Calvin is a small freckled menace. He goofs around during independent work time, wandering over to pester other kids who are bent over their papers. He can be flippant, stubborn, and obnoxious. He snapped his fingers at me once, saying “Maid! Come over here!” I thought he was disrespectful, a troublemaker, and just plain annoying. Then I noticed how his eyes linger when he’s acting out. He wants attention so, so badly. If you actually give it to him in a positive way — compliment him about his new shoes, or praise his handwriting on the one word he’s written down — he blushes, pleased. He calls me over all the time and tells me he doesn’t understand his assignment. But when I explain it, he’s not really listening. He’s got a half-smile: he likes it when I talk to him. Sometimes I turn away and he scribbles his way through, accurately, then calls me back to explain the next worksheet which is exactly like the first. “I don’t get it,” he says, happily. I roll my eyes for his benefit — I’m onto you, buddy — and pull up a chair.
I thought Tyler was a bully, because he’s built like a linebacker and the first week I was in class I saw him push another kid. He’s actually sweet, funny, and the first to participate in any class discussion. Bree seems timid and innocent until you get her talking about her favorite show, The Walking Dead. Lainey’s stonefaced expression says she ran out of fucks last week, but she’s full of dry humor. Jacob was initially so disruptive — talking back, cursing, picking fights, constantly banished to the principal’s office — I secretly (and judgmentally) questioned the wisdom of mainstreaming kids like him, but over the months he’s amazingly progressed from full-time teacher energy suck to a mostly well-behaved, happy kid.
Every week, I’m reminded of how we are all stories being written. Always changing, and never fully understood by anyone, even ourselves.