In Grumpy Old Teacher’s (GOT) day, a time that’s long, long ago, junior and senior high schools began the day with homeroom. Homeroom had three purposes: recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, morning announcements, and attendance. In those days, the teacher marked attendance on a sheet of paper and a runner would take it to the office.
Even before today’s online websites that teachers use to record attendance and grades, technology made homeroom obsolete. Students now report to their first class of the day when the first bell rings. First-period attendance begins the process of officially recording the presence of students at school.
Homeroom is needed no more … OR IS IT?
For GOT, even before the pandemic, the opening of school would bring a new freshman class into the building, awkward teens trying to find their way in a new school, not sure they’re ready for high school, not ready to give up the behaviors that mark a middle school tween.
It was excruciating to watch; how much more is it excruciating to experience the feeling of being lost in a world where everyone else seems to have it together? It takes a long time until perspective matures to realize that nobody has it together in those middle and high school years. It only looked that way.
Eventually, most teens find their group and peers with whom they fit in. The athletes center their lives on the gym, the younger ones forming fan groups around the varsity, soaking up the glory until the years pass and they are the stars.
The creative ones make their way to theater, band, chorus, and art where like-minded friends support and encourage their endeavors. Students craving structure and organization wind up in classes and clubs like Jr. ROTC that meet their need to order their world.
Then there are those who never find their group, never find their way, until they eventually disappear as their parents move them to a new school where they might flourish. Sometimes they don’t move on; they simply disappear in the crowd.
And all of them, every one, is feeling the angst of the teenage years, unfocused yet powerful feelings of despair and anxiety. Where do they belong? Where do they fit in?
Horrific events like Uvalde burst upon us and, in the aftermath, we engage in the usual debates, the usual rage, and the usual policy recommendations that break down into two sides that usually regard themselves as mutually exclusive: harden schools (better doors, better glass, more armed adults, fences, walls, and locks, single points of entry) and reduction of the gun supply (background checks, red flag laws, age requirements for ownership, banning of certain types of weapons.)
What we miss among all this noise goes all the way back to Columbine. Some are catching on. There are those who say we should not regard mass murder as the act of someone given over to killing, but the act of someone committing suicide in a spectacular manner calculated to call the world’s attention to the internal angst that grew until it overpowered all sense.
GOT does not want to debate the hypothesis. He merely mentions it to show that we don’t have to be constrained by the usual thinking. That is the point of this piece. There’s something else in this puzzle.
It’s not only Uvalde and the long, sorry record of school shootings. It’s the kids who never go that far, it’s the kids who lose interest, the ones who check out. It’s the ones who never try because they never belonged.
Bring back homeroom. Bring it back with a far greater importance than it had in those attendance, pledge-reciting days. Bring back homeroom so that every day every child can begin their school day checking in with their group, hearing that they were missed because they weren’t there, they are important and they are needed.
Twenty minutes a day should do it.
Already, the objections roll in. Time in a school day is zero-sum. Devote 20 minutes to a homeroom and it will have to be taken out of the instructional day.
We can’t have that. The Almighty, All-Powerful, Ever-Present Test god will not spare that time. Scores will go down. School grades will falter. Some things have to be sacrificed even if that means the souls, and in extreme cases, the lives of children.
But GOT sees a pattern, a pattern that perpetrators like Dylan and Eric fit, a pattern where they felt ostracized, that they didn’t belong.
Bring back homeroom. Twenty minutes a day where children can connect with a small group of peers and a caring adult. Twenty minutes where they feel loved. Twenty minutes to be a part of humanity, to be in a place where everyone knows their name. Twenty minutes to know they are not alone.
Bring back homeroom.