Recent events in Newtown, CT twist a teacher’s gut. Though we have never been there, elementary teachers* know Sandy Hook School. We know the singsong of morning announcements that echo in terrazzo hallways through the faint smell of departed bus exhaust. We know the sight of a lone child carrying an attendance slip, stopping for an extra moment to look at macaroni snowmen on construction paper posted on the hallway tack strip. We know the sameness of every elementary school.
We cannot conceive of Sandy Hook’s terror, but our minds alternately try to conceive of it and to push it away as an overlay to the fundamental sameness of every day in our schools. Sameness is safety.
Some say schools need to move past sameness. But there is reason and safety in sameness. Sameness is a first grader knowing the green triangle pencil gripper is there in her desk, just where she leaves it at the end of each day. Sameness is the third grader knowing that his math workbook is the one with gray smudges left by the pencil shavings that spilled inside his desk, dregs from the plastic Star Wars sharpener he begged for at Walmart last August. Sameness is the perfume the kindergartener expects to smell when she leans close to whisper to her teacher. Sameness is knowing Sam will ask to go to the bathroom five minutes into math. Sameness is cycle days for specials. Sameness is the smell of pizza day at 10 am. Sameness is knowing your cubby is third from the left and that your blue, fuzzy coat is there waiting to hug you home every day. Sameness is sanity.
I wish sameness to the children and teachers of Sandy Hook who will never be the same. I wish them the softness of their familiar coats, stranded in cubbies. I wish them the smell of a familiar teacher. I wish them an enveloping wave of routine when they return to an unfamiliar school with gaping holes in its sameness. I wish them their smudged workbooks and pencil grippers. And I wish the sameness of all schools will let them know that every school is with them.
*Among my 27 years as a teacher, about half were spent in elementary schools as gifted teacher or technology integrator.