Drinking the Kool-Aid

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Sep 02 2011

Toothpik!

Whole Brain Teaching or no, it still sucks when you put off planning your lesson to morning and then oversleep. … or maybe this feeling has more to do with my poor 2nd period. My babies are poisoned and I just want to heal them magically and make them know they can do this.

I can’t wait to try out some Mathalicious lessons on them—I’m looking for a way to make math feel good, and their ‘cool’ factor will definitely help with that.

My Toothpik from last year is one of my kids I get a second chance with. He has been his normal Toothpik self—sleeping, barely responding, breaking my heart… One day he told the Sped co-teacher he was having a bad day and was going to stab someone if he didn’t go home fast.

The next day I popped into his 4th period to borrow 2 calculators from the teacher and to observe her a bit—when I realized he was in that class, I whispered his name and waved. He, of course, ignored me completely and went on staring at his lap (which is what he often does when he’s not sleeping. It’s difficult, because he SO looks like he’s texting under the table—but he’s not. Usually).

But THEN. After a couple minutes, he got up without warning, and came and stood close to me against the wall. He didn’t say anything—just stood next to me. I asked him how he was doing; he said he hated it in here and wanted to go home; I asked him if he was cold sitting under the air conditioner; he said he was…

Then today, during 4th period again (which happens to be my conference period), in comes Toothpik! In comes my Toothpik, unfinished homework in hand, ready and dare-I-say-willing? to learn the Order of Operations. There he was! Every problem he tried, he got a little faster and a little more confident. He always did do a lot of the arithmetic quite quickly in his head, compared to my other students (which, oddly enough, I’ve noticed in a lot of my really really low kids). ButI tell you what—he did it. I coached him through at first, and he needed it—but he had it by the end of the hour. More significantly, though… he looked like he enjoyed being there. He smiled when I poked fun at him, actively participated in conversation, asked questions of his own accord. I ate it up.

But WHY? I’ve whispered his name and waved at him a hundred times before. I’ve had more fulfilling conversations with him before. Was this just the hundred-and-first time? Is it just that I lucked out enough to have my conference this year at the same time as his least-favorite class? This is what is so frustrating about teaching sometimes. I can’t repeat that success because I have no idea what caused it. And if I can’t replicate it, it’s really hard to improve upon it. I would love to figure out how to make this happen and make it take LESS than a full year, but how can I when I don’t know which things were the right things to do?

Maybe the right thing to do was to stay in the picture. Maybe that’s the only right thing to do—put in the time.

Whatever it was, though… my heart melted when for he came to stand with me. I swear, the clouds broke right then and there and heaven shone down and multitudes of angels were singing.

3 Responses

  1. G

    Whatever it is you’re doing, keep doing it. Don’t overthink it….you’re working your magic and you don’t even know it!! :)

  2. Best. Story. Ever.

  3. “I can’t repeat that success because I have no idea what caused it. And if I can’t replicate it, it’s really hard to improve upon it. I would love to figure out how to make this happen and make it take LESS than a full year, but how can I when I don’t know which things were the right things to do?”

    Frustrating, right? Totally. On the other hand, maybe what he was responding to was your authenticity, and maybe trying to codify/systematize this would prove counter-productive.

    I recently had the good fortune of meeting Dr. Nicole Baker Fulgham, TFA’s VP of Faith Community Relations. And when I heard her title I thought, “How fitting.” Because teaching is fundamentally an act of faith, and faith by definition can’t be understood.

    Which is to say, G (above) may have nailed it: “don’t overthink it.” The truth isn’t in the understanding of why he responded the way he did, but the fact that he did.

    Cool blog.

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Region
San Antonio
Grade
High School
Subject
Math

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