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.


19 Responses to “Observations of a classroom helper”

  1. AMC on January 27th, 2016 12:05 pm

    I love volunteering at my son’s school, just to see who these little members of society are, and how they view my son (who can sometimes be the energy sucker). I also enjoy it so I remember that being a teacher is NEVER EVER going to be a dream of mine. Holy hardest job in the universe…

  2. Lara on January 27th, 2016 12:17 pm

    This post made me laugh out loud at one point, and then nearly cry with the very next sentence. Love reading your insightful stories, but I’m sure the baristas think I’m crazy now.

  3. Jenny J. on January 27th, 2016 12:50 pm

    So beautiful.

  4. Mary Clare on January 27th, 2016 1:31 pm

    Oh, those last two lines are so lovely and so true. Thanks.

  5. Melissa on January 27th, 2016 4:42 pm

    Ah yes…the joy, pain, and frustration of being a teacher. I always liked the “unlovable” ones best.

  6. aphrodite on January 27th, 2016 5:32 pm

    You’re an amazing writer and observer, Linda – thanks for sharing…

  7. Alex on January 27th, 2016 5:47 pm

    I love reading you.

  8. Life of a Doctor's Wife on January 27th, 2016 9:48 pm

    Such lovely vignettes – and a very thoughtful reminder that there is often so much more to a person than meets the eye.

  9. Pat on January 28th, 2016 5:48 am

    Beautiful. There is a powerful quote that I am paraphrasing….”the children that need the most love, often show it in the most unloveable ways”.

  10. nerr on January 28th, 2016 8:39 am

    So good.

  11. LD's Mom on January 28th, 2016 8:59 am

    Beautiful perspective. Again. Always.

  12. Jessica on January 28th, 2016 4:08 pm

    The quote over my daughter’s school front desk: “Children don’t care what you know until they know you care.” The work you’re doing in the classroom is so important. And I am proud of you.

  13. Andrea on January 28th, 2016 6:51 pm
  14. Tracey on January 29th, 2016 12:01 pm

    Just had to tell you that I loved this.

  15. Angela on January 29th, 2016 12:03 pm

    Long time lurker here. Also, a middle school teacher. For anyone who has never been in a classroom and experienced these observations first handed, I highly recommend it. It makes you see children in a different light and appreciate the (many!) dynamics dealt with everyday in a classroom! Loved this!

  16. Jennifer on January 31st, 2016 12:13 am

    You’re so awesome for classroom volunteering!

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  18. Julia on February 16th, 2016 3:28 pm

    I loved this. perfectly put. I sometimes panic when I work in the intermediate or middle school and I can see kids that could be “saved” with a bit of good attention but there’s no one to do it consistently. So many kids can go either way and we need more volunteers to see that and give them a spark.

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