Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Oct 25 2011

I bet the aliens dropped off their insects for us to have.

Because of the nature of our student population, where everyone is moving in with aunties or going to stay with grandma for a while, or moving from one housing project to another (they just redistricted or rearranged housing units here, which moved a bunch of kids into our district), we get new kids and have kids leave a lot. Although this year it seems we have much more influx than egress. Regardless, I got a new kid this week, and I think he’s a really good example of a couple things.

First of all, this kid is a sweetheart and adorable. He’s still got that little kid whole-body effort that so many of my kids do, the kind of kid who, when he raises his hand, practically levitates off his chair with excitement. He’s got this round babyface, and his hair is in long braids down his back. Cutest moment on day 1: as he’s walking in line, he puts his hands behind him and grabs his own hair, tugging so his head tilts back, then trots down the hallway looking at the ceiling.

He also has an IEP, which means he gets special education services for a documented learning difficulty. His reading is really low, but nothing astronomical (side note: when did 4th graders who don’t know all their letter sounds become de rigeur?), and his math issues are actually all reading issues because he can’t read the instructions. On the other hand, he did 39 x 2 in his head yesterday, so we think he’ll be fine.

The other thing he has going for him is a working, well-educated mom. His mom is an accountant with a college degree (I’m not sure, but I would bet none of the rest of my parents have a BA) and they moved from a school in Durango that clearly did some stuff, because the kinds of stuff he knows that my kids don’t (that planets go around the sun; that all the continents were once part of one big continent; what a continent is, for that matter) is impressive. Mom wrote a page-long letter with perfect grammar and spelling as an introduction for her kids’ teachers to get to know them. I have maybe 2 other parents who write with OK grammar, and none of them have ever written me more than a few sentences.

This is nothing against my other parents: I have met almost all of them, had conferences with them about their kids, and to a person they all love their kids and want them to succeed. The fact that their own grammar is no great shakes is merely evidence of the generational language issues of the area, the very issues we’re trying to intervene on for their kids.

But here’s the thing: this new kiddo of mine is seriously ELL (they speak Navajo at home and are pretty traditional), has some real language understanding issues, and has special needs on top of that. Yet he has a kind of confidence and security in himself that my other ELL, special needs, language-difficulty kids lack. When my three lowest readers answer a question, they ask me their answer. When they don’t understand, they take it as further evidence that they probably won’t get it. When they hear someone else answer a question differently than they did, they immediately change their answer because they have “I am usually wrong” so carved into their psyche that the idea that they knew better than someone else is unthinkable. I’ve started asking them, “Are you sure?” when they have the right answer to try to build this idea that we can think through something again and decide that we WERE right.

I don’t know where this security comes from. Maybe it’s that he has a strong sense of himself and his culture, which many of my kids are only vaguely connected to. It’s definitely in part because Mom has the tenacity and resources (knowledge-based, not financial) to fight for what he needs and help him with his work. And I think it’s also because when he needed special services, he got them at an early age. He doesn’t struggle with the idea that his little brother is smarter than him because he knows he learns things differently and that doesn’t make him dumb. He doesn’t have to second-guess everything, because he is used to the idea that if he makes a mistake, someone will help him understand. These are things I can’t say for my other should-be-in-special-ed kids, because no one has ever told them their brains work differently, so they just think they’re dumb. Not that knowing you’re different will fix it, but would you rather know you’re a little quirky and special, or know you’re stupid and can’t learn? Yeah, me too.

So this new munchkin of mine is settling in nicely, making friends and asking questions when he doesn’t understand. Today during Social Studies (when I have only 5 kids because the other 12 go to Navajo Language and Culture) he asked all sorts of stuff about where people came from, where planets came from, where insects came from (we talked about how different people believe different things, but science says…he listened, nodded sagely, and said, “I bet the aliens dropped off their insects for us to have.”). After getting some politically correct but informative answers, he sat back for a minute and said, “You know, I like this school.”

Now, to be fair, he joined us in the middle of our goofy clothes week where we reject drugs by wearing hats and pajamas (don’t ask), and we have a field trip and fall carnival on Friday, so there’s lots to like right now that has nothing to do with school, per se.

But still. I’ll take the warm fuzzies.

One Response

  1. CJK

    What a character–already. Thanks for painting such a clear picture of his personality and strengths and challenges.

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In which I muse about New Mexico, teaching, and life in general.

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