Most Fridays are Free Write Friday in my classroom. After I read aloud to the the class, they take their weekly grammar quiz, then we settle in to write. I project my weekly writing on the screen via Airplay while they write, and in the last 5-10 minutes we talk about what was on our minds for the day's writing. I started #FWF two years ago in an effort to make more class time for what I value (giving kids their own voice and choice in writing) and it's been a success. When we go a few weeks without it for one reason or another, they start to get mutinous. Free Write Friday in my classroom is a comfortable routine that makes almost everyone happy.
It was 7th period (of on an eight period schedule), and the day had been fairly normal. I was having a blast with my own weekly writing, and my smallest class is usually a good way to finish the academic day (I teach a non-graded exploratory last period). They are eighth graders, and it's a tiny group of only sixteen students. I try not to compare my classes to each other too much since each configuration of kids has its own strengths and challenges, but this group is usually pretty fun. I had no idea what I was in for yesterday.
In the silence of our writing, someone coughed, and another student said, "Bless you." Yes, it was strange because no one excuses someone for coughing, but I didn't think anything of it other than kids being weird. Seconds later, the song "Shut Up and Dance" by Walk the Moon started blasting from somewhere in the room. I was getting ready to tell whoever it was to turn off the offending device, when (almost) every single student jumped out of their seats in synch and started a choreographed dance.
A flash mob. In my classroom.
I never saw it coming.
They danced perfectly for the whole song, while I totally lost it laughing my butt off on the back counter where I write. I barely had the sense to take a couple of terrible, rushed photos on my iPad (Why didn't I think to record video?). When the music was over, they all turned around and sat back down to their writing. No words. Nothing.
"Why?" I asked. "How?" Still laughing.
"Seriously, we're not going to talk about this?" (I'm obviously not used to being ignored.)
One of my sweetest, most quiet girls turned around then and said, "Mrs. Hauptsteen, we're trying to write. It's Free Write Friday."
They plotted. They flash mobbed. And then they totally blanked me!
It was one of my favorite classroom moments ever.
At the end of class, when we share our writing topics and thoughts, they finally came clean about the work and planning.
Two of the girls made a bucket list to complete before high school, and being in a flash mob was one of the major items. They emailed everyone in my 7th period about the idea to do it in my room during Free Write Friday, when they knew it wouldn't interrupt major instruction. They emailed the principal in advance to ensure they wouldn't get in trouble. They asked another teacher if they could use her room for top secret practice during recess. For the entire week, the kids in the class gave up recess to rehearse.
The weird cough and "Bless you" exchange was their secret signal that the portable speaker for the music was in place and everyone was ready to go. And they did.
What happened in my classroom yesterday afternoon had very little to do with me aside from using my room for the performance. Maybe they thought I'd appreciate it, maybe they wanted to make me laugh, or maybe they just thought it was convenient. Some were absolutely terrified it would make me mad for disrupting class.
Whatever their reservations or reasons, I'm so grateful that I was a part of it, even if I was just the audience. To see a group of middle schoolers come together of their own accord and work so hard to accomplish something was a moment of magic. They overcame the insecurities that plague every aspect of teenage life and put themselves out there.
I am so proud to be their teacher. I am so lucky to have a job that continually reminds me of the best in young people, even when it's just the simple ability to create fun because you want to have a memory that will last forever.
I know I'll never forget it.
I teach 7th and 8th grade English in rural Iowa and hope to reflect, connect, and share with other English teachers. Iowa Council of Teachers of English Executive Board member. Iowa Writing Project superfan. UNI MA:TESS graduate.