I have a small flock of sixth graders in my homeroom class. As I checked in with them (and, for that matter, with the seventh graders I saw in the next class period), the number one thing they were worried about in starting middle school was lockers.
I drew a combination lock on the board and walked them through the steps. I drew arrows and wrote instructions, reminding them several times that you have to go all the way past the first number before you stop on the second. I had them practice on invisible locks on their desks and, because they’re sixth graders and not eighth graders, they eagerly spun invisible locks.
When we headed out into the hallway so they could find their lockers and practice, it turned chaos. All of the practicing and instructions went out the window in the face of an actual lock. Over and over again I talked kids through it – spinning it to the right to reset it. No, to the right. The other right. You know, clockwise. You don’t know clockwise. You use your phone to tell time. Well, let me show you which way to spin it on the lock next to yours. Now slow down as you come to your number so you don’t go pas- Oh, you went past it. We’ll have to start over. No, you can’t just spin it back the other way. Spin it to the right to reset it. No, the right. Remember? The right?
I had that conversation at least a dozen times in twenty minutes. I also reassured the plaintive little ones, and I do mean LITTLE, that the lockers were randomly assigned and they didn’t give them the top ones just to be mean.
I also discovered, far too late, that the lockers upstairs and downstairs are labeled identically. Would have been nice to know so I could send kids upstairs to try the ones there rather than trying to open their lockers over and over again myself.
But we got through it. One kid, after many attempts with a lot (a LOT) of checking each number of his code, was so overjoyed when he finally opened the locker he threw a piece of paper inside and slammed it shut.
“Now we’ll see if I can get it back!” he exclaimed.
“What did you put in there?” I asked.
“My locker combination!” he replied with no sense of irony whatsoever. Fortunately, as we discovered as he started spinning the lock, he had been reading the numbers loudly enough under his breath with each of his previous attempts that I had them memorized.
Maybe the sixth graders were right to be worried about lockers. Or maybe not. It seems many of them found their own solutions for what to do when they can’t get them open: