Baseball legend Yogi Berra was famous for his funny quips and words of wisdom. One of his well-known lines is, “you can observe a lot by watching.” After occupying my office in the Middle School for well over a year now, I would add that you can also hear a lot by listening.
My office is tucked at the end of a hallway. Although I leave the door open most of the time, our girls usually can’t see me behind my desk while they talk, sing, rehearse, and go about their business. And so, I often have the opportunity to overhear snippets of “a day in the life of Middle School.” Today, a group of seventh graders were using an iPad to record a video of themselves singing a song about the Bill of Rights. Earlier this morning, I heard a lengthy conversation between two sixth graders about winter sports choices, with one girl explaining all of the reasons that her friend should try out for the basketball team. Last week, several eighth graders were studying for a science test, quizzing each other about the properties of rocks. I had forgotten all about the Mohs scale until the girls reminded me. (FYI: It’s related to the hardness of minerals).
Most of the time, the girls’ voices provide an organic soundtrack to whatever email I’m writing or file I’m reading—my own form of background noise that requires no action on my part except for a smile or a chuckle over a particularly funny remark. Occasionally, however, the activity is intriguing enough that I do walk out of the office to see what’s going on, or to engage with the girls. Gleeful squealing always grabs my attention, as does the sound of someone who’s upset.
One of my favorite parts of these moments is that the girls never seem surprised or embarrassed to see me, or to hear me acknowledge them. They usually just go on with whatever they were doing, sometimes including me. When the eighth graders were studying for their geology quiz last week, I called a few comments out to the hall. The girls and I then carried on a conversation for several minutes without ever getting up to talk face-to-face. Today, after I had heard the fourth attempt to record the Constitution video break down in peals of laughter, it occurred to me that the girls must be dancing while they were chanting the words to their song. I peeked around the corner to see four students working through a series of choreographed movements while trying to sing in harmony. One performer turned around and saw me, poked the girl next to her to alert her to my presence, and then went back to the recording. Their comfort says a lot about the way that our girls are known: they are surrounded by adults who are always watching, listening, and paying attention.