A reminder to notice
What I nearly missed
I like to begin every class with roll call — not just names, but also eye contact and a smile. “Kasey, good morning. It is good to see you.” Especially after a long break, this intentionality is crucial. Enthusiasm is the last thing I expect, let alone any real camaraderie in the classroom. We’re all still in break mode.
“Summer, hello, welcome back.”
“Hi, Garrett! (teachers are called by our first names at the school), tell us about your break.”
Somewhat surprised, I set my pencil on the clipboard and replied, “Oh, well, it was great, thank y—”
“No … in detail.” The tone was double-underlined. Italicized. She smiled. Every head in the classroom turned.
I set down the clipboard altogether. At this point, I could brush this off as another student’s attempt at sabotage, the ages-old game of sidetrack the teacher. But there was a sincerity in her follow-up, enough of an emphasis to take the risk: “Well … I got to go home to Wisconsin. It was really wonderful, especially when …”
Sure enough, that did it. We started telling stories. We started listening to stories. Time with my little cousins! Absolutely nothing. A trip to Denver! Lots of basketball practice. I finally applied to Yale! And just like that, we were back, fifth period: reunited, regrouped, restarted. We sailed to the end of the semester.
I don’t think we ever need permission to share with each other or to care about one another, but sometimes it’s given anyway. I’m embarrassed at how often I just keep the roll call rolling, how often I keep the clipboard close and stick to the schedule because, let’s face it, there’s always more to do. And then some. And the bigger the workload, the bolder the interruption needs to be to break free, to shelve business-as-usual for something different.
I could have accused Summer of wasting our time. But this time, a winding detour somehow ended up a shortcut — not to where I thought we should be by the end of the period, but to where we really needed to be. I count on students like her. I count on invitations like that. Taken and appreciated, they’re the closest I get to prayer.
About the author
Jesuit Scholastic Garrett Gundlach, S.J., Arts ’09, teaches at Red Cloud High School on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He also writes monthly for The Jesuit Post online newsletter.