Something I’ve Missed
Monday was my day to be in the building. Before teaching remotely from my empty classroom, I walked upstairs to the gym to say hi to the students who physically came to school. I saw a few kids quietly standing near the ping pong table that had been set up for socially distanced socializing.
One of my calculus students was with them, so I challenged him to a game of ping pong. They didn’t have any ping pong balls, so we searched the empty lockers and he found a fist-sized green squishy ball. He held it up as if to ask “Want to give this a shot?” and I nodded. After about 45 awkward seconds we succeeded in inventing some kind of paddle-ball game. As we played we talked about infinite series, differential equations, and the BC exam. After a few minutes a dozen students were watching. I handed off the paddle and said goodbye, and headed upstairs.
Outside the cafeteria I saw a student standing by himself at another ping pong table. I realized it was a 9th grader I’d been teaching all year but never met in person. I grabbed a paddle and we started playing, chit chatting for the first time after working together for 8 months. A few other students gathered, including one of his classmates. It was 10 o’clock and I had to get back to my empty classroom to teach their class, so I handed off the paddle again. I grabbed an extra ping pong ball and headed back downstairs. Paddle-ball was in full swing, which made me think twice about giving them the ping pong ball I’d snatched for them.
Back near my classroom I noticed a familiar face in the distance. It was a student of mine from last year. He and a few friends had set up an unofficial pod in the lobby and were quietly working at an out of the way table. I took a quick detour to catch up — How’s your year going? How’s Algebra 2? Any plans this summer? — and then hustled back for the start of class.
I love teaching and I love math, but I love this part of my job, too. I love being a small part of the small moments of the daily lives of students. Sharing a smile or a laugh or a serious thought before school. Silently saying hi in the hallway in between classes. Catching up years later, seeing how students have changed and grown, listening to how they remember our shared experience. I figured out the teaching and the math this year, but not this other part. I’ve really missed it.