There is a strong sense of hustle and bustle this weekend as many schools set to begin their school year on Tuesday. I know that I have been busily getting things in order to make sure that my first week back gets off on the right foot (which includes alarm setting and wearing “real clothes” as I call them). Tuesday will officially begin my 25th year of teaching. Yes, I have former students who have children of their own beginning kindergarten on Tuesday. Tuesday will begin my fifth year as Academic Interventionist at our school. I have the coolest role in the world. I get to meet with students in small groups and support them as learners. I get to watch them learn and grow as they navigate their way through school. I get to do that. And probably the best part of my role is getting to hear and listen to their stories. We laugh a lot, I listen a lot, and many times after they leave I have tears. Because everyone has a story to tell. Today I want to share one that is very close to my heart. I hope that you are able to connect and see her perspective.
I had been working with this one particular student since she was a second grader. She did not need support academically, but sometimes needed a quiet space to work away from the hustle and bustle of the classroom. She would come down at the end of the day, or maybe during her extra recess by choice. Usually she was towing some papers and books along with her, and always she had something to catch up on. We would sort out the stack and get to work. Most of the time she did not need my help with the academic pieces, but what she needed help with was how to do school. She knew that taking this unfinished work home was not an option for her, and she wanted to get it done. She knew that she sometimes could not focus, that people got frustrated with her, and that she got frustrated with herself.
One particular day she came down with a rather large stack of things to do and we started to prioritize what needed to be done first. She had been absent for several days and still was not feeling the greatest. What she said when she sat down is forever etched in my mind. She looked at the stack of papers and looked at me and me and said, “School is not the place for me.” A million things went through my mind as I tried to usher in a response. Well, she beat me to it. “I can do the work. I just cannot do it fast.” She pointed to a paper with several problems on it and said, “See I can do it. I just cannot get all of them done.” She went through the entire stack of papers and said, “See I CAN do it.” She was right. She could. She continued working on her papers and in fact, she could do it. She proved it several times, front and back.
When she left that day I felt horrible and her words repeated, “School is not the place for me”. When she came back the next time we started to shift how we approached the work. And that started to change her mindset. She did not need to complete the whole paper to show her understanding, doing 6 or 7 was all she needed to do to show that she understood the concept.
Every child has a story. Our job as teachers is to do our best to make school a place for them. A sense of place does not mean the same for everyone. Some children will come on Tuesday fitting right in to our place. Some will feel out of place, and some have never felt that they fit. Be ready to listen to and hear their stories, and help them create a new next chapter.