Step Down #SOL2020

I watch my feet descent the steps of the school hallway on my way out after class; black dimpled mats cover nearly century old steps and appear to be new relative to the structure beneath. They cover what I know is an ancient old school, with Hogwarts-like hallways, twists and turns that no wheelchair could successfully navigate, many flights of stairs built only for the able-bodied. Step down. Perhaps it is the nostalgia of old buildings, preserving structures which has preserved this privilege, and that may be central to what has now become quite public. Step down. The stair coverings are new, the purple paint, the gym equipment, the field, and even much of the furniture is new. But, my mind in this moment of departure, is on my foot falls, is on the steps, and not on the testimonies, the students screaming accusations outside the building. Step down. I am deep inside myself returning to the ways that I begin to know my students, the irreplaceable communication that happens with presence, a breath of a moment. Step down. I wonder to myself if blindness raises this knowing, if presence of the other comes to the sightless mind in a way which vision impedes. Maybe we are looking on the surface too much. Step down.

I reach the landing with yellow taped arrows and blocked off sections of tiled flooring remind me of the “social distancing”. Another wondering invades the movement where I notice nostalgia binding us to a past that we remember, that is comfortable, and a heaviness presses on my chest pushing out breath, not quite physical, but there nonetheless. There is the weight of making high school memorable, of making it about something more than survival. This has been walking with me, unacknowledged tension always hovering at the forefront of my mind like a gnat, barely visible and a reminder of absent presence.

I am carrying my bag, the weight heavy, even with little more than my laptop and mouse. In class today, I noticed the lifeless air in the room, but it wasn’t really the air, it was the mood, reading bodies, in the building, on the screen. Those grade nine students were there, but not there today; many were mentally wandering in some other place, maybe full of nostalgia, maybe full of longing. I tried to lift them, pretended that I didn’t notice and did my best to smile behind the mask, spending time beside them, showing them online material, cautiously selecting every movement, every word, every subtle message that my body might betray my state while navigating a difficult digital world where they really would rather not be.

I reach the 25 foot high oak wooden door at the front of the school, lean in to make it move, and wonder how many have crossed this ancient threshold. Old ways are like old doors; they are hard to move and require some leaning in. Old ways are safe and support the privileged. Another set of stairs greets me before I will make it to the ever changing magnificent maple whose orange and yellow leaves are drifting, are caressing the hood of my car. Step down.

10 thoughts on “Step Down #SOL2020

  1. Beautiful reflection. The way the building is simultaneously an actual and metaphorical reminder of privilege, the nostalgia for what may no longer serve…. and the writing, the repetition and the observation. Wonderful.

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  2. This commentary makes me wonder what high school rituals have negatively impacted this moment in time when abandoning traditional rituals and embracing flexibility is so necessary to survival. I’ve long believed old ways, traditions can harm. They do protect the privileged, as you say. This year is so hard for students and teachers. Maybe remove the mask—figuratively—and address the elephant in the room. Acknowledge the absence in the midst of student presence. That, too, might be a step down.

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  3. So beautifully crafted … I was transported as I read. The repetition and movement across time were powerful. So much is changing, so much needs to change, and so much work to do. I love how noted the problems and obstacles, yet kept us moving forward. Thank you.

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  4. Beautiful writing, Melanie. I’ve tried to read it a few times today but kept feeling distracted by some of the teaching things on my mind. You described it in your link on the SOL post as “heavy” and I realized that was why I needed to wait until tonight when all my distraction are elsewhere so I could focus. I teach in a newer building (25 years old) but have taught in very old buildings. There is a sense of tradition (good and bad) that permeates the whole building. My current building doesn’t have that – but we do have that famous culture of “we’ve always done this…” thinking. I wonder what it’s like to teach in a brand new building? I’m thinking now of the Headmaster portraits in Dumbledore’s office and wondering how many of the teachers who walked through the same doors you walked through are still monitoring the comings and goings of your school from whatever dimension they happen to currently reside in. I wonder what they would have to say about it all.

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    1. Thank you for these thought wonderings and your insights; we, in fact, have those black and white portraits in the halls, tradition does haunt the place as you imagined. This heaviness lifts with each connection and this SOL community is restorative, especially with you in it. 🙏


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