One of the most difficult things and the greatest joy of teaching is making connections with students. Sometimes it’s easy: you and the student realize that you both love Pink Floyd, and instantly, you have street cred with that student. Some students don’t talk to you, such as one of my girls who comes to school everyday content to sit there, stare into space, and do absolutely nothing. She hasn’t been bringing her book to class even though she keeps it in classroom a few doors away. She’s rebuffed my teaching endeavors with sullen shrugs.
This week I’ve been hammering my students with grammar, for which she does not need her book. Abandoning the niceties of asking if she needs help, I’ve been telling her to show me how to do the problems. She admits that she doesn’t know, and we review her notes. It feels like forever, but she eventually puts the pieces of the puzzle together and does the work. Everyday we do this. Yesterday, she was working, but her friend across the room was not; she wanted her friend to work with her. A-ha! This was her “carrot”. Making an example of her friend, I told her that her friend, by not doing any work for my class, had not earned the privilege to sit next to her. She, herself, by doing her work, had earned the privilege, but she wouldn’t be able to use it with her friend. She understood.
Today after the first bell, I stood by door greeting my students. She ran by me down the hall, smiled, and said she was going to get her book. Before the final bell, she entered the class book in tow. Trying not to appear to giddy that she made the effort to bring and do her work, I was floored when her do-nothing informed me, “I did my homework.”
As a teacher, I live off of small miracles– those instances when the student comprehends and does something beyond the ordinary. These normally happen once a month (it’s normally when the student who grunts a greeting suddenly begins to say “Hello”), but to have two in one day is amazing. These may be random miracles, never to happen again, but I’ll take what I can get.