Monday, February 6, 2012

Traveling Alone

“My doctor says I need to stop working and can’t manage all these stairs and subways,” I said to my principal, Ms. Budd [This Budd's For You 1-15-12] with a look of sheer despair on my face. I did NOT want to leave my classroom.  I did not want to leave the 31 fifth- and sixth-grade students I had worked so hard to bring along.  True, some were still off track (James) and disrespectful Taneesha) and insolent (Rudy), but for the most part they had all come so far!  If I left I wouldn't get to finish what I started.  My classroom was on the third floor.  But if things continued the way they were, I would be endangering my pregnancy.  I was struggling to figure out how to manage.

“I have an idea,” said Ms. Budd.   “What if in the morning you got your children from the schoolyard, brought them up and then didn’t come down again until the end of day?”

“How could I do that?  What about down to lunch and back again, gym, and math lab?” They can’t go up and down three flights by themselves.”

“Why not?”  she asked me plainly.

“Because it’s not allowed!” I said with a bit of frustration. If anyone knew the rules, it was Ms. Budd — she was the principal; she was the one who set them!

“What if we made an exception to the rules?  What if they were allowed to travel as a class, without an adult escort?” she said with a smile on her face.

The idea of it was slowly dawning on me…it would be something unheard of in PS 145. Let my class of 31 kids out of the entire school travel up and down throughout the building with NO adult? What would they think?  What would they DO?

“We’d tell them together,” she continued with a wrinkle of her brows as she thought through the logistics, “we’d give them a trial period.”

“…and there would be line leaders  front and back.” I added, realizing that for it to work everyone would have to take responsibility.  “And the leaders would rotate every day so there was no favoritism about who was ‘in charge.’  Do you think it can work?” I asked her hopefully.

“We’ll only know if we try,” she said grinning. “Let’s do this first thing tomorrow morning,” as she scribbled in her calendar, “and have your leader line-up in place.”

For a moment it actually seemed possible.  Perhaps I would be able to stay onboard awhile longer.

The next morning when we got into the classroom, Ms. Budd was already there waiting.  

The kids anxiously took their seats trying to shoot glances and figure out:  What had they done?  What was wrong that Ms. Budd was there?  Some of the girls, Carolina, and Selena looked as if they were going to cry.  Mia and Rudy looked defiant.  James had that “I’m-the-class-clown” look on his face.  As Ms. Budd began talking and explaining why I’d need to cut down on taking the stairs and what we were proposing to do, face by face their eyes widened, their mouths gaped, and as they realized what she was saying, they got excited.

“Now you will be the only class traveling on your own but every teacher in the halls will be watching,” she cautioned. “This is a privilege and if there’s any problem, any cutting up or fighting, ANY disturbances, you won’t be allowed to do this again. Do you understand?”

They all nodded mutely.  After she left, the room was oddly silent.

The next morning, when we got to the classroom I’d posted a list of the daily line leaders. I’d chosen my most problematic to be first.  If they weren’t invested, it wasn’t going to work.

They rose to the occasion like little soldiers going to do battle.  The first time they left the room to head down to the gym, I waited and then went to peek out the doors to the stairwell and this is what I heard.

“STOP!  You’re going too fast!”

“No one should be TALKING!”

“Everyone needs to stay in LINE!”

They were marvelous.  And that is how they behaved for the rest of the time I was there. 

They walked taller, straighter, more intently.

They looked dead ahead. They looked purposeful.  Everyone was shocked.

Overnight their status changed.  They went from being the “dregs” to being stars. They were the envy of every class.   

One of my coworkers reported overhearing one of the girls being a mini-me as the kids were frozen on the steps:

“I’m sorry class, we’re just going to HAVE TO wait here until EVERYONE is READY.”

Every day they went up and down those stairs their faces were filled with pride.    

I learned an invaluable lesson from that experience and one every teacher should learn in their career. 

Traveling alone they didn't just rise to the occasion — they rose to our expectations.


  1. Peer pressure at its best, but maybe they raised their own bars and rose to a belief in themselves, a belief which you helped to foster, and not so dissimilar to the Principal's belief in you and what you had/could accomplish with the kids :-) ....Kudos to you!

    1. Well I wish I could accept that analysis but you will learn ( as I did) the fatal flaw I made that year as their teacher...still I do believe they gained something that was valuable in spite of my mistakes. Thanks!

  2. denise, i loved your work, especially the Alice story. thought the little girl was so brave, while her little heart was breaking, and so smart not to hurt her mom's feelings. I'm sure that little girl grew up being there for her kids every minute every day. keep writing. it is wonderful.