Blog Your Blessings: 63 Kids
I love my job. My job has shifted from teaching remedial reading to 235 kids to teaching it to 63 kids. I have fewer students in a more intense environment, and I am charged with helping them improve their reading skills in a big way. That translates one level on the state's annual standardized reading test.
There's no way a kid will read unless he or she has a passion for it. Kids have to believe that something is in it for them. It has to be pleasure--the pleasure of discovery and identification and possibility.
Currently we're reading S.E. Hinton's classic, The Outsiders. On the surface, this story is about the price poor kids in western Oklahoma pay at the hands of rich, vicious spoiled brats whose chief form of entertainment is picking on their poor counterparts. A deeper look reveals a story about growing up and realizing there is ample, promising truth in that cliche that we are all the same inside. In fact, the story shows just how complex that truth is.
The thrill for me is that these kids get it. They can relate to the story. One boy asked me if the poor kids, the Greasers, were Puerto Rican. "Why do you ask that?" I replied.
"Wait. Am I in trouble?"
"Nope. You're asking a great question. I just want to know what makes you ask it."
"I asked that because it's like here. And Puerto Ricans are like the Greasers."
"OK. And who are the Socs?"
There began a conversation about identifying with characters, connecting text to the world we live in, feeling the truth of the text.
It also began a conversation about Romeo & Juliet and West Side Story. (They want more on West Side Story.)
Another child asked how Ponyboy, the 14-year-old narrator and a central character, could talk to "a dirt bag" like Randy, a Socs, or one of the rich kids.
"Why do you call him a dirt bag?"
"Because he beat up Ponyboy."
"He did, and that makes him a dirt bag, but what has he realized?"
"That fighting doesn't pay off."
"So what does Ponyboy have to do in his heart to be able to talk to this dirt bag?"
"Forgive him. I guess."
"What's he call Randy the Dirt Bag in the end?"
"Just a guy."
I guess I could have replaced dirt bag with cruel person just to help this little guy expand his vocabulary. It seemed to me then that the truth of dirt bag was not worth giving up right them.
These kids are smart. I love every last one of them.