392. Jeremy

A boy named Jeremy, like most people, likes to do what he does well. What he does well is converse and move around. And he does both really well. You should see him on the soccer field. Or have a conversation with him. As long as Jeremy is doing what he does well, he’s happy and looks great.
I’ll bet you’re like that, too. So am I. Not that we’re necessarily great at moving and talking, but whatever it is that we’re good at, we like to do it and, of course, do it well. So I like to write, and maybe you like to ski, or read. There are plenty of things at which to be good, so most of us have chances to excel at something.
Yesterday, I observed Jeremy when he was supposed to be reading and writing. That’s not what he does well, so far. I saw a different person from the Jeremy who scored goals in soccer games. At first, he did his best to move and talk, knowing that there was a possibility that he could keep doing that for a while.
I tried to redirect Jeremy, but since I’m a volunteer, and since I choose not to volunteer to be much of an authority figure, I did not succeed. His teacher was there, but she was working with some other children. So for a while, Jeremy was free to move and converse rather than read or write. Of course, his work did have to get done, but he was not about to do it unless there was no way out. Maybe he’d miss recess, but that was a risk he was willing to take. Missing recess is a bummer, but it’s hard for a teacher to supervise a child who is missing recess; that time is usually either the teacher’s break or a time for the teacher to meet other responsibilities.
For Jeremy, school is rapidly becoming a place to fail. He’s in third grade now. I’ve known him since he was in first grade, and back then it looked as if he was going to be a leader. In first grade, there isn’t as much work to be done with a pencil and paper. Jeremy liked that. But now that there is lots of reading and writing to do, he’s having trouble. He’s intelligent, and if he begins to get the idea of written and printed language, he’s going to eat it up.
But nobody likes to fail. I write a lot, but I have never played much soccer. And Jeremy is going to continue to do what he knows he does well. Unless we can get him to think of reading and writing as what he does well, he’s going to
start giving up. During my teaching career, my approach to children like Jeremy was to try to get some help for them, try to help them myself, and if all else failed, try to get through the day and through the year. Sometimes, I worked a miracle with such a child, but sometimes, like Jeremy, I failed.
I hope Jeremy makes it. I’ll be there for him until he’s a senior in high school, if he stays in Amherst. But I’m worried about him. It’s hard when it looks as if some of the most important things that have to be done are things you don’t do so well.

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