Monday, June 27, 2011

We Can Do Better

When I first welcomed him to our classroom back in September, "G" warned me, in all his toughness, "there's nothing you can do to make me like school". I was taken aback by his statement, but instantly took it as a challenge. We struggled the first several weeks as we got to know each other. He had to learn to trust me, while I had to figure out what set him off.

I learned quickly that G had two huge issues: divorced parents and what looked to me like dyslexia or dysgraphia. Which of the two? I'm afraid we never got to that. Although G had been referred to I & RS last year, all he got this school year was two marking periods of tutoring! I had him in my lowest reading group, gave him extra time at writing conferences, and tried different tactics for getting him through his literacy difficulties. (Classroom teachers are not necessarily equipped to address the needs of dyslexia and dysgraphia, unfortunately.) I also had to muster up some serious patience, especially at the beginning of the year, during his outbursts which involved shoving furniture, throwing school supplies, and trying to engage me in arguments. His little face would turn red, he would huff and puff, he would cry. He would tense up and pinch or squeeze his arm. ( I later recognized this as his attempt to control himself.)

I knew, of course, he acted out of frustration. He lived with his mother one week, his father the next. G clearly had a preference for his dad's place. I could easily tell on a Monday morning whose week it was, by the angry look on his face. His family situation, coupled with his learning difficulties, made for a very angry little boy.

As the year progressed, G did get better academically and socially. He did very well in math. He contributed very thoughtfully to classroom discussions. And although his independent reading ability was well below grade level, he developed a desire to read. I often found him engrossed in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, which took him way longer than his peers, but held his attention. He eventually overcame some of his distaste for school. His classmates often teased, "See?!! You DO like school!" He learned to curb his emotional outbursts and he practiced self-calming techniques.

I know we should have done more. As much as I advocated for G, my school was not able (or willing?) to address his needs more appropriately. Some forms were filled out, a few questionnaires completed, and ONE meeting held to discuss his case. By the end of the year, his case was left... open? hanging? in limbo?

G left for summer vacation a week earlier than his classmates, while I was still grading benchmark tests. He said "Bye Miss!" as he took off at the end of his last day, and that was that. My eyes later filled up at his response to a persuasive writing prompt, where he was to explain why our school is the best in town:

Also the techors here cold relle chang a person. Like me befor I cam to this school. I hated being in school. However, the techors changed me. I still don't like school but now I can't sae I hate going and being in school. Also the techers are alway fair about stfo.

This is the "stuff" that makes me want to do better.


Veronica said...

Cassy, thank you for sharing this story. Little moments like these are reminders of why educators are among the most important people in the world.

Candis said...

So true! I am so excited to find your blog and have added it to my list of bilingual/dual language teacher blogs over at!