Sunday, August 31, 2014

Small Moments of Success

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I stare at the screen of my Kindle, afraid to look up. It's the first day of indepdendent reading in my standard junior English class, and it's so quiet that the only possible scenarios are that all twenty students are asleep or they've left.

But they haven't done either. They are reading.

Well, nineteen of them are. "CJ" is not, which doesn't surprise me since he was the only student out of the sixty plus I have on my course load this semester to not turn in something for the initial in class writing I assigned. I also had an email from his mom before the end of the first day asking me to email her if he was absent. And he's made it clear that he could better spend his time working, that school is standing in his way of making money, and he's dropping out on his eighteenth birthday. That's in six months, and given that he's still classified as a freshman, I'm not sure there's much I can do to change his mind.

When I ask the students to find a stopping place, I'm met with a few relieved sighs, but more protests. Those make my heart happy. Once again, it took only one class period for me to prove that teenagers like reading--teachers just need to help them find the right book and give them time and space to read. CJ, though, loudly tells the class that he read ZERO pages. He's so proud. The other students look at him like he has three heads, which shuts him up much faster than I could.

The next day I walk up to him during a transition between activities. "Look," I say, "I know you don't like to read. I get it." He smiles a bit at my acknowledgement, which is a nice change from his typical scowl. "But what if I found a book for you about something you're interested in. Would you give it a try for me?" He says he will, and says he'll give me some topics to look into.

He doesn't, and now it's time for indepedent reading once again. Every other student in the class is lost in a book; his head in down on his desk. I walk over to my shelves stuffed with over 700 books and choose five, making sure to select short books so I don't set myself up for failure. "Why don't you look these over and see if any of them speak to you. Just start with the back covers," I say. He huffs and makes a show of fake slipping through the books, distracting the others as he does. I settle back on my stool and ignore him.

When I sneak a peek at him a few minutes later, he's picked on of the books up. He sees me and immediately puts the book back down. I ignore him.

As class ends, he brings four of the five books back to me. "I think I'll try this one," he says. "It looks okay."

"Be careful," I warn. "you might accidentally enjoy it." He smiles again.

And when independent reading time comes around the next week, he takes out his book and immediately begins to read. No arguments, no posturing. He's reading. And in that moment, I don't care that the book is of horrible quality or that he's only read sixteen pages when some of his classmates have already read 1,500. All I care about is that this could very well be his last English class, and the act of reading a book he chose for pleasure is a skill he can take with him. It's a way he can keep learning even if he chooses to give up on school.

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