I’m so grateful that on my journey as a teacher my path connected with Maurice! Maurice was my assistant principal not too long ago and I grew so much through his leadership. I will be forever grateful. When he shared this reflection with me, I told him how honored I would be to share it here with all of you. Thank you, Maurice for your mentorship and your advocacy! Thank you for entrusting this story to me to share here. So with out any further ado…my friend and mentor…Maurice Simmons!
This afternoon, a 6th grade student whom I will not name, found his way to the front office due to some behavioral challenges. This particular student has a steep history of incorrigible behavior at a neighboring elementary school and in short order, he has quickly established himself at our middle school, as a student that will require some intense academic and behavioral interventions.
So, my principal instructs this lad to remain in the front office for the rest of the day since it was 2:40pm at the time. He subsequently responds with a disingenuous remark about how he “needs to go back to class so that he can learn and we’re keeping him from learning.” Overhearing this, I ran out of my office facetiously saying…“God forbid… we deprive a child of learning. “I have a book you can read. Now you can learn something up here.” I placed the book in his hand and his body language suggested that he wasn’t really interested, but he had no choice. He stumbled over the book for a few moments before I put him out of his misery and brought him into my office behind closed doors.
So I told this student, “Go ahead and read to me.” He replied. “Mr. Simmons, these words are too hard. I ain’t gon lie Mr. Simmons, I can’t read.” *Note: Ghost Boys is the name of the book and the main character is a black boy who lives in an inner city Chicago neighborhood.
I replied, “I’ll tell you what… we can both read! I will read the first page and you read the second and we’ll keep alternating.” So I read the first page to him and within minutes he was totally captivated. I have never seen this kid so interested in anything school-related. He said to me, “Mr. Simmons, this boy sounds like me.” I replied, “Yep. Let’s keep reading.” So I continued reading and slipped into “teacher mode.” I read and stopped strategically at certain points to confer with the student. I asked him to make predictions. In fact, I must hit several ELA standards during this interaction with him. “Oh My God Mr. Simmons! This book is about me! I feel like this story is MY story.” “That’s right.” I explained. “This book is about you. You can see yourself in this book huh?” “uh Huh,” he answered. “Mr. Simmons, I LOVE this book! Keep reading it.” I kept reading. I abandoned the original plan to have him read, because in this moment, I had one of the most profound moments I have EVER had with a student in my office. The more I read, the more he relished it! If only you could have seen his face! His eyes sparkled with both eagerness and inquisitiveness. This young man’s body language and demeanor suggested that he really did enjoy this. It really defied all of the preconceived notions one might have about an impoverished black male who is well below grade level in reading; from a poor broken home, and also happens to have a behavioral disability as well. I felt like at this moment, we reached a state of “literary nirvana” in my office. I bonded with this boy…not over rap music , football, basketball, or video games. I bonded with him over……READING A BOOK!!!
This child who perennially scores in the lowest quartile on our reading county and state assessments is telling me that HE LOVES THIS BOOK!!! I stopped reading because we were a couple of minutes away from dismissal, but I made him a promise. “You and I will finish this book together. I will read to you every day but you HAVE to be on-point in your classroom. I’m counting on you. Don’t let me down. ” He smiled at me and contritely said, “Yes sir.”
Now, there is A LOT to unpack in this narrative and I won’t even begin to peel back all of the layers and significance of this incident. You all can think about this and analyze it for yourselves. I could facilitate a series of PD on the implications of this event and how it could and should translate into your classrooms. But I will not be doing that.
However, I will leave you with this: Windows and Mirrors. I have “preached” this for several years now. Our classrooms should provide windows AND mirrors to our students. Our educational system does a pretty good job of providing windows to our students. This is when we show them things outside of their own paradigm and open up a whole new world to them through the standards and content that we deliver to them.
That’s great. But what about the mirrors component? I will continue to contend that students need to SEE THEMSELVES in what they’re learning also. This boy “saw himself” in the story. I presented a mirror to him as I read, and he was literally hooked after the first page. That’s not hyperbole. He really was captivated after hearing me read ONE PAGE of this book. I am sharing this as an encouragement to you all about how much you can make a difference in a child’s life. The toughest child. The student that no one else wants to deal with. Even those kids can be reached. Don’t underestimate your capacity to affect change in your students. You all can do this!!!!
As I alluded to earlier, there is much to glean from this incident if you really analyze it. What are your take-aways? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Maurice Simmons, M.Ed Educational Leadership
Maurice Simmons is a social activist and middle school administrator who resides and works in Central Florida. He has served as an assistant principal at high needs Title One schools for the past 8 years and is regarded as a strong and highly effective instructional leader. He is passionate about incorporating equitable and culturally responsive practices in diverse classrooms. Maurice believes this is integral to closing achievement gaps in our education system.