Voices of an Empty Classroom

Kathy Cook


Today is the day, I think with gladness.   I’ve been checking off each day on my calendar, just waiting for this day for months. This day is even highlighted in lime green. About a month ago, the students took it upon themselves to start a countdown in the corner of the board.  Several students attempted to keep up with it. This created a lot of confusion; some times it would be changed twice in one day.


 I survey the mess on my desk and look at the clock.   The students left an hour ago, and our team meeting starts in thirty minutes.  I sigh. I’m exhausted.   It’s not easy trying to cram a room full of stuff into one locked closet.  I spot Laura’s green sweater, which I reminded her to get three times today, draped half on her chair and half on the floor.  Hunter’s empty blue Gatorade bottle sits on his desk.  No surprise there. It usually does about at least three days a week.  I smile and remember how too often after class, I’ve had to walk into the hall and politely ask Hunter to come pick up his trash.  He’d shake his hair in front of his eyes and give his usual reply, “My bad.”   I walk over and chuck the empty bottle into the trash. 


Sixth graders are so full of energy and raw emotion on the last day of school. A group of seven girls and one boy spent the better part of the morning crying. I survey the board and laugh as I noticed that I’ve suddenly become everyone’s favorite teacher.   I begin to erase the many farewell wishes that are scrawled all over every possible white space on my board. 


Although the room is quiet, I can still hear the kids.  I listen selectively for sounds that have brought a smile to my face throughout the year, sounds that let me know the students were truly engaged.  “Mrs. Cook, I thought writing was going to be hard.” Eric beamed as he turned in his final draft of House on Haunted Hill.   I remember how hard we worked to get the violence down to just someone disappearing and not being dismembered.


 I look to the back of the room, where one Tuesday morning voices were rising and tempers were being tested.  When I found the cause of all the commotion, I thought, Yes!  “Mrs. Cook, tell him you can’t leave the dog out of the dog house,” Jeremy demanded.  I had told a story about a puppy being left outside of his dog house in the pouring rain to remind students to place end punctuation marks inside quotation marks.  That is one lesson I knew Jeremy understood. 


Many other comments still reverberate within this room. My favorites often occurred during cooperative learning groups. As I straighten the desks, I pause where sweet Jacie sat during seventh period each day.  I heard Jacie timidly say, “Let’s ask Mrs. Cook.  Mrs. Cook, isn’t this a complex sentence?”  When I confirmed her answer, I saw her more boldly say, “See, I told you that was a subordinate clause.”  I smiled hearing Jacob tell Sha, “You can’t write that.  It’s not even a sentence.  You don’t even have a predicate.”  I recall the scolding from Alisa to Cody, “If you want me to review your draft, you’ve got to write neater than that.” I look across the room and see Mike forever in his blue hooded sweatshirt just so he wouldn’t have to tuck in his shirt.  I heard Mike one day as he was peer editing exclaim, “Stephen, it’s called a first draft because there are others to follow, or else it would just be the draft.” 


I pick up a copy of Bridge to Terabithia off the floor. The title page is barely hanging on.  I recall how Kelly had to leave the room because she was crying so hard as we read it.  I smile. Kelly once surprised me by saying, “Taylor, stop talking so I can read this.”  I relish my students’ dedication.  Once Alex asked, “Mrs. Cook, may Lauren and I come in during lunch and work on our story?”  I tape up the book cover carefully as I recall I once heard someone say as they were walking out my door, “I’ll take it home tonight and see if I can come up with some stronger verbs.”  William, not unusually a leader, once told a group of boys, “We’ve got to get this finished in order to meet the publishing deadline.” I place the book on my shelf, knowing it will bring students tears next year as well.    I know that there is a year’s worth of comments worth noting.  Another example of dedication I’ll never forget is when Dillon asked, “Mrs. Cook, can I email you my draft over Thanksgiving break?  I want to give it to my grandma for Christmas.”


            As I head to my meeting, I look again at the empty room.  Before closing the door, to myself, I say quietly, “Some things will never be able to be measured.”