Friday, May 2, 2014

Every Year I Taught the Same Story

May 2, 2014

Every year I taught the same story to my seventh graders called "Seventh Grade" by Gary Soto. 

It's a beautiful story about seventh graders finding their way through the first day of school, with boys trying to look tough, and the main character trying, with embarrassing results, to impress a girl he has a crush on. 

At the end of the story, the boy, crushed by humiliation, is asked by the girl if he would teach her the French he really doesn't know.

The teacher, sitting nearby, has the perfect opportunity to say something but refrains when he remembers himself as a kid. 

The boy agrees to help her, and the story ends on a hopeful, positive note as he runs to the library to check out French books. 

Every year I tell my students that I hope to someday be the teacher who keeps his mouth shut and lets the boy take care of what he had to do. 

Finally, in what is likely my last year of teaching, I was finally able to be like this teacher. 

One of my students has a severe Emotional and Behavioral Disability. She's been hospitalized several times this year. When she's here, sometimes the meds get in the way of her functioning. 

But she's a sweet girl and pretty bright. This year, she was noticed by a young man for the first time. A little romance blossomed. 

Yet somehow there was a misunderstanding and my student was told the boy had said something about her. I know the boy well enough to doubt the things he was supposed to have said. But my girl lost her mind for a little bit, swearing and talking about how she'd poke out his eyes. (How many of you women have felt that!)

We walked around and talked. The women in the office gave her awesome female advice, which mirrored my own. We talked about heartache and how people hurt others unintentionally. I told her that even I, the amazingly awesome Mr. Warloski, had hurt people deeply without meaning to. 

The boy then wrote a beautiful apology note, which I gave to the girl. She read it and she wanted to talk with him as she calmed down. We practiced and rehearsed what she would say. 

The boy was in my office since he was being kept from the weekly school assembly to consider what he had done. She came in nervous, and with some prompts told him she was hurt. "I need some time because you hurt me," she said.

But after his apology and him telling her he had been worried about her, I asked her if she really needed time. No, she said. And she smiled. 

At this point, I thought of the teacher in the story. I left the room for a moment to "get something" and as I started to return, I could see them talking in my office. I turned around to find something else to do. 

Finally, we spent the rest of the assembly time in the computer lab where they sat side-by-side in the back, and I sat far away from them while they got some work done and continued to talk. 

It was so sweet. And I felt pleased beyond measure that this girl had found a way to calm herself and find a strategy to steer her away from the anger she feels so strongly. 

It's about as good a moment as a teacher can have. 

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