Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jul 07 2009

“Ms. Ralsten…Look!”

This summer, one kid who I have completely fallen for is D- (sorry, legalities – but trust me, I know his name).  D- is smart – he always knows the answer to questions and loves to breeze through work.  The latter is where a lot of his problems come from – his love of screaming, “I’m done!” before anyone else often compromises his scores, although this is something he, too, is learning about.  He also loves calling-out answers and “helping” students when they are reading “too slowly.”  Now he covers his mouth when he calls out and actually tries to help rather than berate – it’s been four weeks of major progress.  But, actually, what I love most about D- is that, despite his little gangsta, tough-guy persona, there’s something he loves – being good.

I learned this when D- and I had a discussion about how third-graders act.  “They act G-O-O-D” (D- is one of our top readers/spellers and likes to flaunt it whenever possible).

“And do you want to be a third grader?”


“Then what do we need to start doing?” (this, after a long line of bad decisions all morning on D-’s part)

“Acting G-O-O-D.”

Still, it didn’t seem to be connecting.  Some days were better than others – instead of calling out, he would cover his mouth and apologize.  Sometimes, he would sit up straight and be the leader of the class.  Other days, I was met with a scowl and absolute disrespect.  Some days, I really doubted whether D- cared what I thought or about his own behavior.

That changed today.  Today, I came into the lunchroom to ask my fellow teacher a question about testing.  D- motioned to me on my way out of the cafeteria.  I leaned close to him.

“Ms. Ralsten…I’m on yellow!”

In our classroom, the students have different color cards that symbolize how their behavior is that day.  Those students on yellow have not had any formal warnings – they are having a GREAT day! (according to the chart and my own opinion)  At the end of the day, we fill out a behavior form for students to take home and have parents sign.  D- has taken his home every day and had it signed…and he has always been on red (which is after yellow) or lower. It never really registered with me that he cared about being on yellow or even being on red.  But I could see it in his eyes and the fact that this “tough guy” called me, the teacher, over just to tell me that he was still on yellow told me something very important – Daejon was proud of his G-O-O-D-ness.
“Ms. Ralsten….look! When you go back.”

I could have squeezed him until he choked.  D- was on yellow.  He stayed on yellow for the rest of the day and literally left class skipping with his behavior chart, ready to show his mom how well he had done.

What makes me most happy is not that D- was “on yellow” or “having a great day,” but that he actually cared about this – he actually WANTS to be in the top every day, despite everything his posture, frowns, and anger may tell me on other days.  I don’t know why I ever doubted this, but I know it was good to be reminded today that there is not one child who doesn’t want to succeed.

I think tomorrow’s going to be another great day for us all.

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