It is a pity that there are three hundred fifty-some kids at my school, all of whom need to be heard. It is a pity because they outnumber the grownups by more than ten to one, and every day is a triage of pathos. Starting from the first students to arrive, an hour before the bell rings because their parents work, or are too busy to notice that their children have wandered out into the dawn to be in a place they believe is safe. With their friends. To socialize. To play. To be kids.
This is when my "duty day" begins. I am out there watching a sea of activity that swells until the official beginning of the school day and teachers sweep up their classes, taking them inside for a day of learning, with intermittent breaks for trips to the bathroom, water fountain and recess. And from those early morning moments when those first disparate souls appear on the blacktop together, the potential for conflict begins.
"No. You're out."
This is the kind of interaction that I hope to head off before it escalates to any kind of physical confrontation. In some ways, it is a cathartic moment. Whatever stress or strain that has come to school with these kids has found a release. Finding a way to let the steam out without anyone getting hurt is the challenge. Of course, there is the reality of the hurt that has already occurred. The hurt that made it impossible for them to have a civil game of four square in the first place. The hurt that gave them a zero-to-sixty acceleration of anger like a Maserati. The hurt that lives in them most days. The hurt that no band-aid can help.
But I stick with it because I hope to be able to mediate the situation and turn it into a learning moment. Maybe there is a way that we can make the next time someone questions the number of times a ball bounced in his or her square into a relaxed reckoning. And wouldn't that be nice?
I pride myself on the number of incidents I am able to defuse, yet I flinch when I think about those that I don't. It makes me sad to think about those kids who, in spite of everything else in their lives, show up to school with a smile on their faces. Then they get stuck in a circumstance that cannot be easily solved because it is not of their making. They look to me for help, and I hope that I can give it to them. Unless I am already knee-deep in somebody else's problem, and I have to ask a little boy or girl in tears to wait behind the other boy or girl in tears while I try and patch up the situation that brought them to me. A band aid. A pat on the head and the assurance that it will be alright.
At least until lunch time.