Standing Watch


As I said last week, I try to start every class standing at my door greeting my students and others as they walk by. I have tried to do this each day for 24 years. I have felt like the lion on the steps to the library outside untold number of classroom doors and in four different schools.  I started doing it for one reason – I was told to.  Now you could not convince me to stop. I have many reasons for doing it now, but the reason I do it most now is the memory of one student’s comment – but that is the end of this story. Let me talk to you first about the not so insignificant reasons first.

First is the classroom management reasons for being in the hall. This is what got me into the hall during passing periods in the first place – I was told to be there by my first Principal so that the hall maintained a presence of authority (nevermind that this same Principal once transferred a student into my homeroom because my homeroom “did not have a real authority figure in it…” But that is ANOTHER story) Any teacher worth their salary knows that the first and best way to stop problems is to avoid them by being present and aware. New teachers take note! Classroom Management 101 is move around your classroom and be aware of everything. Most potential problems are completely avoided in this way.  And thus, it one reason I like standing in the hall along with my science colleagues  and our hall has few problems. I don’t even think of hallway management issues anymore.

Secondly I like to see the people in the hall.  My school has about 1800 students in it grades 10-12. I teach only a select few of them being a physics and astronomy teacher. I like to say hi to old students,nod to current students and put a face to the 1000+ students who will never take a class of mine.  Oh and be aware that those students do notice you.  I will never forget the uproar about five years ago when I abruptly cut my hair.  I went from a long-haired pony-tailed guy to the clean-cut clippers only at the barber type.  I had so many students that i did not know coming to talk to me that I was speechless.  I did not know what to do.  Many were angry and wanted to know who forced me to cut my hair.  Some were some emotional that I was almost ashamed to admit to them that I did it for safety reasons (it almost fell into a router I was using during woodworking.) So take heed, students notice you – even if they do not talk to you, they know about you and you can still have an effect on them.

One of the big reasons I stand in the hall is that it forces be away from prepping for the upcoming class.  It is too easy to over-prepare.  You are never completely ready for a lesson. So let it drop. If you are a good teacher, your lesson can spare you a few minutes.  Spend the time welcoming students, talking to them. Ask them about their weekend.  It may not help them learn physics but it will help them get to know you. It will help your relationship with them and in the long run it will help your classroom environment. And sometimes you (and they) just need to carry on a conversation that has nothing to do with your class. It lets the stress out.

Lastly, when I stand in the hall, I am reminded of an incident that took place about 8-9 years ago.  I lost about 40 pounds in about 10 weeks.  I was becoming the healthiest I had been in a long time.  My gut had all but disappeared and people everywhere were noticing it and commenting on it.  One morning, during homeroom we talked about my loss of weight.  And just a note about homeroom. Our homeroom was an 8 minute period where announcements came on the speaker and i handed out info to students that I never saw any other time of the day. Many, if not most teachers always complained that it was a waste of time(but again that is another story, lol!) I always used the time to talk with my kids and get to know them as well as I could during that 8 minute a day session for the three years I had those students.  Well, this group of students were getting ready to graduate and we got to talking how everyone had changed during the years we were together.  All the students started telling me how much I changed and how  impressed they were by my effort.  I was pretty happy at their compliments when all of a sudden on girl spoke up and said ” I don’t like it at all!  I like the way he was!”  The group went dead silent until one of the boys turned to her and said “How can you say that?  Look how good he looks!  It took a lot of work to lose that weight!”  I could see that the girl was upset so I started trying to defuse the situation.  You see, she was not an extrovert. I knew it took a lot for her to say what she said. She was the student in your class that never says anything and barely gets noticed. Someone who tries to be forgettable and not attract attention.  My school is an upscale middle-class suburban school and she was from a poor background.  She did not fit in.

But she had stood up to the group to exclaim her controversial feeling to the who group.  The group just looked at her and she continued,

“I liked him the way he was. I looked forward to coming to Homeroom everyday where he would stand at the door with a big smile on his face and his greying beard. Everyday he would say hello and how are you. He made me feel great. Now he looks all different. I miss my Santa.”

No one knew what to say.

Not even me.

We were “saved” by the bell and everyone shuffled out.

I was dumb founded, but I thought about her comment all day and came to realize that I had just been given the best compliment a person could be given. As comparisons go, I don’t think there are many other people I could name that would make me feel any better. Who wouldn’t want to be compared to Santa?

The next day I went over to that student and thanked her. I told her that I was honored that she felt that way. I promised that I would always try to live up to her view of me.

And I have.

That is why I stand in the hall – to make people feel as good as they do at Christmastime.

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3 thoughts on “Standing Watch

  1. Oh Gene! That made me cry a bit!

    It’s those small moments that make teaching worthwhile. I could live on one of those for months. 🙂 I always stood in the hallway, first cause I was told to, then cause I wanted to – and for the same reasons you so eloquently stated. Lovely post 😀

  2. Thanks for this post, Gene. Really makes me itch for a classroom of my own … although I’m having trouble imagining the Porch Dragon as Santa ;-).

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