Sometimes, it feels as though it is not just me and my thirty-strong infantry in my classroom. Sometimes, without any warning, a most unexpected guest drifts in. Does it get in through an open window, or the crack beneath the door? Is it smuggled in a fleece pocket or a sour-smelling backpack? Is it crouching in my cupboard waiting to leap out and spread itself all over? I don’t know.
It is ‘That Feeling In The Room’.
Sometimes it isn’t there. I can spend a life sapping afternoon coercing the babbies to write, or I could spend a life-affirming afternoon of high-quality thinking and jaw-dropping writing and neither of these could feature ‘That Feeling in the Room’. Then, boom, when you least expect it, halfway though an otherwise regular lesson, ‘that feeling’ creeps in. Suddenly, the kids seem to act and think as if they are of one imagination – suddenly, creative ideas are flying about, suddenly all the kids are laughing, suddenly the kids are all in the mood for quiet diligent work, suddenly, they look like zombies.
It is like ‘that feeling’ creeps in and announces itself silently to all of us. I used to think it aligned to the quality of my lessons, and that ‘that feeling’ was largely a negative cloud of ennui engendered by my cruddy foresight into what will get them thinking. Sometimes it is, but I have had plenty of very strong lessons this year in which there was simply no sense of ‘that feeling in the room’. It was stale but productive – unexciting but got the job done. It was like being back on my Sixth Form Saturday Job in WHSmiths.
‘That feeling in the room’ hit one afternoon last week when we did the register. After a fairly nondescript morning and a lunch-break in which nothing of note occured, me and the sproglets were back in at 1:30 and I was sat on my throne, register in hand. I looked around the room and something in the situation was weirdly comical. I can’t explain it. Oddly, it felt to me as if the whole tihng was a joke. The kids were looking at me, and I got the weird feeling that they recognised it too. For me, it kind of felt as though I was having an existentialist dip, in which the meaning of everything temporarily suspended, and in that gap, the intrinsic laughableness of the pointlessness of it all shone through. The kids were acting a bit odd too – not showing off, not being silly as in ‘going crazy’ or ‘being ridiculous’ but just speaking as though they were humouring the whole concept of ‘lessons’ and ‘registers’.
That was the first time I asked them. ‘Can you feel it, or is it just me? Everything seems weird.’
Sometimes ‘that feeling’ shows itself in other ways.
Sometimes it is marvelous for learning, and for making those babysteps towards knowledge formation. I taught a lesson with the class earlier this year about Child Labour in India, and ‘that feeling’ slipped in. All of the children were really interested, and were passionate about it. I was receiving questions and comments from children who are normally extremely reluctant to share everything. ‘That feeling in the room’ was a feeling of urgency. Suddenly, then, we were all feeling as though what we were doing really mattered. It wasn’t because it was a jaw-droppingly well structured or well thought out lesson. They were interested all right, but there was something else. They are interested in loads of stuff, but there hasn’t before or since been that same tangible feeling that we all could feel the ‘tick-tock’ inside of us.
The least helpful experience of ‘that feeling in the room’ was a few weeks ago when it was if our cycles had synchronised, by the end. It was a feeling of complete indifference – it was horrible. I am in a mobile classroom which only added to the stifling feeling of suffocation. I had registered the children and begun with the lesson – I cannot even remember what it was. It felt as though there was no breeze, despite the door being open. It felt like nothing was being said, despite people talking. It felt like nothing was being listened to, despite people giving all the visible signs of listening. Don’t get me wrong here, this is not some pseudo-paranormal explanation for my inability to motivate a class; I am regularly called upon to jazz them all up, get them focused and get them working. This was something weirder. Children who seem usually to be programmed only to seek my positive approval at all costs were straining to motivate themselves to look me in the eye. One of my children who becomes so upset at being criticized for bad manners that he describes feeling ‘choked with shame’ literally had his face in his hands.
That feeling was in the room. I felt like it was stood behind me taunting me, holding up a placard saying ‘We all feel it, let’s just not, ok. Let’s just …let’s just not.”
In that moment, I had to get out. It was choking. I narrated back to them what I was seeing – catalogued their offenses and said
“Listen, if even ____ and _____ can’t motivate themselves enough to open their eyes, we have no chance. Mission Abort.”
We went to the water fountain and then had a little walk in the playground.
When we got back into the classroom, the feeling was still there, but we were a bit better able to ignore it. We got some fairly mediocre ‘bread and butter’ of learning tasks done, with the precarious breath of ‘that feeling’ on our necks.
Does anybody else ever recognise ‘that feeling in the room’. You don’t know when it will strike – it can be brilliant, awful, hilarious or torturous. Time can fly, or time can stop. You can feel that suddenly the kids, and maybe you yourself, have been blanketed by an emotional state that came out of nowhere and is unshakeable.
Or maybe it is just me…