Middle School Hero

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Nov 15 2012


A pretty cool thing happened to me today.

I’ve got a student in my first hour who is certainly one of my challenge students. He is verbally intelligent and is a student that I consider myself able to have real conversations with. I know he’s got the makeup of a great writer- he’s creative and erudite, but he spends almost every single day in lunch detention with me because he can’t settle down and focus on his work. Even though he’s a smart kid, he’s an atrocious writer. His handwriting is sloppy and he rarely takes the time to elaborate upon his ideas.

Today during first hour we were going through our little power struggle. He knows the different consequences well and always stops after getting a lunch detention (which is the fourth consequence and comes right before I have to call his mom). He was yelling as he came in the door and I gave him a warning. He shouted out during another student’s question and I moved his seat. He made a high pitched squeal when I turned my back to write on the board and I finally pulled him outside.

He went outside and I gave the class brief instructions before following him out. On my way past his now vacant desk, I grabbed his paper. To be honest, I don’t know what I was planning on doing with it. That’s the problem with these outside-of-the-room conferences: I always want to lecture, to get a breakthrough, to get the student to see how neccessary it is to make a change. But the student isn’t ready to make a change. They aren’t interested in listening to me talk.

So I didn’t know what I was doing, but I knew I had to do something. I opened the door, propped it open, stepped outside, opened my mouth to talk…. and then it hit me.

“Daniel, do you write your letters backwards like this on purpose?”

“What? Uh, no, it just happens that way.”

“What about your numbers? Do you write them backwards sometimes?”

“Yeah, sometimes.”

“Describe reading to me. Do you understand a lot of it?”


“Do you read fast or slow?”

“Pretty slow.”

As I continued to querstion him, things started to make more and more sense. He’s smart but acts out a lot. He’s a good communicator but a bad writer. He writes his letters backwards. He’s a good reader, but he told me he still forgets some of his letters sometimes.

Daniel isn’t a bad kid. But maybe, just maybe, he’s dyslexic or dysgraphic.

I grew up fighting visual dysgraphia. When I was younger, my inability to master written language almost derailed my academic career. I had all the ideas in my head, but I physically could not write them down and thus I dreaded class. I especially hated writing calss, ironic considering that I almost majored in creative writing and settled for english language instead. I can’t remember if it affected my behavior at all, but I do know that my learning disability kept me from doing something that I had a natural inclination for, just like Daniel is a natural storyteller.

Now, I don’t want to go overboard here. I’m not saying he definitely has a learning disability. But because he is officially classified as an english language learner, I could absolutely see a potential disability being passed over by teachers who thought that he was simply still picking up the language. I don’t want to prediagnose anyone, but I’m definitely referring him to the special education coordinator.

Maybe nothing will come of it, true. But maybe I’ve just given this kid a real shot at succeeding in a way he wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.

Regardless of how the situation turns out, this was one of the first times that I felt valuable to Roosevelt Middle School. I made a catch that others couldn’t. I noticed something others didn’t. For the first time, I did something that an average teacher couldn’t, soemthing that only a transformational teacher could enact.

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