One of my current “other duties as assigned” during the time of COVID, hybrid, hyflex, and whatever else we call this learning involves hanging out with kids in a virtual study hall. It’s honestly one of my favorite parts of the day. I don’t get much work done sometimes, but the time is still quite valuable because I get to reconnect with kids, build relationships, and remember how wonderful they are.
I listen to them talk. To me and to each other…about whatever is on their minds. Some of them have such deep worries that fall out before they can catch them and put them back. Worries about health of their family, their friends, their teachers. Worries about school and friendships. Feelings about online work and the few kids in the room. Sadness because their friend is a blue day kid and they’re a green day kid and they can’t see each other at lunch or recess. Others can’t sleep because they saw something scary on YouTube when they were watching with an older sibling. And some, some don’t really have words for what they’re feeling and they just need to sit with me a while and lean against me a little.
Listening to the chatter was how I learned that kids’ families were in crisis, divorces and separations happened, distant family members moved in, that a big sister was taking care of a little sister because both parents were out of town working. It’s how I learned that there were seven people living in a house intended for four, and it was loud, and the introvert didn’t ever get time to recharge and that was why they liked study hall–it was quiet…and the child we see at school is very much not the one that is at home. The chatter is how I learned that kids hate that they can’t play together like they used to and had plans to create sleds out of cardboard they found in the dumpster to be recycled so they could still play in the snow together at least. The chatter is how I learned that young gifted children often put incredible pressure on themselves to be perfect, to move at a rapid pace in absolutely everything they do, and refuse to acknowledge the idea of practice for the sake of improvement because some things just come so easy. Chatter is how I learn about the passing of beloved family pets, cancellation of vacations and get togethers, and excitement about special “dates” with their parent.
Teachers so often tell kids to be quiet, not talk, not blurt out, and otherwise not talk about what they’re thinking and feeling in the moment. I suspect we do it more so right now because kids on the screen talking + kids in the room talking = a thousand times worse than when they’re all just in the classroom talking. But it’s so important that we give kids the opportunity to share their ideas, their worries, their goals, their frustrations with us…rather than asking someone to come and get them out of class so we can keep teaching. They’re trying to teach US in those moments. They’re trying to teach us what’s important…and often it’s not the content we planned.
My challenge to you going forward this school year is to listen. Give lots of opportunity for the kids to talk to each other and to you, even if it means something doesn’t quite get done or you give up a few minutes of your time to just chat…kids shouldn’t feel that they’re in trouble when they have big emotions that they aren’t sure what to do with. Everything is so messed up right now that we are hyper-focused on what we need to get done (because the grading, online or otherwise, still seems to replicate during recess, lunch, and overnight), what we haven’t gotten through that we planned for, and what the kids are missing. The fact is, the goal posts have to move for kids because, to use a word I loathe, the past 10 months have been unprecedented.
And some days, they need US more than they need to memorize math facts or that William the Conqueror invaded England in 1066 or that there are seven (or fifteen depending on where you look) states of matter or that a predicate nominative is always a noun. While all these things are important, right now, some things are a little more important in the moment.
And sometimes, they just need to lean against us a little…