In teaching children, there are a lot of wonderful moments of honesty. The way a child can cut right to the heart of a matter by an unvarnished version of life as he sees it is one of the things I love about teaching.
One of my students from several years ago, HD, was transferring to my school to be part of the Dyslexia Center program. He voiced his concerns the first time we met, about three weeks before school was set to start. He worried that no one at the new school would know what he could do, and that he was way too cool to have a reading problem. Unedited and forthright, he let me know right then that this was probably not the place for him, and encouraged me to share that news with his mom before it was too late for him to get back into his former school.
Prospective student interviews are really about making sure a student has what I call a teachable spirit, so we cover all kinds of topics during our time together. One thing that is usually very interesting is to ask a child what they are good at. People with dyslexia have areas of strength that are generally just as deep as their areas of weakness, and I like to know what those areas are for each of my students so our staff can be aware and build confidence by pointing out natural talent areas and using them in our lessons whenever possible.
HD told me he could build things. He named several projects he and his engineer dad had going out at their farm. Confidence filled his voice and his fifth grade shoulders squared as he detailed for me their fencing project. I was reminded of the importance of letting people shine as he filled me in on the key factors of wire tautness and post alignment. If ever I needed a fence, HD would be top of my list to call.
While my classroom was free from fences to be erected, what I did truly need was someone to assemble my new desk chair. My confidence in being able to build it myself was shaken as soon as I opened the box and saw the great number of parts into which a chair can be disassembled so it fits into a small box. I asked HD’s mom if he could come one afternoon the next week and help me with the chair. A day and time were set, and HD advised me on the tools I would need to bring to get the job done.
That afternoon at home, I related my idea of having HD build the desk chair to my usual go-to guys for assembly, my husband and three sons. My middle son, a college sophomore at the time, suggested I get a school tool box and stock it with the basics. He recalled how he had liked using one of his teacher’s tools to fix stuff around school. A toolbox was ordered that evening, along with two screwdrivers, a hammer, pliers, a level and some allen wrenches. It arrived just in time for chair assembly day.
On chair assembly afternoon, HD was a different boy from the one who let me know he was way too cool to need reading help. He was not too cool to help me, in fact he was interested in getting right down to work on that chair. The red metal toolbox met with his approval, although I had omitted an old baby food jar to keep loose screws in. Clearly I was fortunate to have HD to advise me on things mechanical, if I was such a novice that I hadn’t known I would need an old jar.
In a surprisingly short time, a working desk chair emerged from the random items included in the box from Staples. Since no desks had yet arrived in my classroom, and my teacher desk filled only a small corner of the room, we decided a few trial runs of how far each of us could propel the chair powered by only one push of our feet were in order. HD was a skinny kid, but he could bury me at desk chair rolling.
A new bond was forged that day. He was willing to let me help him with reading since I was willing to let him do my projects requiring tools. It was an agreement that served us both well, built on mutual respect and a willingness to let each other shine in our talent areas. All we needed were the right tools for the job.