Thursday, March 12, 2015


I'm participating in the Slice of Life at Two Writing Teachers this month. 
Every day, for the month of March, 
I will be capturing a slice of my life.
I'm on a borrowed PC computer while my Apple is in the shop. 
I can't figure out how to download the SLICE graphic on this computer.

Last year she wowed the sixth grade with her creative hair styles. I couldn't wait to get to school on Mondays and see what new design was shaved into C's hair, or what new color scheme was featured.

And she plays basketball, but her favorite sport is soccer. This year she petitioned the head of the DPS athletic department to see if she could play on the boys' team  because she feels like she needs more opportunities to practice and her family doesn't have the money for her to play on a competitive team, even though she would probably do really well.

And she has a killer voice and is a lead in our school Mariachi band.

Last May, she told me she was most proud of having perfect attendance, because in fifth grade she had not taken school seriously, and she had worked really hard to do better in sixth.

But today, she is falling apart.

Fifteen minutes before the beginning of Blessed Event, Unit One. We are in pre-test mode, all of the middle schoolers have been sorted and are in their testing rooms, but materials have not been distributed and doors have not been closed. Kids are finishing their sausage biscuits and starting to wipe off their desks when I arrive in the classroom. The social studies teacher greets me with a slight nod and I follow his eyes to C's desk, where a small crowd has gathered.

C is in tears.

I walk over to her desk.

"You doing ok?"

C nods, but I can tell she is not.

"You want to take a walk?"

She follows me out into the hall, where I attempt to find a quiet corner. It's not easy this morning with all 120 middle schoolers taking a bathroom break before the test.

"What's going on?" I ask.

C doesn't respond.

"Are you sick?" She shakes her head no.

"Did something happen before school this morning?"

No again.

"Here at school?" She shakes her head yes.

"With someone in class?"


"Someone in the other seventh grade?"


"A girl?"


"A boy?"

Another yes.

"You want to talk about it?"

She does. The story comes out in a rush. She liked a boy. She won't tell me his name, but I have seen them on the playground, hanging out in the adolescent version of parallel play. A really nice kid. Smart. Respectful. A fellow athlete.  But now soccer season is starting and she wants to concentrate. She broke up with him. His feelings were hurt. He said something mean about her. Called her a name. He is supposed to be her friend. Friends don't say mean things about each other. Her shoulders shake with silent tears.

We are interrupted twice during the story. L, the biggest guy in the seventh grade, comes up the stairs. He sees her crying, and wraps his arms around her in  a bear hug. Then R comes out of his eighth grade classroom, all energy, bouncing from one side of the hall to the other in his usual pinball ekfashion. He is on his way to the drinking fountain, but stops when he sees C crying. "You want me to beat someone up for you? Just tell me. I can take care of it." He is only half kidding.

I ask if she wants help solving it. She doesn't. She wants to talk to him herself. I tell her that there are people who can help if she needs us. Me. The principal or assistant principal. The male teacher. Our fabulous school social worker.

She wants to handle it.She doesn't need any help.  She will do it at lunch recess.

My boss walks by, eyebrows raisedWe are now at five minutes until test time. I wonder, as upset if she is, if we should pull her and have her do a makeup. I ask what she wants to do.

"I can take it," she says, drawing in a deep breath and squaring her shoulders. "I just need a drink of water."

I ask if she is sure. She is.

She heads down the hall for the fountain. I head back into the middle school classroom, wondering whether she will really be able to pull herself together, knowing that sometime within the space of the next two minutes, C must switch from total emotional mode, into total academic.

There are so many layers to life in school. So many stories that test scores don't tell.

I just wish people really knew what we do every day.


Ramona said...

Carol, a story beautifully told. And what a wonderful glimpse into your very caring school climate!

writekimwrite said...

Carol this is masterful, powerful storytelling! You have captured the complexity of what we do. I am so thankful C. had you to talk to. That speaks loudly of the relationships you build with kids. C. shows maturity at addressing life's problems. I feel, through your words, that I have had the pleasure of getting to know her a bit.

Michelle said...

I say that all the time here! All the "layers above" seem to forget about the stories of hunger, pain, humiliation, worry, sadness, and so on that we hear daily. And the time we take to listen, to connect, to help problem solve is so important that truly academic learning comes second. You did just what she needed you to do -- "stop, drop, and listen" -- from Mary Helen's slice today:

She'll regain her focus and I hope her conversation went as good as it possible could. Bravo to her for being so brave!

Your slice reminds me of this quote I have hanging in my room: "No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship." Dr. James Comer

Tara said...

Your actions changed the course of this child's day - there is something so inspiring and empowering in that.

Carol Varsalona said...

Teachers are the comforters, the guides, the coaches, and the awakeners. Your attitude and support probably gave the child the fortitude to brace herself for the TEST. So many emotions for young children come to rest on the shoulders of teachers.