Posts In Category Underachievers
William has a head cold. He is oozing snot. His eyes are bloodshot and puffy. Other students back away from him with his sneezing which he can’t quite catch with his hands, sleeves, or kleenex. He snuffles several times a minute. The nurse has just sent him back to class with a note saying “it’s just allergies.”
We’re reading “Hard Times,” part of the Read180 program. Today’s selection deals with a child who was abandoned but learns how to overcome the challenges of life.
William raises his hand, snuffling noisily. He is so proud when he has something to contribute to discussion. He waves even more strongly, making “oh! oh!” noises. Students duck the snot flinging off the ends of his fingers as he tries to catch my attention.
“I’m abandoned! I’m abandoned! My mother abandoned me when I was just a kid!”
Sadly, enough, he’s right. Several years ago, William and his sister, Daisy, after suffering years of neglect, were abandoned by their mother. Court papers say they were found after living on their own in an empty apartment for several days. They live in a foster home with several other foster kids now.
After class, William lingers in the doorway, still snuffling despite the dozens of kleenex stuffed into his pockets.
William has news to share.
“Do you remember Chris?”
“Chris Palmer. He says, ‘hi.’”
“How do you know Chris? He should be almost finished with high school now.”
“He’s a sophomore. He got adopted this weekend. He lived with me at the foster home.”
“Really? How about that. And he got adoped?”
“Yes, ma’am.” William pauses. “I’m for sale, too. Maybe you’ll want to buy me so I can have a real family like Chris.”
My heart breaks for William and Daisy. These poor kids.
It was the end of a very long day when I heard my name being called. My feet hurt but I heard my name called. I turned around and searched the hall. Who had called me?
A group of students broke apart and the earnest face of Jim (he was Jimmy last year in 6th grade) peered out from between shoulders.
“Ms. G!” he called again.
I waited as he made his way to me, waving a paper in the air.
I expected the paper to be a science test. He’s been struggling in science but attended tutorials this morning to bring up his science grade. I began to form words of praise in my head.
“Ms. G! She chose my article! My article is in the paper!”
Last year, Jimmy was a member of my 6th grade Reading Improvement class. I remember asking him about his 5th grade experience as a reader.
“I didn’t read much,” he’d said. “I was a bad kid and ended up in AEP (Alternative Education Placement). Now I want to be a good kid and learn how to read good.” As it turned out, he’d been part of a notorious ring of 5th graders who were nearly arrested for upskirting.
He worked hard last year to be a “good kid.” We’d talk occasionally about his struggles in making wise choices. On his bad days he’d come in the classroom and just lay his head down. He wasn’t receiving much support at home; his parents were too busy divorcing to pay attention.
I don’t know when he took an interest in writing. I know when he took an interest in reading; he’d shared his favorite authors with me. But writing?
And now here he is, one year later, a published author in the school paper.
I’m glowing with pride.
Way to go, Jimmy!
“Hey, Ms. G! Are we taking a test?”
As my 6th period class entered, they discovered that the room was arranged differently from the last time they had attended class. Gone were the friendly groupings of desks; in their place were rows of desks with each desk carefully spaced a foot apart. (No longer were they able to reach their feet out far enough to kick the desk in front of them.)
As I explained the day’s task, they discoverd another change. Instead of the colored pencils, used the day before (and scattered pieces of across the floor), students would be working today in chiaroscuro, shaded in with #2 pencils.
For the first time ever, I’d had to put my class into lockdown. Yesterday had been an awful, horrible, no-good day and I was determined not to have a replay. The final straw had been catching Alex throwing shredded erasers into the hair (and ears!) of his classmates.
Lockdown consists of blessed silence. Instead of working in groups or pairs, students sit in solitary desks and work in silence. On my part, I patrol the classroom like a prison guard. (According to my pedometer, I walked two miles in two periods during lockdown.)
I prefer students to work in pairs or small groups. Reading and writing are already such solitary activities. I believe that the sharing of thoughts and ideas is crucial to learning but… sometimes neither I nor the students are ready for sharing. I take responsibility for their actions, too. After all, I had failed to impress on them the need to stay on task and the importance of learning. But… sometimes the students aren’t ready either. Sometimes they need more guidance or more releasae for their youthful energy than I can provide in my small classroom.
I wish I had more flexibility. I’d be working on project-oriented curriculum if I did. Unfortunately, it’s not in the cards for my district nor in my classroom. I’ve heard so manystudents complaining that they can’t find the relevance of reading and writing in the real world… which amazes me. How can reading and writing not impact daily life?
Meanwhile I circle my classroom like a shark scenting blood in the water. We’re in lockdown.
- I took my students to the school library for the first time today. That’s five trips to the library, shushing kids in the hall and stopping them from running in the library.
- I wrote my first dress code violation for super short shorts. She had a change of clothing in her bag so she knew she was in violation. Not to mention the other student who high-fived her, saying “dress code!”
- I watched the policeman escort one of my students in the hallway for the first time this year. I don’t know why he was under police escort.
- I received my first note from a parent, warning me that her son was home sick with something probably contagious. The doctor will let us know tomorrow. While I disinfected the desks a little over a week ago, I thought it prudent to disinfect again.
“Ms. G., how did he buy a car with only 5k?”
I’d assigned an assignment last week on the cost of cars, a topic students are enormously interested in, being only 2 years from a potential driver’s license and car. Was the assignment coming back to bite me in the derriere?
“Look, dude,” Jake interrupted before I could form a thought. “The book is from back in the olden days, back when you could get a car with only 5k.”
In November, Jake had entered my struggling readers class, both illiterate and alliterate. He’d come to me after a stint in jail (I never asked for what) and he had informed me then that he was merely biding his time. He’d be 16 soon and “outta here.”
I’d never discussed the setting for Absolutely Normal Chaos. How had Jake figured the setting out?
Andy joined in the conversation. “How’d you know, Jake?”
“Dude, look at the stuff they do. Swimming and stuff. No cell phones. No games. And look at what she’s reading. The Odysseus. You ever heard of it? It’s old days, dude. I’m telling you.”
The other students nodded in agreement with Jake’s reasoning. Class continued and Andy was chosen as the next oral reader.
I sat back in amazement. I only have one more week with these students and they amaze me. While still not reading fully at grade level, they had made so much progress. They were using reasoning skills and they were supporting each other. Not one boy had complained about reading “a girl’s book”. During free reading, some of them would re-read chapters or read ahead.
They amaze me and I only have them for one more week.