Part of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers. Head over there for information and links to more Slicing!
I’m on bus duty and I’m freezing at the parent pick up area. It’s almost the end of my bus duty weeks, and I’ve been watching.
I watch as kids walk down the path. I see kids in groups, loud and laughing. I see kids arm in arm with friends, and kids walking alone. I see kids smiling, kids weighted down by backpacks or bags of library books. I see kids looking concerned and kids just concentrating on leaving.
A few of my current 6th graders wave a quick goodbye to me, as they scan for their parents.
I catch the eyes of 7th and 8th graders who used to belong to my classroom, and call them by name as we say goodbye. It feels good to know these kids.
My teacher ears pick up snapshots of conversations that are happening in small groups that assemble around me.
“You should date her.”
“Remember that time…”
“Did you text him?”
“Is your mom coming to pick us up? It’s cold.”
“You’re a loser.”
One group gets loud and obnoxious in an unsettling way: a playful push here, a throwing of leaves, an inappropriate remark that almost crosses the line, but did I really hear it correctly?
I move myself closer, and wonder about the rules.
In school, you can’t call someone a loser. It’s not okay to make inappropriate jokes that make others feel uncomfortable. “Your mama” phrases aren’t tolerated. In my classroom and with the students I interact with, I try to make these learning experiences. I don’t want to bully you into not bullying – I want to help you move towards kindness. On bus duty it feels different. I don’t know these kids – not even their names. I don’t know what norms they have settled on in their 8th grade hallway. I know that it has always seemed looser, as if the 8th grade teachers know to let the 8th graders spread their wings. But unkindness is hard for me to hear without intervention.
In school, you can’t have your cell phone. As soon as the bell rings, students walk out the door, cell phones out. By the time they get down to parent pick up, they have already texted and instagramed, tweeted and occasionally even called, to their hearts content. Groups of middle school students stand with phones out, having conversations with the people next to them and the world at the same time. I am unsettled by this, but is it against the rules? Don’t I tweet and text and read on my phone when I’m bored? Don’t I think think that kids deserve to feel connected? I know so many benefits of connection and technology, but I feel like I’m watching the introduction to a real life Wall-e, where students are connecting only through this device, and not with the people right next to them.
I’m on bus duty, and I’m watching. I am trying to make sure you are safe but I think I may have failed. I see you walking alone, and I see you navigating your friendship groups. I see you telling loud obnoxious jokes, and I see you look at me wondering what right I have to intercede. I should have introduced myself to you and your friends and found some common ground. Instead I reverted to my early teaching days – when I had 8th grade lunch duty and 8th grade study hall. When I didn’t know what I was supposed to do so I just became an enforcer.
“That’s not okay.” I say as you throw leaves at the girl next to you.
“She doesn’t mind.” you tell me with the air of defiance playing on your face.
“Well I do. So, stop.” I say. I can tell my eyebrows raise into my teacher face.
And that’s all I’ve got on bus duty: an eyebrow raise and an enforcing “Stop.” I’m on bus duty and I’m freezing at the parent pick up area. It’s almost the end of my bus duty weeks, and I’ve been watching.