Hallways are an interesting place. They are the liaison between the various spaces that we occupy. We travel through them unwittingly, trusting that the door we are looking for is just a little bit further down. They’re strange to be in when they’re empty and frustrating when full. In hallways, we share glances and sidestep each other. Each hallway has its own flow, a fine balance between slow and fast happening synchronously.
The hallways of an elementary school are especially interesting. You’ll find small children lined up nicely, while one of their classmates is crying in the kindergarten classroom. You’ll see preteens in a discordant mob emptying lockers and tossing around whatever ball they happen to have. There are teachers passing each other with a knowing glance, like bus drivers on city streets.
This is when teachers commiserate. They share with one another how they feel and their expectations for the rest of the day with a quick word and common expression, while turning like dancers flowing through a forward to sideways to backward to forward walk. There’s a peculiar grace to the way teachers walk through hallways, when leading a class or when on their own.
Teachers will stop an entire class in motion to talk to one another. A conversation can last as long as three minutes, sometimes more. When finished, the teachers will remind their classes to stop talking when walking through the hallways before continuing along. Commenting on how well a class is lined up or how quietly they move is a note of recognition and admiration.
In an elementary school, you’ll be asked to step into the hallway to have a serious, private, or unnecessary conversation. There are no offices to duck into and shut the door of. The exposure is an indication that something is amiss. While talking, the interlocutors will constantly be looking down one length of the hallway and then the other. Pointing with a finger in the direction you’re looking is an indication that the conversation needs to wait until an interruption has passed.
Sometimes students are sent into hallways to be alone – the teacher has sent them away. We all need a break sometimes. Secretly, the teacher wants to be sitting on the floor, leaning against a locker, alone in the quiet hallway.
This really is what hallways are, they are the space between the things that we have to do. They are the path between our various objectives while also being the separation between them. They reveal our experiences, not by showing us what has happened in any one of the rooms but by exposing our reactions. Hallways force us to come together when we want to go somewhere else.
It’s the modesty of hallways that makes them forgettable, unremarkable, unimposing. They exist in servitude and are easily overlooked. We hang pictures on their walls, like earrings, to draw attention away from their expanse and toward their stature; we want people looking up, not at their feet, when walking through hallways. They are not spaces without consequence.