Thursday, October 25, 2012

31 Days of W.I.C.: Day 17- Your 600 Percent

His eyes were downcast.
The floor was of utmost interest.
His feet shifted back and forth.
"I only read 6 books all year."

And maybe compared to everyone else's forty or fifty, that was shabby. But you have to know, that just a few months before, this ninth grade boy read his first book cover to cover. Fifteen years old, growing a mustache, and he really read his first book. And loved it. I teach older students. It's rare that I get to see the beginning of someone's reading career. I may see it take off or fully develop but I hardly ever get to be in on the Genesis moment. I saw it. I saw the wonder of that dazed expression when the book closes, you realize it's over, and you want more. I saw him return to the shelf and choose a new one.  I saw that. I saw it six times. There may be seven wonders in the world. I have seen six of them.

I hear teachers complain all the time about how low the students who have come to them this year are. "I can't believe he's in the sixth grade and reads on a first grade level." "I can't believe they've never read Shakespeare. We have to start at square one." "These kids have never written a grocery list, much less a research paper." And I've been there. I know. The state standards tell you one thing, your principal wants everyone at a certain level, someone else has all the "smart" kids for that year (And manages to mention it. Every day.). The negative talk that comes from all of the pressure that is around us. It can suck the joy out of the day. It's discouraging.

But shaming and blaming won't help. And we do get them for a year. At the end of the year will it be be a year that they learned? Or will it be another year of being ashamed of being behind everyone else? Will we change the talk inside our students' heads? The chatter that tells them they don't have what it takes.
If we choose to try, we can alter our students, ourselves,  and our writing community.

 I started looking at it as my call, my challenge. They're not supposed to know already- they're supposed to learn. We knew in Girl Scouts to "leave things better than we found them". That became a sort of motto for me. Let's start where we are and see how far we can get. Anything is better than where we started. Let's see if we can learn a little everyday, add all of that up, and make something great.

In the case of my student:

 He either read six books all year compared to everyone else's forty or fifty....
he improved SIX HUNDRED PERCENT...
the action is the same, and both things are true... it's just a matter of framing.

The book he read..... The FIRST book he ever read.

One of the worst stressors is that of comparison. Instead of seeing his accomplishment for the miracle that it is, he was framing it with someone else's experience and completely missing the greatness. Sometimes we help people do that to themselves. Sometimes we are our own worst framers. This is another reason that we need community. Yes, there are ample pitfalls for comparison when you learn and write with others. But there are also your compadres who are the ones to see your miracle- even when you can't. If we compare, any progress seems like nothing. But if we recognize and acknowledge our starting point, we see the progress for what it is. It can be our six hundrend percent.

I told him no one had the success he had. He had improved six hundred percent. We talked about what he was reading next. How he got faster with each book. He was surprised that I liked the Alex Ryder books he was reading. We shot the literary breeze for the few more minutes, and the bell rang. I wonder if he'll ever know how that whole experience shaped me as a teacher.

I resolved in  that moment to
 choose my dreams daily
(in the end , no one is responsible for them but me)
I'll expect something great to happen
I will
read something
do something
witness something
observe, learn, embrace

I will dream a little every day,
in that way, the significant amount compared to nothing...
It's my six hundred percent.

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