Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Silence is Way Overrated

As I walked through the halls of our district office yesterday afternoon for a grade level meeting, the one thing I noticed above all else was the stillness.  Every time I step into that building it’s as if time stands still.  There are no squealing children running around, no frantic teachers racing to the bathroom, and, most noticeably, no bells. 

With my typical, quick teacher stride I approach the large, double glass doors of the building, pull them open, and the second I enter, silence slaps me in the face, forcing me to slow down.  While I, of course, don’t want to be late, the fact is it doesn’t really matter if I am.  Being late is not a luxury afforded to me in my role as a teacher.  That bell rings and I had better be there to greet the children.  Period.  Here though, with the absence of bells (and the presence of someone else being in charge) I simply saunter through the doors, make my way down the hallway, and find the meeting room.

This is not a meeting I would normally attend.  Ironic enough, given my passion for reading and writing, I am not the Language Arts liaison for my team.  Even more ironic, given my distaste for math, I am the Math liaison, and today’s meeting is for Language Arts, not Math.  My team’s normal liaison was not able to attend, so I am here in her place.  Though I loathe meetings, I am happy to be here for her; she is extremely busy preparing for her upcoming play and as I’ve recently been there, done that, I was thrilled to able to lessen her burden on this very stressful day.

Finding the proper meeting room was easy enough; I enter, sign in, and find a place to sit.  Again, the silence.  The room is so quiet that I can hear the humming of the heater.  It is unnerving.  It is distracting.  And I wish it would stop. 

Teachers begin to file in.  We wave and say hello and the facilitator asks us all to get settled.  After all, the sooner we begin, the sooner we get to leave (works for me).  We begin with introductions, an overview of the agenda, and then we are off and running.  Only we aren’t running at all.  We are crawling.  Worse, we are moving at a snail’s pace.  We are snails and we are crawling and it feels like we are going nowhere.  Do I dare brave a glance at the clock?  Surely the three-hour meeting must be almost over.  It’s not.  We are only 45 minutes in.  Three hours suddenly seems interminable in this silence.   

Three hours…for a meeting…I can see my husband shaking his head right now.  Three hours is child’s play.  But it’s not child’s play.  It’s torture.  It’s so quiet…the heater is still humming…no one is playing outside…former students aren’t opening the door asking if I need any help…colleagues aren’t popping in to ask a question, or to borrow something, or to return something…and that damn heater is still humming. 

All of the times I have ever uttered, “Please, you need to quiet down.  I can’t hear myself think” come racing back to me.  In the suffocating silence of this building I can hear myself think and it’s beginning to unravel me.  Unable to focus on anything but the humming heater and the slow-moving clock, I decide I need to do something…anything.

Flipping the agenda over, I begin to outline the meeting for my colleagues.  If I take notes maybe the silence won’t be so deafening.  If I put pen to paper maybe I can stay focused. 

“Wow, you take great notes,” the teacher next to me says. She then starts to copy them.  And I start to wonder if she, too, has reached her limit of being in this stifling room.  We begin to write notes back and forth to each other.  Anything to pass the time.  Anything to be engaged with someone else. 

Eventually, mercifully, the meeting comes to an end.  We all say our goodbyes and as I walk away I wonder how anyone can work in an environment like that.  An environment that’s, well, so quiet.  I wouldn’t know what to do with all that quiet…with all that uninterrupted time.  I drive away feeling anxious to hear my squealing students, to race a colleague to the bathroom, to be interrupted by an excited child, and most importantly, to hear that darn school bell tell me what I’m supposed to be doing!

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