Celebrate with Ruth Ayres Writes …. because we need to celebrate moments in our lives every chance we get.
A couple of weeks ago, I read Eric Bell’s fabulous middle grade novel, Alan Cole Is Not a Coward, and I have been thinking about the main character’s best friend, Zack, ever since. Zack is twelve, and as equally incapable of sitting still as he is of keeping his every thought to himself. Zack makes and lives by his own happy rules, he notices everything – especially the stuff his friends and teachers seem always to miss, which often turn out to be (as we discover towards the middle of the book) the important things. Here’s an excerpt that sums up the Zack’s inimitable “Zackness”:
“It’s funny.” Zack holds his plastic fork to the light like he’s waiting for it to sprout wings and dance the cha-cha. “You know how some things have names that fit them, right? Like, an orange is called an orange because it’s orange. Why is it called a fork?”
I swallow a big bite of the chicken sandwich I got from the cafeteria line. “Maybe the color came second.”
“The color fork?” Zack asks.
“The color orange. Maybe the color orange is called orange because it’s named after the fruit.”
Zack slowly lowers his fork. “Wow,” he whispers.
That should keep him quiet for a few minutes……
“If you want my honest opinion,” Madison Wilson Truman pipes up next to me, interrupting my thoughts again, “a fork is called a fork because it’s forked between the points. Haven’t you ever heard of forks in the road? Those are different paths branching off from the same point. That’s where the term comes from.”
Zack looks down at the plastic fork. “I never knew that. I’ve been using forks my whole life! I’ll never eat the same way agai—” He snaps his head to the left and swivels his neck as he looks up at the ceiling; his spiky hair, jutting out at all angles like an electrocuted porcupine, sways back and forth. “I thought I saw a dragon.”
I read this, and other such Zack moments, over and over again…always with a smile and a chuckle. And, each time, I remembered the Zacks who have made their way through my teaching life year after year: the girls and boys who march to the tune of their own special kind of music. These are the kiddos whose restlessness and tendency to blurt out their every thought is enough to drive even the most patient teacher to distraction, and yet…and yet…I know that my Zacks have taught me more about being a good teacher than all the un-Zacks in my teaching life. They’ve taught me to:
~be patient and to be cautious about being over reactive; sometimes it’s wiser to pretend not to hear and see and just carry on. Zacks tend to get so much negative reinforcement as it is, that it’s important to carve out some safe space – even if it’s the last thing one is inclined to do in a busy teaching day.
~find ways to capture the important ideas in their flights of thought, they need someone to help them pause and reflect, because they don’t know (yet) quite how to.
~honor so many different ways of arriving at solutions, conclusions, extensions, even ones that are delivered at the speed of light and at inopportune moments. Zacks have a way of being not-heard and feeling not-heard.
~open my heart to that one kid in my room who seems least likely to get a chance anywhere else, even though it means risking that daily migraine…Zacks are worth it.
~believe, really believe, that I can learn from my Zacks, that in seeking to reach them I become a better teacher, a better person.
Today, as I was prepping for school on Tuesday, I re-read a poetry response from one of my current Zacks which began with a line from the poem we’d read and concluded with some theories about space travel and black holes. I tried, and failed, to see the connections between the ideas…but something about this question will stay with me for a long, long time: wouldn’t it be cool to spin through the stars like a silver Ferrari, Mrs. Smith?
What can I do but celebrate the Zacks in my teaching life? They make each of my teaching days something their very own.