This was something I wrote for a paper in my education masters. At the time, I was doing observations in two middle schools.
Before I entered the classroom for my final day of observations, I sat in the school’s office for about ten minutes and witnessed an interaction that crystallized something for me. A boy came in, looking for a missing backpack. It was described as green, the color of money. An administrator was with him, speaking on a walkie-talkie. The women at the office asked around to see if a missing backpack had been dropped off. No one at the office knew anything about this. A guard was asked, and didn’t know either. The secretaries asked the boy what had happened, and he said that he had left his backpack behind in the cafeteria.
There was an announcement on the PA, to the effect of that if anyone had mistakenly taken a backpack from the cafeteria, they should bring it to the main office. A few minutes later, another boy came with a backpack that had the iconography of a dollar bill. He was directed to where he should leave it. He was later asked what had happened, and explained (somewhat haltingly, not as if he was nervous, but he wasn’t very articulate, in a way that is often the case with children) that he saw that the backpack had been left behind in the cafeteria, and took it to the next classroom.
My main takeaway was that several people working at the school spent time on one child’s briefly missing backpack. This included the first student, the student who came to the office, several administrators, one of the security guards, and anyone who paused one of their classes to hear an announcement. It wasn’t the result of anyone behaving inappropriately. It’s a typical thing that happens in schools, and it’s illustrative of how a small thing can end up being a distraction. I noticed other examples in my observations, some which were different because at least one person had acted inappropriately, or neglected an existing policy.
It highlights a difficulty of detailed lesson-planning in the schools, as these types of things will happen and throw off schedules. So, teachers don’t accomplish as much as they intended, which means they’ll have to try again at a later date. Of course teachers have other limitations, including directives from the top-down and constant assessments.