Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Things That Matter

I've always known that my relationship with my students is the most important part of my teaching life. I also know that getting to know students is crucial to developing those relationships. But after twenty years, I thought I had that part down to a science. Leave it to a kid to teach me that I don't know as much as I thought I did.

The day we got out for break each class met for 25 minutes, and attendance was on the low side. In order to be productive, I had students use The Kids' Book of Questions and guide discussions. The first question 1st period was "What's the hardest thing about being a kid?" and Rudy (not his name) replied "School."

We all laughed, I dug a little deeper, and I finally asked him what was easy about school. He said he finds math easy, and that intrigued me. Math is a problem for me, and I want to know how the mathematical mind works. I asked about seeing patterns, and he confirmed that he sees them all the time, and then he said something else. He said, "I can see shapes."

I asked for clarification.

He replied, "I can see 3D figures in front of me. When they say 'Imagine a 3D shape,' I put it in the air in front of me and see it."

I asked if he can project images onto paper, and he said he can. After further conversation, I got him to pull out his art sketchbook, and he showed us a drawing of a Dragon Ball Z character that was stunning. He was a bit embarrassed, but also a bit pleased, by the attention from his peers, and he was genuinely puzzled that not everyone sees things the way he does.

Here's what I knew about this kid before-English is his second language, and he never identified as a reader before this year. He likes The Walking Dead  and Dragon Ball Z TV shows, and now he loves TWD graphic novels. He works some with his dad and grandfather doing commercial construction. He has a younger brother and sister. When he was younger, he got pulled out of regular classes for reading. His family goes to Mexico during long breaks from school, and the area his family visits is kind of scary. He likes rap music. He skateboards.

These are all great things to know-but they didn't cause me to start talking to counselors about guiding him into courses that will utilize his strength and talent. It made me go back and look at the interest inventories from the first of school. For the question "What are your favorite subjects?" he answered "None." For "What is something you think you do well?" He responded "Eat."

In 2018, there are going to be a whole lot more conversations with the 9th graders in room 307. And they won't all be about books or writing (but they'll probably come from and lead to both). They'll be about life and unrealized ability and passion. They'll be about what makes us human. They'll be about the things that matter.

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