As student teaching winds down I am saddened by fact that I got to know some students more than others. And even though there are only two weeks left, I’m still working on building rapport. One student in particular has been on my mind this past week: *Angelo (*pseudo name for student confidentiality). In terms of turning in work and positively adding to the classroom, Angelo is my worst student. In a class of over 2 dozen kids he was the only one on his phone when we were reading aloud. Angelo is missing assignments for me and many of his other teachers (and is failing most of his classes). Angelo will make derisive comments towards me sometimes. When I check in with him he will tell me how much he doesn’t care and how boring whatever we’re doing is. Angelo has also been disrespectful in the college and career center and has a generally negative outlook.
Angelo acted immaturely towards me the other day but, like any English major from the Southside of Chicago, I have quick wit and responses. We went back and forth for a bit, but–unlike other kids that drag their feet–I could tell Angelo really meant it. This kid does not like being here and he is willing to announce it. No, the banter method won’t work with this kid—there are other issues at play. He’s acting out, semi-aggressively, which means something is wrong overall. I needed to show this kid I cared.
I asked him about The Stranger (the novel we are reading) and he said it was “boring” and that he “doesn’t like to read.” I continued to pry and asked him if he ever read anything he liked. He said, “Yeah we read this book called Monument 14 a year or two ago.”He told me what it was about and I said”you probably like dystopian fiction.” I walked over to the class library and picked up Fahrenheit 451.
I told him he’d really appreciate it as someone who “hates reading” because it’s about a society where reading is banned and firemen burn books. Meanwhile the text asks us to think about the value of reading. He was reluctant but flipped through it a bit.
I told him it was my personal, annotated copy, and he laughed as he skimmed through the colloquial annotations I made—jokingly showing his peer next to him.
A small win.
The next day I checked in and he told me “I read a few pages but then it got boring.” I told him to stick with it and that I’d bring over a comic book next—another text with dark societal elements I think he might like.
I came in that following day with Ms. Marvel and Ex-Machina in hand, assuming he’d given up on Fahrenheit 451. I said, “have you read any more of that book?” expecting another derisive comment.
***FAHRENHEIT 451 SPOILER ALERT***
Instead he looked at me and said “she dies. I can’t believe she dies” This of course is in reference to Clarisse McClellan’s death in Fahrenheit 451.
This occurs about 1/4th through the book. I was shocked, “wow you read a lot. That’s great.” And, trying not to admit he liked anything, he said “well, I got bored at work.”
A lot of my students work (an issue I’ll address in a separate post). It’s one of the reasons we stopped assigning reading–the kids wouldn’t do it because many of them didn’t have the time/energy. So the fact that this kid–who spends class on his phone or reluctantly working–spent his shift sneaking in recreational reading is huge.
This speaks to the power of the classroom library. I can talk to students one on one and give them not just a reading recommendation but the book itself. I can combine my knowledge of my students as people/readers with my lit background to help them expand their horizons.
I’m a perspective English teacher because I believe in the power of literature. It can move you anywhere and anytime: whether it’s laughing at David Sedaris’ audiobook on your commute, watching Nicki Minaj recite Maya Angelo, clicking on an article that dissects Donald Trump’s hatefulness, or reading a few pages of Fahrenheit 451 at work like Angelo did.
Literature is transformation, affirmation, and catharsis all at once. And no matter what paths my students travel down, I hope they come back to it again and again.
Please SHARE this post and DONATE to my GoFundMe to support Condor Class Libraries so more of my students can get the chance to find their literary passions.
And remember the words of Ray Bradbury