a quote from my favorite author

“The most solid advice, though, for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”

-William Saroyan, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Small Victory*

He walks into the room carrying the weight of a brother involved in gangs who is his primary caretaker since his mother left him to move to another state with her new husband.

He swaggers to his seat, calling to friends across the room. 

As class begins, he joins on the fringes.  The go-ahead-and-try-to-reach-me look on does little to hide his insecurity.

I only nudge when he refuses to get started on his Raw Write

He used to leave me an anonymous piece of writing every day.  I know his words hold power and anger and pain.  I miss them—the words.  They stopped coming one day.  His brother said, “Writing is gay,” and silenced him. 

His buddy urges him, “Stop being disrespectful, man.”

“Whatever, you are disrespectful all the time,” he grumbles in response. 

But he picks up his pencil.  A small victory.  I don’t expect much, but I am hopeful.

During reading, he is distracted.  He usually dives into his borrowed copy of Selected Poems from The Rose That Grew from Concrete by Tupac Shakur.  Small victories don’t last, but I don’t give up easily.  Again, I nudge, knowing last week he begged for a copy of his own.  To keep.  

“Do you have a few seconds to stay after class?” I ask.


“It has nothing to do with these,” I assure him, holding up the blank detention slips in my hand.

“Sure.  Why?”

“Because I am asking you to.”  I smile and walk away.

The bell rings.  I turn to answer a question.  I look back.  He is gone.

In the hallway, I call him back.  His return walk is heavy with insecurity.  He expects a lecture.

I hand him a copy of The Rose That Grew from Concrete by Tupac Shakur.  “I didn’t want to hand you this in front of anyone else.  It is not the edited version you are reading for class as part of the ID program—this is the real deal.  Are you allowed to have it?" 

His affirmation and thank you still resonate as he walks away, but I know neither will remain tucked in my memory the way that smile will.   

*with thanks to Deb Day at Coffee with Chloe for nudging  


  1. The patience you are showing us how to use is great. And Deb's work with students like this is often an inspiration. What a lovely story to hear about your work too. There are those secrets that students have that we must pull out if only the nudge will help them. Thank you for telling about this & good for you!

  2. That's the way to make a difference in a life. The dialogue you included made this so effective. Keep nudging those kids, they need someone (you) in their life.

  3. Brought tears. I watched first graders that were still open, knowing they would become someone different on the outside after a few years. And I could only pray that someone else someday would be able to see that little person on the inside still. Thanks for being there and giving small nudges. THIS is why we teach really. Not the curriculum.

  4. Oh, I shouldn't have read this in class! Now I have tears in my eyes! Even if it doesn't show up tomorrow, you have made a difference.

    And thanks for the shout out--but YOU made the difference in this young man's life. You matter

  5. Keep going. Keep gently nudging. This young man needs someone to believe in him. Have it be you even when you doubt if you should. Trust me....it's worth it.

  6. Yeah. That's you all over.

    Reads as a big victory for him. Or it will, one day.

    While life is handing you straws to put on your back, you're looking for ways to unload the stacks from kids by showing them a moment of love and care.

    That's you all over.

    Thanks for the full cup.

  7. I just reread your post this morning. I love the way you wrote this. That opening paragraph just had me hooked from the beginning. I'm teaching introductions today. I hope you don't mind if I borrow this as an example!

  8. @Deb- I am honored! I find that funny, though, because I used your two student posts as my mentor texts. It was the first time I was able to craft that way about a student. Usually I include way too much detail and background. Your voice helped me find mine.

  9. A lot of what teachers do is not visible to others. I love that as part of SOL community I get to read about the small yet deeply thoughtful and meaningful moments that make a difference in the lives of students. Thank you for sharing.