Usually when I roll into one of the classrooms in which I volunteer, it becomes immediately apparent what needs to be done. A child is wearing a pained expression, another child is playing around when there’s work to be done, or some other problem is staring me in the face, waiting for me to try my hand at contributing to the solution. Until today, my activities in the Fort River School have been somewhat predictable.
But today I tried something different. When I came in, children were busy reading, and writing about what they were reading. Some had the pained expressions I’ve come to expect (it’s a good school; pained expressions aren’t necessarily symptoms of bad teaching), and others were goofing off, but most were doing exactly what they were supposed to be doing. I decided to try something I’ve rarely tried.
I rolled over to Marieta, a child who was quietly reading, and I sat there. I hadn’t brought a book with me, but if I had, I would have started reading it. From now on, I’ll always have a book with me. I sat and watched Marieta read. I knew she was a child who liked attention, and often worked to get some. But this time, she was getting plenty of attention by doing something that isn’t normally much of an attention-getting device: she was reading silently.
As I sat there, I felt as if I was doing something important. And it was something I had hardly ever done as a paid teacher; it wouldn’t have been efficient use of teaching time. Teachers, responsible for all that happens in their classrooms, can’t spend much time watching one child who is doing what he/she is supposed to be doing. Something usually does have to be done about the ones who, for one reason or another, aren’t on task.
But imagine, for a moment, what may have been going on in the mind of the child who was reading silently. Silent reading is a potentially lonely activity. You can certainly get involved with the characters you’re reading about, and you can forget about your loneliness, but it can still be there. My presence may have been playing an important role.
I didn’t interrupt Marieta’s reading to talk with her. Nor did I speak to her later about her reading. But I feel right about the role I played. Perhaps other children saw me watching Marieta read. If so, I wonder how they thought about it. Did they think it was strange? Did they wish I’d come watch them read? I don’t know. But I’m going to make it part of my repertoire. I’ll let you know as I see what effect it has.Squeaky wheels tend to be the ones to get the grease. Though that tendency makes good sense if you’re talking about actual wheels and actual grease, it’s good to pay attention to children who aren’t demanding attention. It doesn’t take long to figure out whether they appreciate that attention. Most of them do. And they deserve it.