They surge into class, pinked cheeked, hair mussed, with the puppy dog smell ten year-olds get after racing around at recess for fifteen minutes. They sharpen pencils, and get out science notebooks; I chat with those who curve around my desk to talk.
I settle them. They write their "inquiry questions," as I call them, ignoring the redundancy. I put a topic on the board for them to "inquire" about. Sometimes it's free choice-- they can ask questions about anything that pops into their minds.
All I ask is they write three questions a day, but some write more. John has logged 452 questions since September. They've numbered their questions consecutively since the first day of school when I told them I hoped they always had more questions in life than answers.
Peace reigns. They like this brief exercise before shifting into the lesson. They share their questions, and learn from my answers. If I can't answer, I tell them to research, and teach me. Some actually do.
Ready to move on, I stride to the front of the room, energetic teacher style, and walk hard into a chair that no one returned to the table.
To my credit, I didn't say, "Shit!" though I thought it. I'd hit my shinbone hard against the seat of the chair. The pain took my breath away, and I bent to do my bruise control thing, pressing both hands firmly on the bump to stem the internal bleeding. I have a personal theory this might lessen the bruise.
Because I can't do much until the pain fades, I stand hunched over, hands pressing shin, and ask what they know about bruises, and capillaries, and soft tissue. I answer their questions. They soak up information, attentive, focused, inquisitive, until noise erupts in the hallway.
Loud voices; deep, boisterous, adolescent laughter; weird vocalizations boys make. Something is thrown and caught, someone is shoved . . . Nothing criminal, just thoughtless, just boys.
I step into the hall and say, "Excuse me guys. We're trying to have a class here."
"Sorry," one said. Eight pairs of eyes stare.
They're eighth graders in a part of the building off-limits to them. Principal's rules: "All teachers are responsible for enforcing a set of uniform rules." Not my style, really, but I say, "You guys don't belong down this hall anyway."
They had reasons and excuses, none of which would have held up in a court of law. They wanted to challenge me. They were safe in a pack.
"But we're . . ."
"I just . . ."
"He said . . ."
I interrupt. "Just turn around and go the way you should."
I walk back into the room. My class bursts into applause.
"Good going, Mrs. Douillette," Matt said.
It's things like this, the unexpected appreciation, that soften the sharp edges of a school day, and make me look forward to the next.