You Won’t Believe What This Kid Did

10 Jul

Right now, I’m teaching summer writing classes at a Boys and Girls Club. I have a 9-year-old girl in my class whose house burned down in February. She escaped the fire by throwing  a TV through a stuck window, but not everyone in the house was so lucky. Her stepfather died that night, and her mother only barely survived (she just came home from the burn unit, more than four months later.) After the fire, my student couldn’t go stay with her father or her brothers because they are all in jail. She currently lives with her older sister and three “ratchety” cousins (her words, not mine). She has every excuse in the world to be sullen, disengaged, and badly behaved.

But here’s the thing: she isn’t. Not even a little bit. Last week, she missed a class because she was out of town. Here is what she did when she got back:

She voluntarily left lunchtime–a prime time for social fun–half an hour early so that she could come to my class, find out what she had missed, and catch up before the next class started.

I didn’t ask her to do this. No one would have. It’s a casual summer course, and any adult would be willing to cut her some slack. But she didn’t want slack. She just showed up, sat down, and asked me for the assignments from the week before. Consider my mind officially blown.

Just for comparison: there’s another student in my class who came up to me one afternoon, sniffling and pouting, to complain, “My nose itches!” (No, I’m not making this up.)

Why is it, do you think, that some students are so much more self-directed and resilient than others? How can we teach all kids to be as incredible as this one student of mine? I’d love to hear your ideas!

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6 Responses to “You Won’t Believe What This Kid Did”

  1. jo July 10, 2012 at 2:53 pm #

    Clearly, she is the spawn of Chuck Norris.

    But really, my mind is totally blown by this story too (great post, by the way). I can’t help but speculate that maybe this catastrophic event is part of the reason the student in question is so unquestionably tenacious? While this doesn’t answer your question (I doubt there is on), it does support a feeling I have about how we arm kids to be resilient and self-assured in their futures:

    We not only should– but must– challenge our kids constantly, in many ways, and without remorse for doing so. We must require them and compel them to do difficult things more often than easy things, knowing full well that they will fail sometimes; we have to be okay with that possibility (so they can learn to be). Every person won’t go through an experience as traumatic as hers, but we can all learn what it is to overcome something.

    Thanks for this story– I’d love to read more about your student and her resilience this summer.

  2. IntownWriter July 10, 2012 at 8:25 pm #

    I can’t answer your question, but I had to comment on this young woman’s fortitude and resilience! What a gift she has to go through all that and still have the drive to grow and learn. Bravo! What a wonderful person to have as your student.

    On another note, I adore the new look of the blog. The design is delightfully fresh and clean. Great job!

  3. Dan Dunnagan July 11, 2012 at 10:57 am #

    I’m always impressed by your success stories about motivating individual students, so I question the goal of teaching everyone to be like the first student. There are too many variables that contribute to vaguely defined qualities like self-direction and resilience, and some behaviors can appear healthy with respect to some measures of success while being counterproductive with respect to others. I’m wondering what hidden qualities the itchy-nosed student has that might be brought out with the various approaches you’ve written about in other posts.

    • thatwritinglady July 11, 2012 at 4:38 pm #

      I’m glad you brought that up, Dan! The itchy-nosed student is actually probably better referred to as the class sweetheart (and, thanks to some genius classroom management by my team teachers, she is now happier and much less of a complainer). She has a lot of great qualities, all of which I appreciate, but I still do think that everyone–regardless of the wonderful things that make them unique–benefits from resilience and problem-solving skills. Studies show that emotional resilience–more than intelligence, health, and a many other qualities–is the best predictor of a kid’s future happiness and success.

      Thanks for writing!

      • Chelly Wood August 28, 2012 at 8:53 am #

        What amazes me, is when you teach three kids from the same disfunctional family, but one’s sullen and pouty, one’s social but not very academic, and the third one is a straight-A student with plans to become the first woman president.

        DNA and environment may help shape people, but their own choice to succeed in life has something to do with it too.

        Thanks for sharing this amazing story. I think I’ll forward a link to some of my teacher friends.

      • thatwritinglady August 28, 2012 at 9:19 am #

        Thank you for commenting! I agree–it is hard to draw the line between what is nature, what is nurture, and what is our own choice, but I think that children benefit a lot from learning about how their choices can influence their lives.

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