Saturday May 16, 2009

Thought for the day: “I know of no more encouraging fact then the unquestioned ability of a man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor:” — Henry David Thoreau

“John?” The teacher approached me. “Yes”. “You help write” She gestured toward the west room of the small concrete-floored apartment. The room had a large window overlooking the building’s court yard. I was familiar with the writing exercise. I was to help the students practice writing his numerals.
The student held his arm out politely allowing me to enter the room first. Then he got two chairs from the corner and slid them up to the table at the window. It was raining outside and cool fresh air poured across the tabletop from the open window. I sat down with the student and opened the practice book to the first uncompleted page.

“Oh, seven today”. I looked down at the sheet. The teacher had drawn a grid – six rows, nine columns. In the left-hand column wee six neatly drawn sevens. The student was to copy the example into each of the boxes of the grid.

“Right here”, I said, and tapped my finger on the first blank box to try to draw his attention there. “Bah”. He half shouted and thrust his hand up to point to something outside the window. He turned his fourteen year old face to me – mouth and eyes smiling broadly. I tapped my finger a few more times and looked down at the sheet. He reached for his pencil box opened one side pulled out one of the pencils and examined the tip. A few more finger taps.

He looked down at the page, held the paper flat with his left hand and drew a seven with the right. He drew a second. He began a third but apparently dissatisfied with the first stroke, he reached for his pencil box and retrieved his eraser from a small compartment on the end with a magnetic clasp. He closed the box and paused to look at one of the stickers on it. I tapped my finger a few more times. He turned to look out the window. I put my hand on has and moved it toward the paper. He looked down, seemed to recall his dissatisfaction with the pencil stroke and reached for his eraser. He smeared away the pencil mark and started again. Better. Hew moved on to the fourth box, then the fifth. By the sixth his seven was looking more like a one.

I stopped his momentum and pointed for him to re-examine it. He reached for his eraser and re-drew it. Still a one. I put my hand over his and guided his hand and pencil to make a seven.

Then I helped him with another. He pushed my hand away and finished the final entry in the row himself. He moved his pencil to the beginning of the 2nd row. A sound came from the other room- one of the other students. He spun his head around to look, then looked up at me and smiled. I smiled back then looked down at the page and tapped my finger. He looked down and drew a neat seven next to the example the teacher had done. He reached for the pencil box again and got out another pencil and attempted to write, no mark. The pencil needed sharpening. Back to the pencil box to get out the sharpener. He pressed a button and small door flipped open and he pulled the sharpener out of its slot. He put the pencil in and started turning. Crack. The tip broke off. I handed him the original pencil. “Maaa”, he cried. I helped him sharpen the pencil with the broken tip and he returned to the paper. He drew another seven then turned his head to look out the window. I tapped my finger. He looked down and drew another seven. Not as good as the previous one but still acceptable. He paused, then flipped forward to the next page in the practice book. Another page of sevens was waiting. He flipped again. More sevens. He flipped again. There were the eights. He paused and stared. I turned the pages back to where we’d left off. He looked up at me and smiled. I smiled back.


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