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  • Writer's picturecatherine@allaboutwriters

One that's getting away...

So many great things today, working with teachers and young writers across three schools from kindergarten to 4thgrade. What’s the one thing that stuck with me, though? The way a first-grader who was “done” got back to revising against all odds? Nope. How about the fourth-grader who didn’t like information writing launching into his writing with a micro-story? <shaking head>

Having settled one class of writers into their work for the day, my attention was drawn to the posture of one little guy, his head almost laying on his book, scrawling the pencil across the page, barely keeping his eyes open. Was he unwell? Didn’t get much sleep last night? On closer inspection, I see what he’s writing, over and over and over again.


A half a page worth. He didn’t make any attempt to hide this from me as I approached, so I opened with Carl Anderson’s classic line: “How’s it going?”

I catch him mutter under his breath something along the lines of what he’s writing. I’m not his classroom teacher, but I can’t walk past. It’s always dangerous territory in a class where you don’t know the kids, reactions can be unexpected for unsuspecting outsiders like myself without the insight classroom teachers hold. But I can’t walk past.

My tone is firm, but not unfriendly. After a quick one-way discussion about how he’s letting himself down, I ask to see his plans from the previous day. There’s some back and forth about a different book in a faraway place, which soon turns to flat-out refusal to engage. He tells me in no uncertain terms that he in only interested in three <holding up three fingers and pointing each out> things: YouTube, video games, and drawing (the latter of which giving me a glimmer of hope). I’m overwhelmed at the moment by young writers retelling video games and movies, so I pointed our discussion towards the real life expert topic of drawing. Push-back on his part, compromise on mine, and video games is the topic. Setting a clear goal for the remainder of the lesson and moving onto another writer, I was relieved to see him beginning to write…properly. It didn’t last.

There were tears – a bit confusing – and then back to refusal. He explains that writing has been happening in school for four years, but he hasn’t done any and isn’t about to start. He doesn’t need to write to be a YouTube star. There’s no convincing him of the need for writing for every life every day, and he’s decided that’s all he has to say. I see that as soon as he is done speaking, he is also done listening. I repeat my expectation for the lesson and walk away. His teacher tells me it plays out one of two ways – tears or tantrum.

Ugh. I leave for my next school with a sour taste in my mouth.

I find myself thinking about this interaction, replaying the highlights over and over again, playing out possible iterations. I move from anger to despair to feeling hopeless. Tomorrow is my last day with his class, my last chance to make up some ground, to bring this guy round, to open him up to the possibilities of writing. One lesson.

Maybe not. I mean, it could easily play out one of two ways for me – tears or tantrum. Let’s face it, though, I’d not be teaching him anything useful or new there. Maybe I can’t teach him anything at all without a strong relationship in place to begin. Maybe I’ve finally met my match.

But…maybe he’ll surprise me tomorrow. Maybe I’ll surprise him.

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