I have a son. He’s two years old.
There is a student. She’s 14.
Last summer, he moved across the country to a new house.
She recently entered a new classroom for the first time.
So did he.
He loves to bathe.
He loves to learn.
She loves to learn.
But this new bath was different.
This new classroom is different.
This new classroom is different.
The first day, the water was poured and inviting, but he was screaming and kicking before his feet touched the bottom. I tried to get him to just get used to the water, and maybe let me pour a little over his shoulders, but he was having none of it. He didn’t bathe that day.
The first day, the bulletin boards were inviting.
The bookshelves were stacked.
But he was lonely.
She was afraid.
They were uncertain of this new place. The teacher asked them to write, but it was all
just too much. They didn’t learn that day.
The next day, I got in the water with him.
The next day, the teacher pulled out their notebook and wrote beside her.
The next day, the teacher asked him to pull out his notebook and write.
He didn’t cry, and was pleased to stand in the water. Not much washing got done, but he was comfortable with the situation.
She didn’t sulk, and even wrote a few lines in her notebook. Nothing too great was written, but, unlike the day before, the page was not blank.
He opened his notebook, but just stared off. His teacher didn’t seem to care enough to do anything about it, so he didn’t even reach for his pencil.
The next day, I tried to wash his hair. He wasn’t ready. He instantly cried out, threw down the cup, and climbed out of the tub. This was actually a newly-learned skill: he had never climbed out of the tub before.
The next day, the teacher asked her to write an essay. This was too much. The few lines from yesterday were fine, but she wasn’t ready for an essay. She closed his notebook, closed her eyes, and slept through class. She learned something new that day: she had never known she could sleep through class before.
The next day, the teacher asked him to write an essay. This was too much. The teacher hadn’t even pronounced his name correctly, and now they wanted an essay? He closed his notebook, closed his eyes, and slept through class. He learned something new that day: if the teacher didn’t care for him, he didn’t have to care, either.
The next day, we didn’t have a chance for a bath. Instead, though, we did go down to the pool. We didn’t soap up, but he did get all the way in the water, smiling and laughing most of the time. On the way back, my son exclaimed, “Fun water! Fun bath!” At least I knew it wasn’t the water itself that was causing his behavior.
The next day, the teacher tried something new. “Today, we’re not going to write an essay. We’re just going to play around with word and story.” The students each wrote a line and passed their paper along, creating collaborative stories. Some were nonsense, some were passable stories, and at least one was too vulgar to share. But every student wrote the whole time. After class, our student exclaimed, “That was fun! We should write like that more often.” It wasn’t the act of writing causing her to shut down.
The next day, the teacher tried something new. “Today, we are going to write an essay together. Please, at the top of your page, write down ‘Class Essay #1.’ I would like you to start out with the line ‘My summer was….’ Fill in the blank for that sentence. Next, write ‘It was this way because…’ and finish that sentence.” Our student wrote these sentence starters, but never finished them. The teacher walked by, asked him to please put his name on his paper, and moved on. He put down the wrong name. The teacher never corrected him. It wasn’t the act of writing causing him to shut down.
The next day, my son had a bath. He grabbed his own washcloth, added his own soap, rinsed and washed his own hair, and even drained the tub. He had never done any of these things before. He was now not only comfortable with the new tub, but his skill set was greatly improved. I believe he would have done this had I not stepped in the tub with him, followed his lead, played around with water in other situations, and respected his autonomy. But I’m glad I don’t have to find out when that would be.
The next day, she was eager to write. They weren’t doing a collaborative story as a class, but she was applying that practice to hew own work. The teacher asked them to write about anything they wanted to, and even gave some prompts for anyone who needed help coming up with a topic. She chose to write about a time she felt scared. She wrote for longer and better than she ever had before. She was not only at her skill level she was at before she entered the room, but had surpassed it. Perhaps she would do this even if her teacher had not written beside her, let her find her own way, had her play around with words and language, and respected her autonomy. But how long would that have taken?
The next day, he skipped English class. He found one of his favorite teachers on their prep hour. That teacher talked with him and took him to the counseling office. There, he found someone who would listen to how things were going in class. He decided to give class another shot. When he returned to class, pass in hand, the teacher greeted him with his name, and said they were glad he was with them today. Maybe this would work. He had promised the counselor he would try, and he likes to keep his word. Besides, he’s only a week behind. Perhaps he will grow as a writer yet. Perhaps.