When Students Surprise You

As I said, my friends and I read "Eleven" by Sandra Cisneros, and it is my favorite (favoritefavoritefavorite) story ever. When I tell the kids this, they usually ask why, and I say, "I don't want to give anything away, so let's start reading and you might figure out why I like it so much. Is that OK?" Usually that's not a problem, and usually they quickly forget this discussion and never mention it again. However, one of my friends this week did NOT forget and by digging deep, almost got my insurance co-pay for a therapy session.

"John" (this is clearly not his real name - I want to make that clear so you don't think I saracastically call kids' names out in class) is one of the sweetest boys in our school. He was in a phonics intervention group with me in third grade in which he made a lot of progress. He didn't know how to spell his last name at the beginning of the year and at the end of the year, he was reading slightly below average with a projected growth to being on target the following year. (Also, he could spell his full name.) He's a very thoughtful and kind student who helps his classmates stay focused, is respectful to teachers, his environment, and other students, and is a motivated learner.

That year, I got a major hair cut because I was feeling wild. It was a big change and I almost immediately regretted it. It looked fine, but I missed my long hair and I was still getting used to styling my shorter locks. A couple of days after the "big change," I picked up my third graders in the hallway and a couple of them were asking me why I cut my hair. "John" said, "I like your haircut, Miss Bolte. You look like a cupcake." It was the most adorable thing I'd ever heard.

He's now in fifth grade and in my comprehension intervention group. We finished reading "Eleven" and he said, "Miss Bolte, I think I know why you like this story so much."

"I think you like this so much because it's about a girl who is sad about growing up and all the things that change when you have to grow up because you're not that age anymore."

Oh. My. Gosh. It was like he had stared deep into my soul and psychoanalyzed my deepest anxieties and fears.

On the one hand, he had certainly understood and connected with the story (success as a teacher!). On the other hand, he had discovered something about me and my own vulnerabilities. I had intended to tell the students that I liked the story because the language was beautiful, it was funny and sad, and that I could connect with the feelings the girl in the story talked about, but "John" targeted my deep personal connection with the story. I was holding back tears and trying to collect my thoughts while I stared at him. He just smiled his sweet smile and I said, "Yeah, John. That's about right."

I can't wait to hear more from him this year. I know he will continue to impress and amaze me.

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