As we walked down the seventh-grade hallway during our lunch period on April 1st last year, heading to the bathroom or the office or the teachers’ room, we began to hear them. First there was a faint beeping, then another, then a third, and finally, a variety of sounds were emanating from . . . where? what? . . . inside our students’ lockers?
It didn’t take us long to put it all together: A number of students had set the timers on their cell phones to go off at around the same time. It did take a moment for us to realize why, but when we did, we couldn’t help but laugh. It was indeed April Fool’s Day.
I had to hand it to the kids: It was the perfect time, as they knew that there were generally no students in the hallway then, yet enough teachers passing by whom they could drive a little crazy. Here were our students using their brains – which sometimes seemed to be in short supply – to have some fun without hurting anyone.
I said something about it when the students were back in class, and I immediately knew the ones who were in charge by the smirks on their faces. And then we stopped class – something I rarely did, as there was always so much to cover – and I shared one of the April Fool’s Day pranks that had been pulled on me by my good friend and colleague next door many years before. It was a simple one: She sent a student in to supposedly make up a test in my room. Unbeknownst to me, he had a cell phone with him, which started to ring, but what was really shocking was the fact that he deliberately and calmly answered it, talking as if he hadn’t a care in the world, right in front of the entire class. When I asked him to hang up – after all, he knew cell phones weren’t allowed in school, and that he couldn’t disrupt my classroom in this manner – he said, perfectly straight-faced, that it was his mother, who needed to know when a certain club ended that day for pickup – and handed me the phone. I introduced myself, explaining that she couldn’t call her son in the middle of the day but needed to call the office directly. Just then, I heard laughter – both through the phone and in the classroom next door. It took me a minute to figure it out: On the other end of the phone was my colleague next door, who was on speaker with her entire class, which had erupted in screams and shouts for a joke well played. As my class realized what had happened, pandemonium followed.
Okay, it may have gone just a tad too far that day, because half the students in every class, who had by then heard about the prank, tried to replicate it in every other class. But it was just plain fun. And with all the work we seemed to do all the time, it was a good natured way to celebrate a favorite day.
l’ve always had a fondness for April Fool’s Day. When my kids were little, they would try to pretend one of them was hurt and on the ground, immobile, as the other called me in, all upset – and invariably, I wouldn’t remember it was April Fool’s Day and panic, until the little pranksters started cracking up. In school, April Fool’s Days of yore included a teacher’s entire class vanishing when she was called out for a brief meeting; she ran through the halls in a complete panic before she realized the date.
And so, it is April Fool’s Day again. But this time, no one’s laughing. In fact, the joke is on us: The world has changed fundamentally, and we don’t know what to do about it. Once excellent middle schoolers have gone missing from Zoom conferences, and students who never did work aren’t starting now. Many teachers are split between their students and their own children, trying to keep them engaged while worrying about those who are out in the front lines. And those cell phones that usually drive us all crazy in today’s world, creating students who don’t know how to have a face-to-face conversation or book club discussion? They have become our lifelines, from video chatting with family and friends to sharing memes that – yes – make us laugh.
A year ago, as the phones beeped and pinged, could we have imagined how much we’d be longing for lockers, and classrooms, and schedules, and face-to-face talks with our students?
One day – though probably not for a long, long while – the pain of separation and illness and death will begin to dissipate. A year from today, April Fool’s Day will come around again, and I am hoping it brings with it the joy of shared laughter between students and teachers, together again.