I have been thinking about trying to write more. Not write on here, but push myself and write the things that are hard for me to write, like short stories. (It’s a little funny that short stories have become the most frightening form for me, considering that’s where I started as a teenager.) So I was thinking the other morning that I should write what I know. It is not the only writing advice, but it is tried and true and good for quelling fear. I looked out over my sophomores who were working on their journal entries with kind-of-sort-of-maybe diligence, and I thought, But how do you write fiction about that? Those kids are real and personal and ever mutable. They’re wonderfully, painfully individual. My everyday experience as a teacher is shaped by each one of them, and though my words can accomplish something, I am not fool enough to think they can capture all of who my students are in a single plot arc.
But there is one way to give you an in to the day-in and the day-out, I think, and that’s to tell you about my classroom.
My room number is 208, but I’m always getting confused and telling people it’s 210. It’s the room where I took Geometry and Precalculus when I was thirteen and fifteen, so it knows my tears and worries of old. It has green carpet and one green wall and two windows with curtains that, like so many other things, I inherited from a teacher before me. The walls are littered with maps and colorful student projects, and a lot of things in my room are broken. Notable items include a three-legged table, a chair separated from its seat, and a pencil sharpener with a crank that’s inconveniently missing its handle.
In fact, back in December when I injudiciously allowed my precious freshmen to decorate my room for Christmas and the whole scene turned into a magnificent catastrophe, I made a “Broken Things” list on the board, to which a few students joyously contributed.
The list was, perhaps, a bit hyperbolic, but there is no denying my students are very comfortable in my room. They tell me so themselves and sometimes I am frustrated. All of my current students are at least fifteen years old, which is quite old enough to understand that when they make a mess, someone, somewhere, must eventually clean up after them. And yet at the end of a long day as I pick up debris off the floor, I will remark bitterly to anyone in earshot (or very often no one at all) that my classroom is probably the world’s largest trashcan. (Though I do get a lot of nice free mechanical pencils.)
Other frustrations include the fact that space is at a premium and so aside from the previously mentioned broken items, my fairly small room houses two teacher desks, ten student tables, twenty student chairs, various and sundry cabinets, shelves, and storage towers, and whole lot of moving bodies and foot traffic.
So the familiar running patter of instructions in my classroom includes: Get out of my window, stop leaning back in your chair, get out from behind Ms. Gillespie’s desk, whoever that water bottle belongs to needs to put it away so I don’t see it again, don’t sit on that table it has three legs, yes I know my stool is shaky but it’s mine not yours, STOP leaning back in your chair, take your bag off your desk, no projectiles in my room no I don’t care what it is or why, get your hands off each other, put the scissors away, shut the door for me, put my table back where it goes, do you understand that every time you lean back in your chair like that I picture your skull crushed on the floor and your blood and brains splattered across my carpet?
Clearly I say a lot of words every day, and sometimes, like my teenagers, I complain just to hear the comfortable sound of my own voice, but the strange fact remains: most of those “broken things” have been in bad shape since around October, and I have yet to put in a help ticket to the trusty facilities team. And it’s not because I’ve forgotten.
I suppose the silly secret is that I’m a Romantic. I think of my classroom as a living thing, an organism, a place of life. I secretly like that it has wounds, that it shows signs of my students’ sometimes-misguided exuberance. I am grateful to find that the space where I breathe and sit and sigh and dream and talk and spin my energy out like thread for at least eight or nine hours every weekday actually feels lived in. It reminds me that quite a few souls are constantly in and out of my door and that things happen there every day. I must continue to make sure those things are valuable.
Hey Alice, save those usable mechanical pencils for me! I never have enough.