Teaching and Dance Parties

Occasionally, my 3-year old daughter will throw some knowledge at me that I couldn’t have seen otherwise. I’ll be trying to avoid life by staring blankly at my phone screen, or dropping like dead weight into the couch to imagine the stars on the living room ceiling when she interjects.  

“Daddy, we need to have a dance party.”

 “Ok Baby, give me a minute.”

“NO! We need to have a dance party right now”

In her mind, there is no room for debate. This moment demands that we drop all of what we are doing, turn on some cheesy Pitbull jams, and dance like two crazy people. Her impatient demand cuts right through that guilt most of us feel for our iphone addiction.

Her reminder is simple: Be present and dance.     

For someone with anxiety, presence can be the hardest thing. It is painfully easy to spend minutes or hours on a past interaction or thinking about some imagined moment in the future. Sometimes, I can’t even articulate a source or a reason for my wandering mind, but I know that I am not in the moment. I’ll spend days maneuvering through my real or imagined failures, while rarely glancing at my successes.

And in teaching, as I mentioned in my last post, there is very little room for dwelling on our many failures.  My classroom today wasn’t unique, but it was busy.

Really busy.

One student filled my only prep period by stopping in to discuss a grant application we are developing on increasing student performance, another shed tears over confusion in essay writing, one student explained (in clear and poetic terms) her own depression, a student threatened to drop out because 40 hours of school and 40 hours of work is too much (and illegal), someone sat at my desk to sign up for SATs, many students celebrated and vented about the latest release of state test scores, one of my brightest students shut down because ‘you push too hard,’ and that same student bounced back after a long discussion, students debated the implicit bias in discipline and imprisonment, 15 students ate lunch in my room to trade the chaos of the cafeteria for what feels like the chaos of Boll’s room, countless students finished their essays, and a student who has been through just about everything celebrated her 4.0 GPA.  

Anyone who has ever spent time teaching knows that this list is far from exhaustive. But as I process my day, a habit that is critical if I hope to be kind to my family and friends tonight, I notice that there is really no room for teachers to be mentally absent. For the 7 hours per day that I spend with kids, my anxiety kind of fades away. In that sense, teaching is like the best kind of drug.

So is dancing. Which, at my daughter's request, I remember to do most days.

Today, as one student was writing an essay, he had a headphone in one ear. I could hear the treble of the beat coming through the other earpiece. Immediately, I stopped what I was doing and started dancing. Well, as the student mentioned, I did something as close to dancing as my rhythm-illiterate self can manage.

It was a simple moment, but it garnered a smile from a few kids and reminded me to be present. Good teachers block out the noise that fills our minds, or our worlds, or even the hallways outside our classrooms.  We find ways to be present; to see the tears, the joy, and the imagination of our students. We try to hear the questions and the complaints.

In my case, I take them home to my anxiety-filled brain for the weekend.

Until my daughter and I have a dance party.