“Are you ok, or do you need help?” I couldn’t tell if she was working or thinking or what. Over the course of the last couple weeks I have been just encouraging the kids to try this hard new thing. Boiled down, I guess that’s the philosophy I’ve always taught about everything.
“That answer doesn’t help me. ‘No’, you’re not ok, or ‘no’ you don’t need help?”
“No I don’t need help”, she whispered into her mask.
I nodded and went to help someone who did and knew it. 30 minutes to go on our 4th day, and strategy, in a row on the very difficult task of sussing out main idea and supports. The kids have chunked e-books and have notebooks out ready to fill boxes and bullets with any variety of words hopefully at least sort of resembling what the author meant to convey with each little paragraph.
10 minutes later, 20 to go. “How about now? You good?”
We make eye contact, she nods.
They know the drill. Raise your hand when you want to show me what you’ve done. Sometimes this results in some one-on-one coaxing in the right direction, sometimes in a grand gesture the Chromebook is swept away from them and toward their peers. For these chunks their teacher shouts “workshop”, all eyes are up and the paragraph is read aloud with added stress on the cadence meant to point out how the author has delivered the goods in list-like fashion as oftentimes supports are written that way. This is hard for them. I told them it would be during minute one of the first lesson, 4 lessons ago. They have seen, over the course of the lessons, persistence pay off. One after another students “get it”.
10 minutes left to class and the number of hands yet to lift in order to show their trying is dwindling to two. To one.
“What’s up? Almost there?”
She looks up from her screen and nods with what can only be described as a blink in reverse, but in very slow motion, before settling her eyes once again back to her work.
Three minutes to go and I head back there. I understand that I should have actually placed myself in closer proximity much earlier but the other 7 kids were trying so hard and raising their hands and getting support and watching their screens snagged and paraded for workshop time.
I see the familiar Epic ™ Books menu screen shining back into her glossed-up gaze.
“Uh, what are you doing?”, I query, with little hope left in my voice.
“I’m still looking for a book.”
“That’s still the main page of Epic ™. For a half hour you’ve been doing this?”
Her look answered me. I took the last couple minutes to remind the kids that sometimes they work harder at not working than the actual work they should be doing requires. I asked the kids if I have ever gotten on them for not being “smart” or “good” enough at anything and they chorused back “NO” and then I asked them what the only thing that ever bugged me about them was and they replied, in almost perfect unison, “NOT TRYING.”
Sigh. So they know what’s up. But I know there is gray area there. I, myself, could’ve tried harder to get her to try. I push kids toward their potential. Toward being prepared for the next giant step. But this year especially it’s so hard to figure out how to push without putting them over one of so many unknown edges. More kids than ever this year literally refuse to even try. It’s my job to show them I won’t. Even when fear makes me allow them to a little more than I usually would.