Teaching, Imagination, Discipline

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I'm a mother, a teacher, a playwright, a former academic. I've spent most of my life in and around schools and universities all over the world. Nowadays, among other things, I teach in a high poverty elementary school in Los Angeles.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

No Way José

It's the weekend. The Wild Things are roaring their terrible roars at home and not in my ears. In the silence I find myself thinking about José.

José who's always playing with his erasers. Who sits as far away from me as possible. Who likes to be last in line and alone at recess and with his back to the class.

I consulted with his kindergarten teacher, who, in a school bursting at the seams with Josés, instantly knew which one I was talking about: "The little stubborn guy. He does what he wants when he wants."

Yup. That one. A 3'8'' ft. furball of complete and total obstinacy.

I let students choose their seats until their choices prove to be unworkable. Then I move them. José chose to sit next to Griselda, another 3'8'' ft. furball of complete and total obstinacy. (We measured them. They're exactly the same size.) Well-matched in all ways. So far though, they tend towards cooperation rather than combat. Now if only the cooperation were a little more academic. Griselda, who, of course, knows everything, took it upon herself to inform me about José on the very first day of school: "Teacher. José just does what he wants to." I thanked her for the information and decided to keep a close eye on them. I also suggested to Griselda that José might want to speak for himself. "No, teacher," she said. "He doesn't speak English."

On Friday, International Talk Like a Pirate Day was a roaring success. Isabel and Kelly even came to school dressed for the part. We read a delightful book by Kathy Tucker, Do Pirates Take Baths? We stormed decks and flashed cutlasses, all the while shivering our timbers and cursing the cowardly scum. José was into it. He berated the scurvy dogs with the best of them. Defiance comes easily to him.

Every now and then I get a flash of a different José. When, for homework, I requested five sentences, preferably silly, he wrote me eight starring a baby who ate dinosaurs, castles, and entire mountains. His sentences came complete with capitals and periods. And, they were in English, contrary to Miss Griselda. Lurking under the shell of the class recluse is a bright, thoughtful boy who wants to engage with learning and cooperate with his classmates. Someone who might make a good leader. Someone who's perhaps trapped in a role he took on in kindergarten or even earlier. We all do it. Get stuck in selves we've outgrown and have to crack ourselves out of.

I just have to help him out of his isolation, which, by now, is his image in everyone's eyes. I need to create an academic path for his defiance. In short, find a way for a different José. And I think Griselda will be my perfect partner in crime.

(Her father did have a talk with her, by the way. "Teacher, I won't look at José's test again." So far, so good.)

1 comment:

Alice T. said...

Ms. B--
Love the new look.
You sure did pretty it up.
Roar,
Ms. T