The lyrics are projected on the screen at the front of the class, the music of One Direction pounding and vibrating the subwoofer of my speakers. This song is for slow dancing. As a media studies teacher, I know that quality sound is vital to create an effect, to engage the students in the feeling parts of literary comprehension.
I ask them to think about the title of Jason Reynold’s book of the same name. We are reading together as we listen to the author’s narrated audiobook.
“What might this mean to be a ‘long way down’?” I ask them to write in their journals. Some do, some draw, and others scroll social media – they are not ready to be here emotionally or cognitively, but they brought themselves to this classroom, so I decide to breathe patiently and wait for them accept my invitation to dance. I decide that I am making progress if they are here physically on a Monday morning, first period in February 2022.
We talk a bit about the metaphorical references to “up” and “down”, the emotional connection and then build from the song lyrics.
“It’s about love.”
I venture an attempt to continue the thinking moving towards the novel gently. “What about in the novel title, Long Way Down?”
“He loved his brother, Shawn.”
“And, he’s going down the elevator.”
“But, it’s only seven floors. I don’t get it.”
The conversation moves a few steps toward, then away, and this was enough for today. Because I’m struggling too. Some days I focus on a couple of students, other days I shift my gaze and try to create a warm space for them just to be safe. To be together. And I constantly question if this is the right way to dance.
Today, he is different. Not in how he shows up physically, fully dressed in a puffer coat with the hood up, a balaclava covering everything except his eyes. We are five weeks into the semester and I realize that I do not know the colour of his hair. Until today, he has followed and written and shared his writing with me. But now, he stays on his phone and nothing that I offer shifts his attention; not the music videos, not the Black History Month video, not the audiobook, not the discussion.
I ask her to open her book and she obliges. I ask another to shift his focus from drawing to following the words on the page of the novel. But, he is showing up differently today, and my dance steps are never sure, never the same, always improvisational, and today, I am slow dancing.