491. A Calculated Risk

Ten year old Merlin was having a bad day. There are many things Merlin doesn’t know yet that most other third-graders know. That’s true every day, but usually, Merlin’s teacher, his parents, and many other people in his life work hard to keep him thinking about what he does know, and what he can and will learn. That’s partly because they care about his feelings, and partly because they know people learn better when they feel good about themselves.
Today, it wasn’t working, though. The children were doing a writing sample – something they do occasionally so that the school system can keep track of progress. And though teachers, other adults, and children are usually involved in the writing process in ways that help Merlin and most other children feel good about writing, the sample was supposed to be done without the usual help. Merlin had to face his difficulty head-on. And so he couldn’t focus on his strengths, and he didn’t feel good about himself.
His teacher, Pam Szczesny, and two other adults in the room tried to get him to do his best, but as far as writing, Merlin seemed to be certain that his “best” was to get done before everyone else, and get on to something other than writing. And as adults kept trying to get Merlin to look over what he had written, he got more and more frustrated. By the time everyone was supposed to stop, Merlin was in a bad mood.
Luckily, the next scheduled activity was practice in multiplication tables. That’s something Merlin does well. Not that he completely understands what multiplication is, but it’s possible to memorize the times tables and be able to fire
them back quickly without understanding them. Merlin is really motivated to do what he believes he can do, and he was quite excited about this practice time – a time when he could do something better than most other children.
After the practice session, Merlin left the room to work with a teacher. While he was gone, Pam spoke with the children about him. She told them that he was having a bad day – that he could use their support. It’s risky to talk with a group of children about one child’s problem; they could use the information as ammunition. But Pam knew these children, and trusted them to be supportive. And I think her expression of faith in their ability to be supportive inspired them to live up to her faith. Funny how that works.
So Pam’s decision to speak with the class about Merlin’s problem was a decision to take a calculated risk. I think it was a good move. I don’t think any child is going to use the discussion against Merlin. The combination of Pam’s own concern for Merlin, her respect for all the children, their respect for her, and the good feeling they got from being trusted this way is going to help Merlin and everyone else involved.

Comments are closed.