I love the misfits. The oddball, unusual students who have the wry or wacky sense of humor, who know they somehow don’t fit into the “normal” mold of middle schooler.
But, too, I love the jock who writes privately in his school journal about feeling like his only pride comes from the scoreboard. Or the soccer god who crafts a sinuous narrative with achingly emotional depth.
I am sweeping these hidden gems into my fold, and I am high on their burgeoning view of themselves.
There are currently two students, one in 8th grade, one in 6th, who fit this jock/closeted writer profile. The older one has the reputation for being the out-of-bounds kid, the one always in trouble, the one we’re just hoping to get through. He’s not stupid, but some of his decisions and actions paint him as a caustic child/teenager who heeds none of our words.
So, when I discovered in his (public to me) journal that he related to one of our book characters whose “Life Raft” was cartooning because he felt his only life raft was basketball, I began to see another side of, and some light for, this child.
I began to take more notice of what he was writing. And so, he’s begun to share it more — with me, though not with his peers. He is the secret softie, and I am glad to keep his secret from his classmates.
But when yesterday the students were sharing out a narrative from their journal prompt, and he volunteered, we listened, and I responded, “I know you’re working on your craft right now, and this really shows your skill at world-building,” I saw his quiet, hidden pride shine. I witnessed his, Shh don’t tell them, but oh jeez, thank you for seeing me. Then his eyes darted back down to his twiddling pencil, his posture slumping into detachment (feigned or otherwise) once again.
That I get to foster and fan the flames of this child’s ownership of his voice is price beyond rubies. I’m not blowing hot air, puffing up his pride with false words of praise; truly, he shows the seeds of talent and I am continuously surprised by the depth of his thoughts — as I’d painted him the lost cause, too.
So now we both get to see this something special that he’s developing. We both get to see that he is more than his scoreboard.
Surely, he dons his role as a clown, a rebel, a juvenile delinquent as well-worn shoes, but offering him this other pair, this one pair of shoes that says, You have worth inside you…
He may never decide to own that he’s emotionally and creatively intelligent. He may move on through his high school and adult years as solely the jock, the tough guy. I can’t know.
But I do know that he’ll have the option to remember that his English teacher once praised his writing and held open a door he’d not known existed.