Today I was in the zone.  I was at the whiteboard doing my thing, wishing that the first-year teacher who had voluntarily come to observe me in all of my teaching brilliance just a few moments prior hadn’t had to leave for a meeting with another teacher. 

I was giving notes over collective and abstract nouns, having my 8th grade students shout examples out to me while I wrote them on the board. Contrails of sparkles followed my dry erase marker through the air before dissipating in front of our awestruck eyes.  (That last part might have only occurred in my own head.)

It was magical.

Suddenly, I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye.  I paused and turned toward the back of the room.

“What are you guys doing?” I asked.

Two 8th grade boys—best friends; one blonde, one brunette, both the smirking type—stared back at me from their desks, blinking.

Although I knew better, I repeated the question.  “What are you guys doing?”

The boys in this class do this to me all the time.  They mutter things to one another in voices quiet enough that I can’t hear exactly what they’re saying, but loud enough for me to think that maybe they’re trying to ask me a question about grammar and I just hadn’t heard them properly. So before I can think better of it, I’ll say, “What?”

But instead of repeating the question or comment, they’ll just blink at me. 

Just sit there and blink at me.  

So I’ll usually throw my arms up in the air and say “EVERY TIME.  Every. Time. And honestly, I don’t even care.  I don’t care what you boys are saying at all. I don’t even want to know! So why do I ask?  It’s like a knee jerk reaction that I swear I’m going to break myself of one of these days.”

Usually that’ll earn me a couple of tiny, triumphant smirk smiles, and I’ll go back to teaching.

I’m half tempted to buy one of those shock collars to wear so that one of the girls in the class that I trust can push a button every time I say “What?” to the boys.  If all goes according to the plan in my imagination, it’ll pump a jolt of electricity through my body powerful enough to make me jump a little bit.  Maybe it’ll singe my shoes and send little wisps of smoke up to my nose to provide a strong sensory reminder of what not to do.

And then maybe I’ll stop doing it.

Anyway, when I looked at the boys, expecting the expressionless blinks that would lead me into my “EVERY TIME” soliloquy, I saw something different in their faces.

A glimmer of embarrassment.

So of course I had to explore this further.

I coughed nonchalantly, not wanting to alarm them into slipping back into their smile smirks, and I did something thus far unprecedented:  I asked them a third time.  “What were you guys doing?”

They shifted uncomfortably.

I blinked at them.

Just stood there and blinked at them.

The awkward silence—that for once I wasn’t on the receiving end of—was beautiful.  I could’ve bathed in it.

“They’re having a dance-off.”

This simple explanation came from my most mature 8th grade girl, she who is a 50-year-old woman trapped in a 13-year-old body.  But instead of the eyeroll that I was expecting to come along with it, I looked at her and she was smiling.  Amused. 

“A dance-off?” I asked, eyebrows raised.

“A dance-off,” she confirmed.  “They’ve been doing it since math class this morning.”

Math class had begun at 8:00 AM.  It was now 1:30 PM.  I fixed my eyes on the boys again.  There was no hiding the impressed look upon my face, so I didn’t even try.

“You’ve been having a dance-off all day? And you haven’t been caught?”

The blonde boy smiled a tentative smile, gave a slight nod.  “It’s a Fortnite dance-off,” he said, and he allowed a hint of pride to enter his tone.  His best friend gave an affirmative nod.

Sometimes—because they can be such turds and because kids these days grow up way too quickly in my opinion—the glimpses of adorable innocence you are so very lucky to receive and take time to notice catch you off guard.

I laughed.  “Well, go on,” I said.  “Whose turn is it?”

Thus began a 5-minute period of Fortnite dancing between the two as the rest of us watched, our eyes bouncing back and forth between the boys as if we were spectators at a tennis match. 

When the dark-headed boy paused, suddenly at a loss, I said, “What’s going on?”

My 50-year-old girl spoke up again, never tearing her eyes away from the pair lest she miss a move. “Well,” she said, “like we said, they’ve been doing it all day.  They’re running out of dances to do.”

“So the loser is the person who can’t think of another Fortnite dance on his turn?” I mean, it seemed pretty obvious to me.

All of the kids in the class exchanged glances.  “Hm…” one of them mused.

It appeared nobody wanted the dance-off to end, and since the dance choices were dwindling, new rules might need to be introduced to keep it going longer. We all sat there, pondering, until the blonde boy threw his body on the ground and convulsed a bit.  All of the other kids went “ahhhh” and nodded their heads in understanding.

“What just happened?” I asked.

“Emotes were just added to the dance-off,” my 50-year-old 8th grader explained.

And I’m not sure what it says about me, I’m really not sure, but I was relieved that emotes had just been added into the dance-off.  Because I didn’t want it to end, either.

It was like the day one of them broke dress code and walked around in Crocs just to see if any of the teachers would notice.  I kind of wanted to see how long he could make it, too.  (7th period)

I let the boys continue their dance-off in a quiet, orderly manner while I gave the rest of the notes and we finished the lesson.  We even talked about how the noun “dance” is not, in fact, an abstract noun because you can SEE a dance occurring.

I’m happy to report that by the end of my class period at 2:23 PM, the dance-off was still going strong.


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