As an itinerant science coach, observational skills, keen intuition, and a practiced execution are musts if I’m going to go through my day avoiding what is the bane of the early-childhood classroom teacher: The dreaded hug avalanche.
Preparation is key. I know I’m about to leave the classroom, but it’s crucial the students don’t. They’re watching for a sign, any kind of sign. Me saying, “See ya later” to the classroom teacher, a hurried glance at the clock followed by a flinch, and even a contented sigh as I end a lesson: All of these and more can trigger the event. Five-, six-, and even seven-year old students are sitting on the carpet or at their desk, living coiled springs ready to slip the bounds that normally hold them in place.
A smooth exit is also important. A forgotten coffee cup or phone? All could be lost. No hesitation: start to move and don’t look back. Don’t forget the follow through, because a door left open is an invitation for disaster.
During my last class of the day, today, I failed miserably.
The students knew it was time. The lesson had clearly ended when iPads were collected, but not all was yet lost. The classroom teacher had launched into the next activity with perfect timing, and the situation was still under control. It was me. It was my fault. I paused at the door, giving a glance back into the room as if to silently say goodbye.
The first student–a smallish girl who sat by the door–seized upon the opportunity, jumped from her chair, and pushed past my iPad cart to hug my leg.
“Good bye, Mr. Gels!” she cried.
No, not that. Anything but that. In the name of all that’s good and orderly, please don’t verbalize a good bye. But, she did.
From the back of the room, the second student sprung. The classroom teacher’s gaze momentarily off of him, he knew it was now or never. Pushing classmates aside, he lunged through the room to grab my other leg.
I know that fear was starting to show in my eyes. Weakness. Those kids ate it up. The veneer of conformity was breaking down before me. A third student, followed by a fourth and a fifth, made a move in my direction as I was peeling the first two from the lower half of my body.
With a panicked expression, the classroom teacher did her best to make up for my shortcomings.
“Boys and girls, please take your seats! Mr. Gels needs to go to another classroom!”
Oh, all was lost, and it was all my fault. One glance, just one glance, and the world was collapsing around me.
Nearly every student was on his or her feet, flowing toward the door, mindless in their desire to be a part of what was going on.
“Boys and girls! Guys and Gals! Please, go ahead and take a seat!” I blurted, hoping to stem the tide.
And it did, just a bit. The tumult started to calm, and some of the students paused, unsure of their next move.
To paraphrase the ancient rock philosophers of the band Lynyrd Skynyrd, that was the break I was looking for.
Peeling the last student from my waist and (carefully) pushing the door closed behind me, I was free, standing in the now-quiet hallway, the teacher’s voice ringing through the heavy wooden barrier.
What’s that noise? Oh no, another class has just rounded the corner and I think they saw me!