Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A Real Conversation

I had a conversation with a student yesterday afternoon. I will try to recount it to you word-for-word... but even if I get the words right, I'm sure I won't be able to convey all that was going on in our hearts and minds.

John, a very smart and misunderstood young man, stood before me and said words I had heard from other students many, many times:

"Mr. Wilson, I'm quitting school and taking the GED."

I then repeated, almost by rote, words I had said many, many times:

"Why, John? This is your senior year."

The conversation continued its predictable path:

"Yeah, I know. But I've always hated school. This gets me out of school a few months early."

"Well... I wish you the best, John."

Then came the obligatory Goodbye, Mr. Chips/Dead Poet's Society compliment:

"Even though I hated school, I always kind of liked your mythology class, Mr. Wilson. I always looked forward to that last class of the day."

Sensing the end of the conversation, I said my part of the script:

"That's good to hear, John. What did you like most about it?"

Then he spoke words that hit me like a gut-punch, words that brought me fully into the here and now:

"Check-in. Some days I spent all day thinking about what I was going to say at check-in."

As he spoke of check-in -- the touchstone of this summer's experience -- everything around me suddenly became very fragile. All at once, I believed I could say something to salvage the moment... something to salvage this person in front of me. I said:

"John... if you stay in school, I'll let you check-in first every day."

He laughed as if caught off-guard, then he said:

"That would almost be worth it, Mr. Wilson."

John wasn't in school today, and may never be again... but he's always welcome in our circle for check-in. Always and forever.



At 7:03 AM, Blogger Holbrook said...

I know how he feels. Checking in with all of you here is the best part of my day, too.

At 8:13 AM, Blogger Shakespeare Teacher said...

I just started crying at my desk. . .
Checking the blog every morning is the way I start my day, and while it's not the same as this summer, it's still a check-in for me. Micahel, even if your student does not return to school, I think you should still be proud of the impact you have had on him.

At 11:10 AM, Blogger Jessica said...

Michael, I hope you are also proud of letting this student have a real impact on you. Surely he sensed that he matters to you. You have a lovely way of telling stories, by the way, with your voice and your writing.

At 2:20 PM, Blogger Sandi said...

I'm crying too. I'm doing my lesson plans for the three weeks and thinking how much I"m going to miss check-in. What if the sub just skips it and doesn't let them? Magically, these eight weeks, we now all know so much about each other now....whose grandmother is fighting cancer..whose brother is deployed...whose dad just missed getting blown up in draws us all tighter in the circle of each other...Michael, perhaps you and JOhn can still have some kind of supportive relationship, post-school. You clearly matter to him. At any rate, know you HAVE mattered. Anyway, I'm not sure where I'm going I'll even have internet access most of the time. I'll miss you, them, my kids, my Other kids. Bye, y'all.

At 2:20 PM, Blogger Sandi said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 2:28 PM, Blogger Emily said...

Wow... you set that kid's hair on fire, Michael. And I mean that in the nicest way possible.

This story gives me hope. I check in with my seventh graders twice a day, and so often they act as if it's just a lame thing they have to do (though they complain if I forget it or skip it or reschedule it). I was almost getting ready to give it up, but damnit, I will stick with it.

Thanks, Michael.

At 7:06 PM, Blogger Shakespeare Teacher said...

As I type tears are welling up in my eyes. Our check-in was so precious to me. Checking the blog and e-mail has become my second best.



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