"Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid." ~Einstein
I walked into the interview at Cano-Gonalez Elementary. The fact that I had taught the past eighteen months in a juvenile detention center near Edinburg intrigued the principal. During the interview I soon found out that I was hired, and then I was given some information about a few tough kids that were going to be fifth graders in my class. One was a very challenging boy who needed a great deal of help, and the other was a girl. I will call her Laura.
In fifth grade, the big challenge is to get ready for the state tests and to fill in the gaps to prepare kids for the rigors of middle school and on. Laura floundered in reading and writing, so to take the focus off of her inability to perform well in these subjects, she got in trouble by acting out so that she could hopefully miss reading by being sent to the office. I usually do not try to look at a student's history in their folder at the beginning of the year, because I believe every year is a fresh start. I have high expectations that all will engage and learn and grow along with me.
However, information volunteered to me about Laura's past performance in class I could not shake off. Since Pre-Kinder, she had been sent to ISS (In Campus Suspension) due to her terrible behavior and disruptions in classes. She had spent more time in isolation than she had spent in the classroom. Each year the gap widened and widened. I began to realize that this young girl had been rejected, isolated, and had fallen behind due to her disciplinary plan.
Then, I recalled a couple of seventeen year old boys from the Dallas area I taught at the detention center the past year. Even at their age, they needed teaching in basic phonics, then kindergarten and first grade reading skills. As we spent time together and talked, they shared more about their childhood. Their mothers slept in and did not take them to school during their foundation years for reading. They told me that they got into trouble at school so that they could escape the classroom. Since they could not read, they did not want to be shamed or ridiculed for not being able to do the work or to read aloud in class.
My heart went out to these boys. When I thought of how differently their lives could have been if only they had known how to read. It amazed me how many teachers passed them to the next grade and never found out, or to took time to teach them to read. How differently their whole childhood and teen years could have been.
There usually is a reason behind misbehavior in the classroom. It might be physical, emotional, a home situation, or just silliness that needs to come under control, but many times it is a deficiency of skills or self confidence which take time and work to improve.
Laura suffered from an unstable home, so I wanted our time in class to be a haven for her. One time when she was interrupting a lesson, I took her out into the hall and I told her that her punishment was going to be to stay in the room with me, right beside me. I made it clear to her that she was not going to spend the year wasting her time in ISS, but that she was going to learn to socialize responsibly in class. I wanted her there with me everyday, so she might as well begin to show respect.
Believe me, she never missed a day of school. These kids never do. Their parents are the first ones to drop them off and the last to pick them up, too.
Silent reading for 20 minutes each day was a mandate on our campus. Laura and I worked on reading skills while the others read independently. It was a painfully slow process at first because of her negative self concept.
Yet, over the weeks, she stayed by my desk and improved. I found out that she was very adept in mathematics. No matter what I threw out there, she aced every new concept once we had mastered the basic skills.
I used peer tutoring in my classroom. I had a very large gap in abilities in reading and math. They ranged from brilliant gifted students with attention and behavior problems to kids with gaps in their schooling or language problems that kept them at a slower pace. So I used pair work to try to bridge the gap with so many who needed tutoring.
One day, I asked all those who understood the day's math lesson to stand on one side of the room and then all who did not to find a partner. This time a gifted student in my room ran over to be with Laura. The kids were noticing how quick she was to understand the math. Other students who struggled with division vied to be partners with her. She had a knack for methodically explaining and giving examples for understanding. After this, I saw a new girl emerge from her cocoon. A beautiful girl, confident, well groomed, smiling, and interacting respectfully with all students and staff.
At the end of May, we studied careers and discussed the basic skills needed for each one. Did they require math, reading ability, writing, science, social studies, technology, people skills? Then the students wrote a piece about themselves and what career they would pursue with the skill set they had.
I loved reading these, but when I got to Laura's, I could not believe my eyes. Laura wanted to be a teacher! What a drastic change had occurred in her self perception. I had a hard time keeping my composure.
It is so essential not to jump to conclusions about ourselves or other people before finding a niche in life. When we are asked to do things that we are not prepared for, or that are not in our skill set, just as Einstein said, we feel insignificant and have a low self esteem. But when we finally see where we excel and how we can contribute to others in life, then we swell with a feeling of purpose and fulfillment. We fit and life makes sense.
So God, I pray that you will help me to find my area of expertise. That area where I can flourish and interact meaningfully to bring harmony to the world around me. I thank you for what I am going to discover even this week about myself. I pray that you, the reader, will more clearly see your strengths and give you new purpose this year.