When the first bell rings at 7:25, I know I have ten minutes until class begins. At this point, I am still taking chairs off of desks, writing directions on the board, or making photocopies in a stuffy, windowless room that smells of toner and hot paper. Otherwise I am picking up miscellaneous trash from the stained and tattered blue classroom carpet—balled-up notes, empty chip bags, and the chewed up, empty caps of ballpoint pens. From wall to wall, the floor is peppered with the white paper strips that get left behind when a sheet is torn from a spiral notebook. Some strips are the full eleven inches. Some are mere centimeters. Invariably though, these nameless nuisances are present like fallen leaves in this new season.
The first student in the room always has an air of disjointed embarrassment about them—as if they are simultaneously ashamed of being first, afraid of looking eager, and confused by the still silence that seems so out of place (especially on a Monday). The reaction of the following four or five students is similar, unless of course, one or more friends accompany them. In this case, the students are often cheerful and carefree. Sometimes however, this lightness abruptly collapses as they enter the classroom and adopt the same embarrassed manner of their peers, as if they have harshly interrupted the sanctity of seven-thirty AM.
This trend steadily shifts as more and more students trickle in. By the time the class is half full, the mood is buoyant and blithe. Naturally, a handful of students slink in slack-jawed and somber, with heads down and eyes half shut, but the general disposition is agreeable. As the babble in the hallway becomes a rushing torrent, I greet as many students as I can—by name if possible. The energy is palpable now, and the torrent becomes a flood. I remind them to take off their hats and hoods, to put away their iPods and phones, to stop shouting, to keep their hands to themselves, to watch their language, to hurry up the bell’s gonna ring!, and that yes, they do need their textbook today.
After periodically checking the glowing red numbers on the digital clock at the back of the room, I take an overanxious gulp of warm black coffee, flatten my tie against my chest with the palm of my hand, and stride to the front on the room just as the electronic bell expels a leisurely five chimes. At this point, I do my best not to sound like a teacher, but every day it happens the same—I take a deep breath, and over the sounds of animated adolescent chatter, I exhale an overanxious and overemphasized, “Goodmoooorrrrrning.”