Wednesday, February 26, 2014

16 Stitches

Today was a testing day at our school, and it's a trying time for students who, when asked to sit quietly for 30 minutes while others complete their test, react as if you are asking them to swallow a live cockroach. So when we up the ante to a 4-hour stretch, you can imagine the resistance.

One of my struggling readers was … well, struggling. She was at question number 3. Fear not, I thought to myself, because I have a bag full of pep talks sure to make any sulker turn into a swagger, turn any Debbie Downer into a Polly Positive, any Doubting Thomas … okay you get the picture. I can  sell these kids on most anything.

First thing I do is kneel and get on her level. (Any good teacher knows this). Then I lower my voice and turn on my calm, sweet Kindergarten teacher voice, which sounds kind of like Yoga instructor voice without all the swirly breath lingo. Then I gently touch her back because I know this student enough to know that appropriate touch is "OK" with her.
"Olivia, (not her real name by any stretch of the imagination)," I say, "If you keep going and finish your test, I'll give you a prize ticket."
Her eyebrows raised just enough for me to know I was going to have to take a different direction.
"Olivia," I say, "I know you can do this. You have been working really hard this week. You've got this."
Again, a look that showed she wasn't about to believe this white blonde lady whispering to her. She might as well have just said, "Really?"
So I reached into my bag o' tricks and pulled out the gentle but tough speech, the one I often perform with a wide smile and clenched teeth. I took a deep breath, replaced the yoga music in my head to a rough rap beat, and leaned in closer to her face.
"Olivia," (again, so very far from her real name)," I sternly suggested, "You are smart and you need sit up and finish this test." Then I tapped her paper with my index finger for effect and added, "Right. Now."
I hit some kind of nerve, because she began telling me she should have stayed in second grade because she still didn't know how to read. Then her diatribe took a turn.
"I should have stayed in second grade but that girl kept messin' with me. I told her not to mess with me. I told her but she didn't listen. So I bit her in the head and she had to have 16 stitches. I told her not to …"
At this point I realized how close I was to her face and I slowly backed away. She was still reliving the biting and I was thinking "OMG if I push her too far with this test taking stuff, I'll be sent packing from the war with a bite wound on my head." I might liken it to when you reach out to pet a stray dog; all of a sudden it starts bearing its teeth and growling, so you slowly back away with "Nice doggie!"
I was fast-forwarding through the potential scenes that might ensue, when she said, "and I should have stayed in second but she messed with me so they just passed me on to 3rd grade."
Needless to say, I made some sort of deal with her that clicked. She was eyeing my cup of Starbucks coffee and said she wanted some. I told her if she finished the test and did her best I'd bring her a cup on Friday (genius, I know .. offering to bring a caffeine loaded drink to a third-grader who starts flipping over her seat like it's a pommel horse after 45 minutes in the classroom.) Nonetheless, she put her nose to the grindstone and finished.
Success? She finished the test and I walked out of the class injury-free. You be the judge.