“I am not taking this test! I hate this class!” The seventh grader in front of me folded her arms and sank lower in her seat, but raised her voice above the general murmur of the class a second time. “I hate this! Why are we taking a test on something we never even learned?” I knew that she wasn’t confused about the purpose of the pre-test, since the teacher, Ms. F, had explained during both yesterday’s and today’s class that it was used with the post test to measure their growth. This was about something else. After I was sure the class had returned its focus to the test, I knelt down next to the disruptive student.
“Spiryt, what’s going on? Why don’t you want to take this test?” She stayed quiet, only bothering to glance at me for a few seconds before returning to her defiant pose. I stayed quiet, too. But, I didn’t move from my crouched position.
When she finally spoke, it was almost too soft to hear. “I’m too stupid to take this test. I’ll fail it. I don’t know anything.” Spiryt let her head hang lower as her eyes started to water. It was shocking to hear. From the moment I started to serve in Ms. F’s classroom, it was clear that Spiryt was a social leader. She made sure that she was heard and used that loud voice of hers to threaten and insult anyone who came near her, including my teacher.
I waited to speak until I could find the words to comfort her. “Spiryt, I’m right here. If you have a question, I’ll help you. Don’t be afraid to try. You fail if you write nothing. And you never know.” She nodded and picked up her pencil.
Throughout the test, I went over to Spiryt’s seat three more times to answer clarifying questions and urge her to continue. The fourth time I went over to her desk she looked up at me with a smile and closed her books. “I’m done”.
That day was the first time I saw Spiryt for who she was. Underneath her prickly exterior was a concerned student who had allowed herself to be vulnerable. Spiryt continued to let me help her. Now, halfway through the year, she has one of the highest grades in Core English. Although no one who meets Spiryt today could call her “cuddly”, we’ve worked on refining her attitude and approach towards others during 50 Acts of Leadership, City Year’s behavior mentoring program. Spiryt continues to be strong-willed and opinionated, but she lets her compassion and sweetness shine through.
In a card she wrote me for Valentine’s Day, Spiryt thanked me for being the big sister that she never had and for helping her through the hard times. While it’s sad to think about our time together coming to an end, I’m still excited when I think of all the things I’ll write in her card. I’ll be sure to mention that the benefits of this relationship have gone both ways and that she’s helped me grow up, too.
Thank you to Monique Gabriel from the Gov. Christopher DelSesto Middle School team for contributing this month’s post.