The spaces between
In the spaces between assignments, or during them, I’ve had some interesting sidebars that, while not fitting my story, give me valuable insight, and at least a chuckle or two.
While at Col. Fred Cherry Middle School doing some work on an upcoming story, I spent some time chatting with a few eighth-graders in an impromptu question-and-answer session, with a few random comments thrown in.
“Are you standing on a chair?” one student asked me as I got up to take photographs.
“Dang, you’re tall,” she said.
I then got past the almost obligatory question that comes with being 6-foot-4: Do you play basketball?
The answer: I like to play, and I am a decent jump shooter, but I can’t take anyone off the dribble. What I didn’t get to say — probably for the best — is that I played on a rec-league team in sixth grade, and was cut from my middle school team twice.
Then as I continued around the classroom, another student begins to tell me, in near hushed tones, funny stories about her family.
And there’s yet another who tells me his theory — tongue firmly planted in cheek, I believe — that chocolate milk comes from brown cows. I followed up with what I thought was an obvious question: Does strawberry milk come from pink cows?
I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have asked a dumber question based just off the look he gave me.
When the class was mostly finished with its assignment, the teacher asked if I minded taking some questions from the students. It’s one of my favorite things to do. I never thought of myself as much of a talker. I used to play the shy guy role, but when you have a summer job and you’re surrounded by 20,000-plus people a day at an amusement park, there’s not a lot of room for quiet.
The question I spent the most time on related to what was my most difficult or challenging thing to cover. After joking that I probably couldn’t talk about some of those difficult things in a classroom setting, I talked about covering court cases or crimes involving children.
Even before having a daughter, I’d have to compartmentalize my own emotions to do my work in such circumstances. But after she was born and having to handle those things has been worse.
But I also talked about how there are many other positive things that I do write about, including the reason I was in their class that day — their teacher. You’ll hear much more about her soon, I promise.
Because of what I do, I get to go in classrooms and have these fun interactions, and learn more than I could ever include in a story. For instance, I get to learn that their teacher and I have similar family backgrounds, and I learn that kids still like to have their photos taken when someone from the newspaper shows up at their school.
Also, for the purposes of my upcoming story, I get to delve into the heart of their teacher and why she does what she does, and why her students love her the way they do. I’m privileged to share this, and these thoughts always stay with me.
These interactions make the work less burdensome, because for a moment, we get to see a different side of each other. It’s not reporter to teacher, or reporter to student. It’s person to person, just sharing a laugh, or a thought.
See, in the spaces between, I get humorous, and heartfelt, answers — when I share some of my thoughts, and more importantly, when I listen long enough to theirs.