Life by Bells

I live my life to the rhythm of bells. Well, not bells anymore, I suppose. What I call bells have actually morphed into tones. I wake to a disgusting blaring honking sound from my alarm. The tones on my phone are varied to suit the personalities that might call me. I keep an awful submarine pinging sound for anyone whose number is not programmed into my phone, and know to ignore those pings.

At work, the class bells have been replaced by four loud tones that mean that the school day has begun or ended, and also signal the times during the day that students orderly transition from one class to another. Maybe not so orderly.

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While at work one day this week, I had my fill of “bells.” At this time of year, I am scrambling to complete all the evaluations that are on my lengthy list. The rapid count-down to the last day of school sets off a near complete panic in me. I have a limited number of days to see everyone on my list. That I can accomplish the tasks is part scheduling magic, part luck and part ingenuity. What should be wide open opportunities to pull a kid out of class is stymied because of weeks worth of standardized testing time that is deemed absolutely and undeniably SACRED!

I waited patiently on this particular day for the students to complete a portion of one of those dreaded tests so that I could pounce on an unsuspecting victim and administer yet ANOTHER test. Once the students had been tested and fed, I was armed and ready. And then I heard a bell.

Well, not really a bell. I was a loud and obnoxious pulsing siren accompanied by Mr. Roboto stating “Evacuate the building. Evacuate. Evacuate.” I immediately thought that some eighth grader was going to be very very sorry that they had tripped that alarm. I automatically assumed a prankster. I obeyed the repeated command, and made sure to turn off my light on the way out of my office. I don’t know why. If the place burned down, would it matter if my office light was on?

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Moving 2,000 twelve to fourteen-year-olds out of a building has been practiced to perfection at that school and within a few minutes, they were all outside and standing at a safe distance from the building. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and after ten minutes or so, I sat down on a curb and stretched out my legs to get a little sun. By thirty minutes in the sunshine, I was feeling a little warm, and after forty-five minutes or so, Mr. Roboto proclaimed the “All Clear.”

That delay propelled me to a scheduled meeting, which we conducted. Through the meeting, though, I was keeping a keen watch on my watch – hoping that we would conclude in just enough time to squeak a WISC out of the student I still needed to see.

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Sure enough, I rescued my student from science class during the final two periods of the day. Because of the pressure of time, I had not taken a moment to engage in any small talk with this young man. We set straight away into the test, and had closed the last page of the protocol just as Mr. Roboto and his back-up squealing revived the earlier refrain. “Evacuate.” Surely this is a mistake, I thought. My student asked if we really had to go outside. Indeed, we did – so we headed toward the door, and just as I was turning off the light, old Roboto droned out the “All Clear.” Wonderful! Young man and I might have a chance to converse! We hadn’t but seated ourselves, when Mr. Roboto replayed his earlier tune and implored us to evacuate. This time we had made it to the hall before the all clear was sounded. That poor child and I were caught in a drill dance for the next several turn-arounds of all clears and evacuates.

Eventually, I gave up. The time was only a few minutes from dismissal for the day. On the final Evacuate, I packed up my computer, gathered my testing materials and purse and told the child to get his book bag and follow me. Outside, we were easily able to find his class, standing at a safe distance from the building in the parking lot. Luckily, they were not standing in the path down which I would drive my car to escape.

As I pulled out of the parking lot, old Roboto sounded the All Clear, just one more time. At least that I heard.