Wednesday, July 21, 2010

what is harder than a class that won't be quiet?

In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou discloses that as a girl, she became voluntarily mute. So I wasn't completely unprepared for the idea of J.; I just had no idea how to deal with the reality of J.

Ms S., the speech therapist, gave me what slight background she had: J. was incredibly shy and rarely smiled. A smile, I was informed, was any change in the corners of her mouth. Her slightly bowed head appeared frozen on her neck, her shoulders frozen -- her body held as if she expected to be hit any minute. Slight nods and almost imperceptible head shakes were her m.o., and open ended questions usually elicited only stares or made her eyes dart nervously left and right. And when her lips moved, J. thought others could hear her. Um, maybe owls or whales or hunting dogs. Humans? Not so much. And no one could out-silence her; J. could sit there all day, not answering, passive-aggressively passing time. To compound the issue, her academic skills were, in the parlance of the CST, FBB.

Wow. I prayed hard.

I welcomed her, sat her between a loud kid and one with a reputation for kindness. When I called on her, the class held its collective breath. Ms S. said I could inform J. that I couldn't hear her, and I would do that about 50% of the time. I was gratified to learn that J. wanted to do better in my class, and Ms S. was role playing with J. how to approach me and what to say. Twice a week, J. had a one-on-one instructional assistant accompany her in my class.

Every morning as the kids came up the ramp, I'd greet her with a smile, a joke or comment, and end with an easy question I expected her to answer. The corners of her mouth moved. One of the best days of the year, easily, was the day she laughed in class. She has beautiful teeth.

Ironically, she has asked me an open ended question on FB: "How is your summer :D"... I am glad that she has 116 FB friends and am proud to be one of them.

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