normally wouldn’t bother to do so, gave me a smiling “hello” in the hallways.

The vibe felt so different than it had the first three days. Students were more social, smiling more. There was an energy humming as we worked on setting up notebooks, sharing scissors and tape, passing glue sticks to one another. I buzzed around the room, collecting scraps of paper to recycle, and received genuine thanks. Several students paused to engage me in conversation, one group of them actually seeking my advice. When the bell rang, most of them wished me a good weekend. One of them called me “Mom.”

At the football game that night, I saw a former student who had graduated two years ago. “Hey,” he said, “my brother says your class is the only one he likes so far.”

Maybe it was Friday. Or maybe, just maybe, I won’t be waiting too long for them to accept all the love I have to give.