Walking around the corner toward the office before school this morning I heard a heartwrenching shriek and then a kind of wail. I just saw a little body guided by a bigger one disappear behind the door to the nurse’s office. Though they were no longer visible, the earth-ending sound continued.
I glanced at the clock as I passed. Ten minutes until homerooms…which meant playground accident. Someone–one of our smallest someones–was going to have a rough day. That kind of unhappy doesn’t rub off quickly.
I smiled at my kindergarten neighbors as they moved from the carpet to their writing spots. These little faces always make my day brighter.
One friend was stooped over the contents of his sun-yellow folder, spewed across the floor as classmates passed. Leaning down, I asked, “Can I give you a hand with that?”
A face peered up. His eyes were still a little red. His cheek was scraped and his poor lips were the black-and-blue that’s still red-violet. A spot of blood still showed on one lip. But there was a grateful look in his eyes.
I walked with him back to his seat and together we straightened the contents of his folder. This friend didn’t need a conference, he needed a reset for his day. I settled in next to him, kneeling to be eye to eye as he worked.
At first I watched as he laid his how-to book on top of the closed folder and searched around for his pencil. Not on the table. Not on the floor. Not in the pencil box–his eraser was in the cap to his glue stick.
“Here, I’ll fix your glue stick while you get your pencil out.” I gently lifted the distracting glue stick from his fingers, replacing the cap.
He located his pencil out of the ether and began to read the “Things Needed” page he wrote yesterday.
“Can I give you a compliment?”
A wary smile peeked from behind his bruises.
“I’m noticing that you started out by rereading what you already wrote. That’s such a good strategy to get yourself going as a writer. Can I hear what you wrote?”
His eyes met mine for a moment, then head down inches from his page he read each needed item for ‘makg rt’ (making art). He added great emphasis on the ‘wudr’ you’d need for your paintbrush. Then he turned to the next page and the next, reading slowly and tentatively at first, but with more confidence as he remembered his book. He finished the last page.
“Hmmm, What do you think? What more is there to do in this book?”
He hesitated, I looked down at his page instead of at him. I hoped he’d look to his own writing for answers instead of me.
” I forgot to do the picture,” he announced turning to another page.
We looked together at his page as he sketched. Then we reread the words he’d written.
“Hmmm, when you read this word to me, I thought I might have heard something else. Will you read this again?”
Resting my finger under the word I stretched its sounds p-iiiii-c-cher.
His eyes went round and his chubby fist curled tighter around his pencil. “Rrrr” he said. “It needs an r.”
“Wow! Look at how you added more letters to your word. I wonder if you could add more words to your book?”
Before I’d finished his head was nodding resolutely. on his slim shoulders. “Color your picture with your paintbrush.” He’d added another clause.
“OK, it sounds like you have a writing plan. Go ahead.”
I started to stand up and move past him to another student, but his hands rustled across the table over his papers and his worried gaze reached out to me.
The piece of my brain that knew I was supposed to be modeling for a new teacher niggled at me that this wasn’t a clean research-decide-teach conference. The piece that knew I was also being observed considered for a fraction of a second how bad this was. But my heart told me to scoot back down…so I did.
Together we found the tools he had in his folder. There was a personal word wall with just the word he needed. When he saw it, his sore lips moved as he tested each letter-sound against the word he needed. He stared intently at the word, repeating the letters to ink them in his brain before he wrote them.
“Do you know what?” I asked. “You’re the kind of writer who knows how to use his tools to help him write anything!” We high fived.
“I know you can add those words. I’ll come back in a little bit to check.”
This time I made a clean exit to the next table. I pulled in next to another writer with my back to him. A few minutes later he came and touched my shoulder.
“I did it!” His eyes were clear and his puffed lips turned up into a genuine smile.
Yes he did! He reset his day.