Slice of Life: It’s All So Dang Quiet

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

The first thing I noticed as we began our first day back in the school building since March with students (half of them, anyway) was the quietness of the building. The hallways, shining from cleaning and new lighting; the cafeteria, set up for one student per table for lunches; our classrooms, with desks spaced apart; everywhere.

So quiet.

And the students, on their first day back to our school but not their first day of school, were subdued. Maybe it was the masks. Maybe it was learning the protocols of how to move through the building and how to clean desks and when we can go outside to get fresh air. Maybe it was all just very overwhelming. Just as important is the class sizes, of no more than 10 students per classroom at this point (the other half of the classes are home, doing independent learning and come to school on Thursday and Friday).

I asked people about the quiet, which was so noticeable in a building often filled with loud students and raucous energy. They all noticed but whether they liked it or not was rather mixed. Same with my students, as some said they like the quietness of the classrooms, and hope to get more schoolwork done. Others admitted they missed the noise of friends, even as they were happy to be back.

Outside, under a tent, for a mask break, the students could chat with each other, although a few pairs of friends had to be reminded about social distancing more times than once.

“How long will we have to do this?” one boy asked, exasperated, after being told to move a few more feet away from a friend he had not seen in person since March.

“For as long as we need to stay safe,” I replied, sympathetically.

Another student chimed in, “Until the virus is gone.”

A fourth noted, rather sadly, “And who knows when that will be.”

We all went quiet at that.

Peace (back in the building),

  1. This quiet in a school building is…disquieting, Haunting. Our staff had a choice of teaching virtually from school or from home, but we all are to be on campus in mind-October to prepare for rotating cohorts of students each week. It is, at least, a step toward the familiar if not the normal (what is that, anymore?). Safety and wellness and courage to you all.

  2. We went from online to hybrid and are now in week 4 of fully in person (although some are still online) and it is different, but day by day we notice more “noise”, which does feel great!

    • Quiet in a building of middle school students seems odd, Kevin. Maybe when the newness if the experience wears off, the sweet sound of energetic youth will return.

  3. I’m struck by the image of one student per table and wonder how those students who know intimately the loneliness of sitting alone now feel as their peers join them.

  4. That is a very pertinent post. Children are really being impacted by the need to stay safe but some of them do not fully understand. Thank you for keeping them wearing masks and social distancing the best you can!

  5. I’ve been thinking often lately of Emerson’s line from “Nature”: “Nature is a setting that fits equally well a comic or a mourning piece.” It’s been years since I taught the essay, but I still remember explaining that we see in Nature what we bring to it. I feel like that in the hallways at our school: some days the quiet feels comfortable, reminding me of the safety measures we are taking; other days it feels oppressive, reminding me, sadly, of the safety measures we are taking.

    I’m with your student – “how long will we have to do this?”

    May your in-person school time come to feel more enlivening than lonely.

  6. My library is much, much quieter than what I am used to. No classes or student visitors, just a handful of teachers using the space to plan or stopping in to pick up books and papers off the printer. I am spending more time in my office than ever before, since my classes are held via Google Meet to avoid popping bubbles from one room to the next. The quiet is…disquieting.

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