Ask for help

Since day 1 she’s been glaring at me. By day 5 I work up the confidence to ask if something is wrong. “No,” she says casually, “I just have resting bitch face.” She’s 16. I laugh with her, but seconds later wish I had pushed back. I wish I had said, “No, not bitchy. You look sad, scared, wary and maybe just a little doubtful. You look like you and you are not a bitch.” But I didn’t.

Every day I say, “I need you to put your phone away.”
I say, “I know this is hard, but the phone is keeping you from doing your best thinking.”
I say, “Maybe you could create a 20 minute reading playlist so that you can read without touching your phone.”
She puts her phone away politely, but it always comes back out.

She has already failed English once. She does not like to read. She does not write. Still, when she wrote her goals in her notebook on Friday, the first one was “Read every day for the assigned time with no phone distraction.” She doesn’t say a thing about it, just hands me her notebook at the end of class, like she does every day.

We’ve read memoirs almost every day since school started. We’ve read poems and essays and picture books. We’ve looked at craft moves and done our own mini-writes. She doesn’t do much. “Resting bitch face” I remind myself when I look at her. I want so badly for her face to tell a different story.

Today we start 100-word memoirs. She checks her phone several times. She goes to the bathroom. Then she starts to write and does not stop until time is up. She shares a line with the class. As class ends, I ask students to write down one or two things they want to work on in their memoir tomorrow. She calls me over.

“I think it’s good the way it is,” she says. I feel my protest rising, then squash my first reaction. “Ok,” I say. We pause.

“Will you read it?” her eyes go down, her face turns away from me.

Her memoir is beautiful and powerful. She will edit it – we will edit it together – but her words, her story… it blows me away. I tell her so.

She says, “I want to enter that contest, the one about ‘One Strong Woman.'”
“Yes,” I say, “I think you should.”

In her notebook, her other goal is “actually ask for help.”

“I’ll help,” I say.

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10 thoughts on “Ask for help

  1. Wow. Just wow. This gave me chills and tears as I read it because it’s in those tiny moments where students allow you in that we can start to truly see them. These are the moments I live for because they give me hope that yes, we are reaching our students and our students have them ability to let their guard down and let us in.

    Thank you for sharing this slice with us today! 🙂

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    1. I had another slice nearly ready to go, and then this exchange happened right before lunch. I *needed* to capture it, so I wrote for the first 20 min, hit post & went to lunch. I did NOT expect this breakthrough today. I felt, well, privileged. I’ve had to go back and edit the grammar, but I’m glad I waited to eat. 😉

      Liked by 2 people

      1. What an amazing breakthrough moment, Amanda! It is so exciting when you make contact with a learner who seems disinterested. Bask in the happiness tonight. Your patience has been rewarded and your student has taken a step forward.

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  2. This is so awesome! I want to categorize the teacher moves made here and there are so many – you captured the essence of the moment as you were in it. I wonder how we can urge our students as writers to capture those moments too. I’m revelling with you in your success!

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  3. There are definitely great teacher moves here, but I’m seeing many great human moves. We all need each other, right? I really want her to win that contest!! But I also want her to keep asking for help.

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  4. Two lines in your writing strike me deeply – “I want so badly for her face to tell a different story” and “I feel my protest rising, then squash my first reaction.” The desperate sense of wanting to change things for this student and your great restraint are palpable — I have to believe that she picked up on your desire to help long before she allowed it, and that the needed trust was born when you held your first thoughts back for that crucial moment. And what a vital life lesson, learning to ask for help.

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  5. A miracle moment, the first of many, I believe. You have the kind of quiet patience this girl needs in her life right now. You’ve opened a door. And that is amazing!

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