The unique silence of an empty classroom

There is no silence like that of an empty classroom. It always strikes me no matter when it occurs. If I had to describe it, it must be something similar to being on stage when the house is empty and the lights are dark.

Even when the kids are in my classroom working quietly, there is still that quiet din of bodies moving, papers rustling, chairs squeaking, etc.

For those who don’t know, it is different than the silence of an empty house or an empty playground. It is often just me and the click-clack of the keyboard, the squeak of my chair, or the hum of the flourescent lights. It is blissful. I relish it.

But that doesn’t mean I want it all the time. I enjoy the noise of children around me. In fact, I enjoy it way more than I ever thought I would. Well-managed noise can be a very good thing in a classroom, such as the sound of students working together in small groups. There’s also the sound of students who are so eager to answer a question they leap out of their seats and go: OOH! OOOH!

Those are the sounds of students who are engaged and excited about what they are learning. I always think that it looks chaotic to the outsider — as if I’m merely overseeing my charges at a birthday pizza party and the clown has just arrived — but I know that what really is going on is learning.

That’s why, when my students leave one-by-one each day, I sit for a moment and listen. I listen to the silence. In the silence are echoes of the ups and downs of the day’s events. There are the overheard conversations about Disney shows, Nintendo DS devices, oversized (fill in the blank; because kids seem fascinated with anything larger than normal), and so on. There are the sounds of crunching plastic water bottles. There are the sounds of ventured guesses; some right, some wrong. There are the sounds of the “A-ha!” moments when kids get a new concept and their smiles betray their pride.

These are sounds that are noticeably absent in an empty classroom. I never fail to notice it. Moreover, I never take it for granted.

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