Middle School Espresso Break

On a family vacation to Italy a number of years ago, my father-in-law and I took a day to drive over to Assisi, view the cathedrals and walk the streets of the town. On the way back to where we were staying in the Tuscany area we pulled off the highway at a roadside espresso cafe. It had no tables or chairs, just a counter, like in the old western movies. We ordered two cappuccinos, spent about three minutes sipping on the small cups, and climbed back in the car for the rest of journey home.

The Christmas break for schools commenced in our community on Friday at 2:45 p.m. At 3:00, after the hallways and byways had cleared, the teachers pulled into their “roadside espresso cafe”. It’s their respite for traveling the first half of another long and uncertain school year, a welcome distraction from the fact that there are five months still to be slowly walked through.

The teachers need an Italian espresso break. I’ve heard the deep sighs of weariness and experienced the searching for wisdom in handling situations that only a Mission Impossible scriptwriter could dream up.

Alan Wolfelt, who has written extensively about grief and its effects on the grieving, has said that grief needs to be expressed in some way. Different people grieve in different ways, whether that means overeating, acting out, not sleeping, not talking, or compulsively buying unneeded items.

School kids these days have been doing a type of grieving. They’re grieving the loss of normalcy and the dependable. That is, the way school has been is no more. What they had come to expect has been blended together with the unexpected. Masks, hand sanitizer, quarantines, COVID-19 tests, social distancing, new variants and new paranoia…it’s a whole new chapter in the educational handbook.

The first half of the school journey this year has been punctuated by students acting out in unacceptable behavior, as if they ran out of common sense filters. Things have happened that would be great material for Jerry Springer episodes. Teachers at times have been more like ranchers, just trying to keep all the horses in the corral. At other times they’ve been like foster moms and dads, providing comforting words, being a dependable presence, and offering advice.

In the midst of the expectancy of the unexpected happening each school day, they’re trying desperately to teach kids math, science, social studies, language arts, art, and woodworking. It’s a Herculean task, keeping little Johnny engaged in U.S. History, when he just wants to escape to the fantasy of his iPhone video game. Or teaching Brenda about the laws of gravity when she is grieving the loss of her grandparent.

Yes, it’s time for an espresso, a pull-over, a respite, a break to rejoice in all the things that have been pushed to the side in the rush to make sure the school to-do list has been achieved.

Take a sip. Reflect. Rest. Play.

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