At the beginning of the school year, I had given a 3-2-1 exit ticket, and one of the questions I asked was, "What is one thing you are worried about?"
The answer that one student wrote on his paper broke my heart.
While reading through the student responses, I saw the usual worries: grades, homework, not having recess, and then I came across a reply that said, "I am worried about my reputation." This was from a student that had been in his fair share of trouble in elementary school, and he was right. He did have a reputation that followed him to middle school.
To make this post easier to write, I will call him Calvin (also because he reminded me of a particular comic strip character). I teach sixth grade, and my students are transitioning from elementary to middle school. I don't usually know too much about the students before we meet on the first day of school, but I had already been warned about Calvin, so I guess he had a valid reason to be worried.
The next day when I arrived at school, he came running across the playground to wish me a good morning. I took the opportunity to let him know that I had read his paper and was confident that his reputation could be whatever he wanted to make it.
Although I could see why former teachers had found Calvin to be a bit of a handful, I quickly learned to appreciate the motivation behind the behavior. Calvin was just a kid who was REALLY excited about learning, so much so that he had to yell out ideas at every moment he had them. I loved his creativity and his enthusiasm. It was one of those years that the planets aligned, and that kid with the "behavior problem" got paired with the exact right match in a teacher.
A couple of months into the school year, we are learning about early humans in History, and our current project is to make a report card for an early human. Calvin jumps out of his seat excitedly, asking if he can make it on a rock. I have no idea how that is possible, but I say, "Sure, that would be awesome."
I should mention that Calvin only turned in work occasionally, and usually, it was not a worksheet that spurred his interest enough to get him to complete a task. However, every day that week, Calvin told me about his project and how he had found the perfect rock. Although I admit, I was not convinced that he would be turning something in on Friday. Then the big day arrives, and Calvin presents me with this:
The kids were so impressed with Calvin's project and very vocal with their admiration of his great idea. You could almost see him swelling with pride. I asked him if I could keep it to display to my future classes as an inspiration for others to be creative in their thinking about projects.
He ran for student council that year and became a leader in my class. Although he had trouble completing written assignments, he shined when given the opportunity to work on group projects. He had a great talent for speaking. He was charismatic and entertaining, capturing and holding the attention of his audience. He received high praise from his classmates and me for his energy and creativity, and he began to see himself as we saw him-someone with talent and the potential to influence others.
Reputation make-over complete!
From Calvin, I learned to look at my class list differently. I was no longer interested in deciding who my students would be based on their past mistakes, what part of town they lived in, or the warnings from former teachers. Instead, this boy taught me that it is far more important for me to discover which of my students most need someone to believe in them. Which of my students needs someone to see the amazing things they are capable of, so they will see it too? Which of my students would like to remake their reputation?