I walked out of my class today. It wasn't anything bad. No one was bleeding. There was no smoke bomb or stink bomb. I walked out for a simple reason: I had to pee.
Ours is a school filled with at-risk kids. That crowd can get out of hand fast. I've had it happen in my class a couple dozen times a year. This is why the usual thing is to get the hall monitor to watch the class while we are gone, but I don't usually bother. It depends on the group, the day, my mood, the phase of the moon. Today, I wasn't worried about it.
In the hall, another staff member was talking to the hall monitor. "Oh," she said to him, "I guess you have to go watch Brian's class." I waved them off. Don't worry about it. I don't take long to pee. On the way back to class, the staff member was looking at my class. "They're all reading," she said, amazed. I shrugged. Of course they are. "How do you keep them working when you're not there?"
I don't think of what we do as drudge-work and I've engineered things to work this way.
The first part is crucial. There's not much I want to do more than write and read. I project the idea that writing and reading is the best kind of work. It's not drudgery. We get to write. We get to read. What could be better? They don't love writing and reading as much as I do, but enough of my enthusiasm rubs off.
The second part goes back to a lesson I was taught in my first year of teaching by my friend Faith who might not remember and hopefully won't mind me telling.
"Every so often," she said, "walk out of class. Stand around the corner by the lockers and listen. Then come back." There was no need to say anything. Just go back to conducting class.
I tried it the next day with ninth graders as they were reading. I put down my book, walked out, and stood around the corner. I listened. After a few moments, someone said something. I waited until they were quiet again and went back, picked up my book, took my seat, and kept reading. It was like I had just been given fire by the gods.
There's more to it of course than just walking out and walking back in, but not much more. The big part is trusting not just in them but in what I have done with them. The fear is that they will go nuts behind my back. I have to get over that fear. My experience has been that they go nuttiest when I'm there. It's performance art and no good without me there to react.
When I leave, they mostly do what we've been doing. They'll look at their phones some, but we do that when I'm there. I teach them how to balance phone stuff and school stuff because that's important to learn.
By this point in the year, they hardly notice me leaving or coming back which is good. Who really wants to think about me having a pee? Better to reading or writing. If I do class right, I'm not important enough to notice that much.