Friday, June 1, 2018

The Draft

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My school has a check-in system in place for students who need a little more positive adult interaction and accountability. There is a fourth grader who checks in with me twice a day, every day. First thing in the morning, and then right at the end of the day. He was having impulse control, respect, and aggression troubles. Rather than have him constantly in trouble- check-in system. We have a quick chat about what his plan for the day is and then how his day was. I try to ask specific questions about choices he made during the day and we work together to make sure those are good choices, and we celebrate when they are. There's a form and he can earn a 0, 1, or 2 in each subject and for the four main school rules. Lots of accountability, but all geared towards positive reinforcement and student reflection. When he started with me he was having a rough year, but now, nine days out from the end of the year, he's been doing great. Really the last month or so has been excellent. Almost all 2s every day. It's cool.

Yesterday I asked him which teacher he wants for fifth grade. It's always instructive to hear what kids who aren't in your class/grade say about your class/grade. What impressions leak out of the classroom doors and into the hallways. His response was something I'd never heard and loaded with layers.

"I dunno. I just hope someone picks me."

Holy brutally honest, Batman.

Let's unpack this, dear reader. On the most basic level, this student is under the impression that teachers pick students for their classrooms for the next year, like an academic NBA draft. "With the third pick in the 2018-2019 School Year Draft, Mr Robertson takes..."; or like picking kickball teams on the playground. I don't know how your school does it, but in every school I've worked in near the end of the year grade levels get together and make Pinks and Blues (I know, but let's stay on topic). Then we shuffle those cards into however many classrooms there will be the next year. Let's say it's the fourth grade team making classes for fifth grade. There are two fifth grades next year, so the fourth grade team is tasked with making two classes as balanced as possible, while keeping in mind which kids probably shouldn't be with which kids and so on. But they aren't putting them with teachers. The groups are blind. We are making classes, but we don't know who's class is which. That's an admin thing.

That kids, and most likely parents, don't know this is a failure of communication on our part. I bet this kid is not alone in his assumption. We should be more transparent at the end of the year when students ask which teacher they'll get next year. Now, as a fifth grade teacher, my students are heading to middle school so I honestly have no idea who their teachers will be aside from a very general idea of the middle school faculty. "Here's the website, check it out." But it should be fairly simple to make that explanation part of one of the End Of Year spiels in the grades where the kids aren't moving to a brand new school.

And on top of that impression, this kid is pretty sure he's getting picked last. Look at that answer. "I just hope someone picks me." I'm not taking artistic liberties with the quote. Those are the words that came out of his mouth. "I just hope someone picks me." He's talking about us. He's talking about, as far as he knows, me.* And it wasn't like in a movie where there's that long look with the upturned eyes and big blinks, played for laughs. He said it straight, looking down, tone resigned.

Oh dear sweet Jean-Luc Picard. This kid thinks none of us are going to want him in our room. What have we done? Almost all my interactions with him have been positive, even when he's come to me after a hard day full of poor choices. His teacher this year is an excellent teacher. But somewhere in all that his self-worth has reached a point where his honest answer to which teacher he wants next year is basically, "I just hope there's a teacher, the person in my life charged with my education and with whom I will spend a massive chunk of my time, that wants me."

Friends, dear readers, I was struck momentarily dumb. I quickly explained the way we actually make up classes to assuage at least that part of his worry, and then made sure to tell him that I'd love to have him in my class. But it was the end of the day, he was heading to the bus. If this were a movie I'd have knelt down next to him, put my hands on his shoulders, looked into his eyes, and said, "Any of us would be lucky to have you in our class. You're an awesome kid and you're going to have a great year next year." But I didn't. We were in the end of day swarm. We were on the move, like we were in a Aaron Sorkin show. I'll remind him today.

How many of his behavior choices stem from that one sentence? How long has he held that belief? How did we not express in some way something that wouldn't make him feel like that? Every year I'm dedicated to making sure the kids in my class feel welcome and know I'm happy they're there. I give high fives in the hallway and chat with kids in all the grades, and part of that is laying the groundwork for those who will be in my class in the future (the other, bigger, part is kids are awesome and hilarious and fun to talk to and high five). But that's not the same as making them feel like I hope they're in my class. Is it?

*I'm teaching 4th grade next year, but he doesn't know that.

If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written three books about teaching- He’s the Weird TeacherTHE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome), and the just released A Classroom Of One. I’ve also written one novel- The Unforgiving Road. You should check them out, I’m even better in long form. I’m also on the tweets @TheWeirdTeacher.


  1. Touching and heartbreaking ❤�� and reaffirms my belief that you must be an awesome colleague ❤

    Sheelagh Brothers (not Julia)

  2. Our school will start that same system next year and with your permission I would like to share your story. And I have that 4th grader in class. He just has a different name than yours! Thank you for this.