Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Portraits of a Misfit Child

The following sketches are not written for the purpose of assigning blame. Laboring under the constraints of a one-size-fits-all system, the majority of teachers are generally motivated to work hard on behalf of their students -- all of their students. Lack of compassion and/or imagination when dealing with non-conforming children is, I think, a societal, not a pedagogical or a parental problem.

Part 1

He squats tentatively on one of the end chairs at his group's table. His teacher has told him several times that this is "not the way we sit in first grade" but his body is restless. For now, at least, the teacher does not see him. She is too busy writing numbers on the dry erase board -- numbers which he is supposed to be copying on a lined sheet of paper. Newsprint. He hates newsprint because it tears so easily. His small, lean body is desperate to be moving. At home he would be running after lizards, practicing hand stands, climbing trees. He is well on his way to becoming the best tree climber in the world...

A wild impulse seizes him and he leaps from his chair right into the middle of the table where his classmates are writing. They shriek and one girl falls to the floor and starts crying. Then the teacher is standing there next to him. Her voice sounds small and tight inside her throat. She tells him to go to the principal's office. Right now!

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She isn't very interested in games like four square, jump rope and tag which the other second grade girls like to play. She would much rather go looking for water gnomes. She's certain several of them live under the wooden bridge that spans the small creek near the front of the school. Sometimes she's able to persuade her one-and-only friend to go gnome hunting with her; other times she's obliged to go alone. The water gnomes are transparent and kind of...well, ephemeral. Ephemeral is a word she heard her mom use recently and she's pretty sure it applies to the water gnomes. "You talk like a little professor," her friend's mother told her. She said it in a way that meant it wasn't such a good thing.

For the past two days it has rained heavily and the brook is vigorous and teeming with debris. Today she imagines she sees the top half of a gnome's face peering over a pile of branches that have gotten stuck in the middle of the creek. She turns to alert her friend, then remembers she's come alone this time. She moves cautiously down the bank, closer to the water. The burble and swish of the creek is so loud she doesn't hear the school bell clang, signalling the end of recess.

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He can't, for the life of him, figure out what went wrong. He had done his very best just like his mom and dad had told him to, so his math paper should have been perfect. Instead, it was covered all over with red markings. "Your paper has a diaper rash," the little girl sitting next to him had said and he had felt his face turn hot with shame. Anger, too. Because they had lied to him, telling him all he had to do was his best and everything would turn out perfect.

Well, if he couldn't do it right, he wouldn't do it at all. He hated first grade and he hated his teacher with her red, ruining pen all over his very best work. Now she was telling the class to put everything away because they were going to do science.  Well, he wasn't going to do science. He reached into his pocket and took out a stub of  green sidewalk chalk he'd found on the playground during recess. He began rubbing it over his face, first his right cheek then his left. When he was done with that,he rubbed it over his forehead. That was when the teacher noticed.

"What are you doing?" she demanded.

"What do you think? I'm a greenie meany," he said, then raising his voice, "A greenie weenie cockadoodle deenie!"

1 comment:

  1. This was terrific! My daughter is a teacher. She's enthusiastic and idealistic--traits I hope she never loses--and strives to meet the needs of the individuals entrusted to her. She must operate within a fairly rigid system, but she uses what her heart tells her is right to supplement the required curriculum. Her students are very fortunate, but sadly, not all are.