Friday, February 15, 2008

The Things We Do To Kids

There is a girl in one of my classes who I will call Shannon. I care about all my students, but there is always a handful of them who I just click with. Shannon is one of those. She's infinitely precious to me. I have pieced together a little bit about her family situation. Her parents are divorced and her family is poverty-stricken. One time the class was reading an adaptation of a Poe short story. I gave them a little background on Poe and mentioned his alcohol abuse. Shannon raised her hand to comment, but instead of commenting on the story, she started talking about how her mother had a boyfriend who would do drugs and drink and then they would all have to take care of him. I had to gently (if abruptly) steer the discussion elsewhere.

Shannon has serious trouble with being wrong. When she misses something in her work, she becomes angry and incredulous. If she is wrong when answering something out loud, she seems disproportionately affected by it. She is intensely competitive. Also, she is exceptionally bright. Hard-working. Aware. Sensitive. Creative. Eager to please.

Yesterday the other teacher who works with her said that Shannon had been very rude during class. She had pitched a fit over getting a bad grade on some math work.

I took Shannon aside and I guess she could sense it was a serious thing, because she became uneasy. I sat her down on the stairs with me and said, "You can miss every question and fail every class, and I will still think you are smart and I will still love you."

She immediately burst into tears. She just lost it on me, sobbing and red-faced and leaning against me. She told me that her father said if she wasn't the best, she'd never get into a good college. She's ten years old and already a hard worker. Her father probably had the best of intentions, saying that to her. He's setting her up for some misery, though.

"I love you because you are Shannon and you are so lovable. Not because you get all As or because you beat everyone else with your scores."

I feel like I am indulging myself here, to an extent. I needed to hear those words when I was ten. And it feels good to say them to her, it feels good to mean it. And, most of all, I think she really needed to hear it.

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