Tuesday, September 06, 2005

A Million Little Pieces

Apathy Jack writes:

I can put myself to sleep. This isn’t like my gift of putting other people to sleep, which I do by writing screeds of terrible wank on the intarwub, but rather a defense mechanism I’ve developed after years of waking up several times a night for no real reason. There are two distinct advantages to this: Firstly, when I find myself awake in the middle of the night, I can knock myself out with relative ease. Secondly, if I’m really bored, I can just go to sleep, and, like in the HG Wells story, wake up when I’m the richest man in a tyrannical society, or when there’s some good tv on, whichever comes first.

Anyway, there’s this kid in my class. Precociously bright, and wants nothing more in this world than to not be particularly intelligent. In a vain attempt to get her to read, I gave her A Million Little Pieces. I occasionally checked to see if she had started it, and was always met with the answer that she hadn’t, and I shouldn’t hold my breath because she didn’t like reading.

Then, one morning, wandering around the school, I see her coming through the gates, reading as she walks – nose buried in Frey’s memoir, which is open near the end.

She glances up to see where she’s going, and sees me. Immediately, she closes the book and tries to surreptitiously hide it from my view.

As time went on, I started making progress. She hung with the stoners and illiterates in the class, but after a while, she stopped using them as a shield against work (and a shield they are; most teachers realise the futility of trying to squeeze effort out of the stoner corner), and started making them do the classwork – tutoring them, encouraging them, and keeping them from distraction. Not every day, but more and more, you know.

I knew this kid did not have the ideal life. I met her father, who told me he wanted the best for her. While I knew that this was true, I also knew what had happened to her sister who had not achieved the best – kicked out of home after a silly teenaged mistake when what she needed most of all was the support of her family. But I could ensure that wouldn’t happen to this one – she was coming around; expressing herself in productive ways, doing the work to get the credits, finally admitting to herself that she had intelligence, skill, talent.

I was kind of disappointed when she missed speech week. I mean, I know that kids hate doing speeches, but taking the whole week off – while by no means without precedent – was a slightly more extreme length than I had expected her to go to at this point.

Then I find out – she’s been uplifted from home by social welfare. She wasn’t wagging – she’s been in care.

I’ve got our social worker on the case (and yes, the students at my school are so brutally damaged that CYF have allotted us our own personal social worker) but early reports are that we’re not getting this one back.

For the last couple of nights, my trick of putting myself back to sleep hasn’t been working; I find myself thinking of all of the work I needed to do with this kid. The work that now won’t get done.

It’s a pity I can’t sleep, because last time I did, I dreamed she came back.


Psycho Milt said...

Concealing intelligence used to be a survival trait common in NZ schools when I was attending them. Some things obviously don't change much. The main thing I'm left wondering after reading this post is why teachers don't get more respect in NZ - but then, I'm a librarian, so I should probably be jealous of the amount of respect teachers do get...

Krimsonlake said...

She'll remember though. I remember the one teacher who gave me any credit for being remotely intelligent. I actually hated him at the time, because he targeted me and basically terrorized me into learning. But I remember it, and it stuck, that someone believed I was intelligent. Her life might go to hell in the meantime, but if nothing else you gave her a chance. And it's not just about NOW, it's about later. Because now she'll read, and she'll think, and that's a refuge when everything else is messy and insane.

Something is better than nothing.

Duncan Bayne said...

I read an excerpt from that book - it looks a lot like the way I take notes when brainstorming ideas for an article or post. It doesn't read like a finished book at all.

That aside, I wish I had more teachers like you when I was in school; in other words, teachers who actually gave a damn about the aspirations & latent talents of their students. I can count on the fingers of one hand the teachers I knew who did that.

damian_nz said...

continue to love your writing, jack. if you wrote a book and if i had money i'd buy it.