Slice of Life: Under Cover

Children seldom misquote you. They usually repeat word for word what you shouldn’t have said. — Unknown

One towel covered me from head to toe. The towel beneath me absorbed water from my swimsuit.  Protected from the breeze, I huddled under cover. With the sun above and the heated concrete pool deck below, I found quiet. I loved this part of swim lessons. This plus the popsicle we’d get on the way home made it all worthwhile.

My eight-year-old body was positioned far enough away from the splash zone of the pool, near the chain link fence and the moms. Save haven.

I woke up to their voices.

“It’s sad,” one said.

“I don’t know why she brings her,” said one mom.

I knew that voice, she lived down the street.

“Poor thing just can’t do it,” said another.

“She shouldn’t be in this class,  it holds the others back. It just isn’t fair.”

That was Tucker’s mom.  I’d never heard her talk that way before.

“You have a point. Everyone has to wait.”

“Of course I have a point.”

My throat tightened.

Then, “Hello, all! Thanks for watching her.” It was Mom.

Did she hear them?

“No problem. She sleeping. Probably so tired from the lesson,” Tucker’s mom said all sweet.

My eyes hurt. I lifted the towel, rubbed my eyes and reached for my mom.

Going in the big pool took every bit of brave I had. Some days I didn’t have enough. This day was one of those days.

After that, shame took control. At first it hurt. I wonder if they knew. That made it worse. By the next day, the fear of drowning was nothing compared to my I’ll-show-you-attitude. Shame drove me to mad and then to prove something. Strange. Shame led to mad and took over fear. Was it pride?

I survived the pool incident. And I remember. If you think that’s what I needed to get on my brave, think again.  I overcame this moment, but it left seeds of doubt and scaring. I don’t always pull out from underneath the covers and approach my fear. Sometimes it’s too big or I’m too small.

This memory drives my thinking tonight as the start of the school year approaches. We need to be mindful. Not just of our 11454297503_e27946e4ff_htalk when we think no one’s listening. We need to be mindful of how we think about children’s abilities. Our thoughts drive our actions and our words that young minds can see, hear and remember.

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for this place to share our Tuesday slices. Read more slices here.

NCTE14: Two Tips and an Unexpected Aha

There were so many great sessions at NCTE14, the toughest part was choosing which one to attend. The panel discussion on Reluctant Readers Overcoming Shame chaired by Justin Stygles was one that called to me. Initially, it spoke to what I know to be true with my readers.

The reflections on their own learning experiences were personal, revealing and in some ways startling. The power of teachers words was at the core of each panelists’ presentation.

Lynda Mullaly Hunt (One for the Murphys and Fish in a Tree) shared pieces of her growing up and teaching life. She was that snarky-make-me-do-it kind of student. She didn’t fit the mold. It took a middle school teacher to “see” and her strengths to help her get past her shame and grow. As a teacher, Lynda, found ways to reach “those” students . One way she let kids know she “saw them”  was by giving them a business card with space to write a personal message. Something quick and easy, but also thick and durable: a real keepsake for a student needing acknowledgement. I love this idea and plan to get a stash of cards printed up.

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Liesl Shurtliff (Rump) shared the importance of listening to students and respecting their choice in books. She highlighted the need to be careful about what we teachers say is a “great” book. Imagine sharing a book we “love” and students for whatever reason don’t love it. What does that imply?

Teacher’s words can lift up or put down and possibly, inadvertently shame a student. I walked away with this important reminder. Thoughts about good teachers being in touch with their inner student also tugged at my heart.

This led me to think a little more about myself as a student. I’ve thought on this before, but never really named it. I wasn’t the struggler. I wasn’t the super star. I was the one who followed the rules and tried not to get noticed.  You know that kid. The hider. For students like me, school was a place where I was invisible. It took leaving the school world, age, and mentors who saw me and asked more of me before I managed to step out and grow. Imagine, what if a teacher had seen me sooner.

Those kids, the hiders, make up a pretty big portion of my students. Their names are ringing in my head.

You can’t help but notice the strugglers and the stars. But the hiders, the quiet ones, are easy to ignore. I admit it: I”m guilty. And oh what a very big and unexpected aha.

When I walked out of the session on shame I had two things in hand. The bigger thing took days to get to. Today I celebrate the brave teachers who shared at NCTE14, the time to think about their message, and a space to reflect and grow in.

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