Manuel has been with me the whole term. He’s a bright goofball who amps up the “goof”. He’s the typical kid who is intelligent and tells me he wants to be serious in the class, but then turns around and says something really dumb or gives me some lame excuse. This is him the majority of the time; it’s like he wants people to not take him seriously. I tried cajoling him, encouraging him, and praising him in the beginning, but once I realized that he was basically full of it, I stopped. It disintegrated into me giving him looks that said, “Really?!” When he tried to pass the buck as to why he didn’t have his work, I questioned him about how prepared he was for class until he admitted that he wasn’t. Instead of the carrot, I held the stick. He required punishment in order to do his work. Finally I told him that if he did well in my class, I would go to his next choir performance and cheer for him. He paused, “How did you know I was in choir?” I shrugged, “I know lots of stuff.” “You’d really go?” he asked. “Yes, I will. But you have to get your grades up. I’m not going to cheer for a failing student.” Then I offered my class a “celebration” at the end of the term if the y brought up the pitiful class average, but in order to have it, everyone needed to participate. I stared at him.
Then it happened: one day last week he began to be a sincere participant in class. His comments were relevant and on point. After class I told him how much I appreciated his contributions. Then he took the unit test and scored decently on it, and he was proud of his accomplishment. Today they jigsawed articles about the 1930s in preparation to read To Kill A Mockingbird. The other students in his randomly chosen group looked at me, “Really, Ms. L? I have to work with him?” One of his group members has been begging me to send him to the office or kick him out of class all term. As they discussed their articles in their groups, Manuel started to expound on the Great Depression, the economy, Hoover, and Roosevelt. When I walked by he would stop me to corroborate a fact of his. I would agree with his fact, we would discuss it in front of the other group members, and I would move on. I watched him interact with his group, all of whom thought he was stupid. They were having a real and earnest discussion of what it must have been like to live back then. Circling around again, I heard the girl who is gleeful when he doesn’t show up to class ask, “How do you know so much about history?” She sounded a little awed. I rooted for him silently, “Prove your stuff, Manuel!”
Today after school he stayed in my room for an hour typing a late essay. He asked for feedback, and it was apparent that he put some thought and effort into it. We discussed the strengths and weaknesses, and he revised it to turn it in. He then expressed interest in making up his missing assignments. I fist-bumped him and told him that this was the Manuel I knew existed. But I know kids like him who are insecure and used to having people think the worst of them are fragile and break easily under pressure, so we’ll see how it goes tomorrow.