Elegy of an Empty Classroom
Bridgette Gallagher, May, 2020
My classroom is an extension of my heart. Everything I have put into it: the furniture, the background music, the posters on the wall, my too-loud voice at the start of a new unit. It’s the purest reflection of me.
This classroom feels both full and empty at the same time. The bells are all ringing at the wrong times, there are not enough seats for everyone, and you all are speaking monotone. I can’t find the words to say all the things I think you need to hear. I get choked up every time I wave goodbye in a video.
In my latest remote learning dream, you are crowded around devices in my guest bedroom. We are discussing Gatsby. You ask me questions that I cannot answer. It’s burrito day for lunch– downstairs, in my kitchen. I know it’s your favorite.
But in real life, all I have are the words I write to you, the sub-par awkward videos that you watch, and the sentences of your journals to keep me going.
“The news scares me, ” you wrote one day.
“Most people are happy but I really like school,” you wrote another.
“I can’t believe this is how my senior year is going to end.” You fill the page with the worries of what you’ve already missed and what you might miss in the future.
Your make up work comes in at 5 am on a Saturday. “I hope you weren’t up all night,” I write.
You write back, “I kinda was.”
Without your voice and your smile and my stupid jokes, what is a classroom? Without the voice I make for Lennie’s character, or the Backstreet Boys song I play too loud?
And if my classroom is my heart, what is my heart, without you?
I’ve spent nearly four weeks trying to figure that out. I can write plans that keep you busy, questions that make you think, assign reading that is ambitious.
But you know what I can’t do?
I can’t tap on your desk and say, “Hey, are you okay?” I can’t congratulate you on your last lacrosse win with a high five. I can’t stand at the door and call down the hallway before the bell, “You’re not going to make it! Hustle up!” I can’t make the same bad joke over and over again until I finally get you to smile at me out of pity.
You see, this weird detached version of my heart placed in modules, poorly cut videos, and calendar assignments: This is not me. This is not how I wanted to show you literature and poetry, teach you scansion and fun Shakespearean insults.
This classroom is devoid of all the reasons I teach. Your eyes lighting up when we read poetry, your eloquent personal narrative read aloud in front of the class, your attempts at getting me off-topic talking about Oscar-time films.
But right now, this is all we have. And if I can invite you inside my digital heart (Come in, there’s plenty of room!), I would love to hear all about how much this is wearing on you, what new project you decided to start, and what your dog or cat has been doing while you write journals in your bedroom. Because all of that, that’s just as important-actually more important-than Fitzgerald or Shakespeare.
The world has changed our classroom for an uncertain amount of time– and I want to make sure you see me, arms flailing, standing by the classroom door, saying, “I hope you are doing okay.”
Bridgette Gallagher lives and works in the Saratoga Springs City School district. She teaches grade 9, 11 and Creative Writing. She is a lover of YA literature, podcasts, any kind of documentary, and spoken word poetry.
Bridget- What a sincere, poignant letter to your “kids”. Your heartfelt words will stay with them for years to come. Thank you so much for seeing the potential in every student and encouraging them to get excited about literature. You are a remarkable teacher and I’m so grateful that my son had a chance to enjoy your class, even if only for a short time, during his senior year at Saratoga Springs High School.