The coffee threatens to spill with each step and I know I have to choose between carrying all the necessities and making another trek back through the morning shuffle. If I were an octopus, I could easily carry this and grab my water bottle. If I were a kangaroo, I could tuck my computer into my pouch. If I were a Smart Teacher, I’d have one of those wheelie cart things.
He runs–no, skips–down the hall, wearing an orange scarf, black winter hat, one glove, red fleece jacket and, of course, shorts, animatedly singing the theme song to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. I snort laugh my coffee right out of my nose.
There is a single pencil, or at least the remnants of a pencil, being haphazardly kicked as she ambles along the quiet, almost empty hallway. I wonder what prompts such sad walking.
Overnight, the construction workers erect a temporary wall to contain some potentially toxic dust from escaping into the hallways. Someone spackels a smiley face near the top. Is working in a middle school infectious?
She leans deep into her locker, obviously texting and oblivious to the rest of us. She abruptly loses her footing and slips, almost falling in completely. I remember Richard Peck’s short story, “Priscilla and The Wimps” and wonder if I should add it to my upcoming unit.
I walk as slowly as is physically possible to avoid having to try to pass (there is only about three inches available between the masses and the wall), as I trail behind the sea of students returning from lunch. A jumbled concentration of bodies, voices, illicit backpacks and the occasional yelp, they fight to get in front of one another. They are like Leroy, from Fame, on his roller skates rushing to “get more learnin’ in!”
Two boys, both eighth graders, run full speed down the hall, laughing and calling to one another that they are going to be late. While they are, indeed, late, this looked more like the hundred yard dash, but without the medal ceremony in the end. You’d be a lot later if I stop you to enforce the rule about no running in the hallway…but I’d rather see you on the podium.
She is protected on virtually every side by their soft touch and slow, steady voices conveying words of friendship, love and solidarity. Her eyes reflect the florescent lights, shimmering pools in a midnight sky of a face. They have her, but it is not enough. I will have to intervene. The cruelty of adolescence is overwhelming, even for those of us who are merely witnessing it.
There are three of them, standing in the center of the hall, discussing some incredibly important School Related Topic. If I continue on my path, I will collide and then have to make pleasantries. “How are you?” is the usual greeting. What would happen if I answer honestly? I imagine harnessing my best inner Nicholson, “You can’t handle the truth!”
The light fades from my classroom windows as the sun falls below the hill; I lock the door for the night and start to make my way home. Our custodian’s cart can be heard echoing through the now-empty halls but my brain has already beaten my feet out the front door.