Twenty-six Minutes

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Twenty-six minutes. That is all a teacher gets for lunch. When you subtract the time it takes to escort your untamed feral kids to the cafeteria only to turn around and pick them back up again, you are left with about 15 minutes to pee, heat up your food and scarf it down like a violent piranha.

Twenty-six minutes. The only time during the day you are promised a tranquil break from the sound of middle school chatter. The only time during the day you have to forgive yourself for losing it in 2nd period…again.  The only time you have to recover from your horrible unannounced observation that you are still shaking from.

Those twenty-six minutes are coveted. I yearn for them every single day. It is a time to catch my breath. A time to regain my composure for the next two classes. A time to feel sane and nourished. A time to guzzle down a giant cup of coffee that fills my veins with the very enthusiasm that my next two classes need from me.

I used to have a “no-students” policy during my lunch. No students for lunch detention. I need my twenty-six minutes. No students completing work. I need my twenty-six minutes. No students for ANY reason. This is my time. I need it. I simply will not survive the rest of this day without my twenty-six minutes.

This past year however, something changed. I started inviting students into my classroom to finish filming a news project we were working on. Once the project was finished however, the students continued to ask if they could join me. Every bone in my body was yelling at me to say “No! This is my twenty-six minutes. I’ll see you in class.” For some reason, and I’m not sure why, I said yes. That is when everything changed.

It started with just a few students. I’m not sure why they wanted to be there. Maybe it was to sit with friends they normally wouldn’t be able to sit with. Maybe it was to escape the excessive noise in the cafeteria. Maybe it was to avoid drama. Maybe it was to spend more time with me. It didn’t matter the reason. They were there, day in and day out spending those twenty-six minutes in my room.

In a normal class period, we really don’t learn that much about our students. They want to tell us their personal stories in the middle of a lesson and our eyes roll over to the ticking clock on the wall and we remind them gently, “we don’t have time for that story right now..but I would love to hear it later!” But..when is later? You won’t have time to listen to them when you are monitoring the hallway transition, you won’t have time to listen to them when you are rushing them off to their buses, and you won’t have time tomorrow, or the next day…or the next. You will keep shoving standards at them and expect every conversation in the classroom to be related to the learning objective. All you will ever learn about them is whether or not they can pick out the theme in that story that they won’t even remember 24 hours from now.

Giving up my twenty-six minutes every day, I learned about them. I learned about their families. I learned about where they used to live. I learned about who was dating who. I learned what colleges they wanted to attend in the future, or what they really wanted to be when they grew up. I learned what books they were reading for fun. I learned that some kids do still read books for fun.

Somedays I learned about them as they were speaking to me. Other days I learned about them just by sitting in the corner, sipping my coffee and listening to them speak to each other about anything BUT the day’s learning objective. I didn’t have to stop and remind them to use accountable talk. I didn’t have to “get them back on track.” It was their twenty-six minutes as well. Their time to be themselves. How incredible they are when they are allowed to be themselves.

Little by little, more and more students started to join me during my twenty-six minutes. The lunch crew was growing. What would have seemed like a nightmare to me years ago, now became the regular routine. One I actually looked forward to. What would I learn today about my students? I couldn’t wait to listen to them.

Our job as an educator is tough. We have very little time to ourselves during the day, and we beg and plead with our students hour after hour to LISTEN to us. LISTEN to my lesson. LISTEN to my directions. LISTEN to this video. Just LISTEN!!!! Sometimes I think we forget the power that lies in just listening to them…perhaps even for twenty-six minutes.