Slice of Life #22: “Do I really need to know…?”

Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Before the morning bell, Erin enters my room while I’m mid-conversation with a fellow teacher. Erin, like most 6th graders, is socially awkward, so she doesn’t think squeezing into the doorframe past a teacher is weird.

“Good morning,” my co-worker and I both greet her. She answers us, then takes a seat.

“Anyway… I’ll keep reinforcing it, and we’ll see how it goes,” my co-worker finishes up our discussion on plot diagramming as we both eye Erin. Since we’d also been discussing how chaotic our larger-than-usual classes are, she lets that conversation go. I breathe a sigh of relief.

“Sounds like a plan,” I confirm. “And TGIF!” I finish writing our agenda and learning targets on the board, then turn to Erin.

“So, how’s it going?” I ask. Erin’s been going through a lot lately: Not only a mental health crisis, but also a brief stint in the hospital for a physical ailment. She’s been pretty down on herself this year, so I like to take TA time to check in. She’s usually one of the first ones in my room in the morning, which gives us time to chat.

“I’m okay,” she says. “My bangs were super weird when I got up this morning!” She pats her newly-cut bangs. As a bangs-wearer myself, we’ve been commiserating over the unpredictability of the hairstyle since she showed up with the cut on Monday.

Then she changes the subject: “Uh-oh, Ms. Vogel, I heard the word ‘reinforce’ when you were talking to Ms. Figgis. Should I be worried?”

“Nah,” I assure her. “We were just talking plot diagram. And how you guys can already identify all the parts!” I do a little fist pump to show my excitement.

“Uh – except I can’t!”

“Well, even if you don’t know what the exact sections are called, knowing how stories usually go is the important part,” I assure her. Erin’s not the best at memorizing things, since her mind is usually racing with worry, clouding her memory.

“I don’t even know why we have to learn some of this stuff,” she complains. “Like, when is someone going to come up to me and ask me about a plot diagram?”

“It really depends what you go into later in life,” I philosophize (I probably philosophize with my students about education’s purpose way too much, sending them mixed messages about the institution. Alas.). “Like, if you’re an author, you’re going to need to know it.”

“Or a teacher!” Erin adds.

“Right! To me, school is just a broad sampling of lots of different disciplines. It lets you find what you’re good at so you can study it more deeply in high school or college. But you’re right, that need-to-know-long-term stuff? It depends what path you choose. Do you have any idea what you’re interested in doing yet?”

Erin starts talking about forensic science, and as other kids trickle into the room, someone overhears us and asks, “What’s that?” Erin explains, and it’s clear that she knows her stuff. Too much NCIS, she says.

“So for forensic science, you’ll use a lot of different skills,” I continue my philosophizing. “Analyzing clues, writing reports, and the science aspects you were talking about. And probably some math in there, too. So school sets you up for all of that. Just… in a more chunked-up way.”

I can see panic in her eyes as she realizes science isn’t the only thing she’ll need in her future.

Then, something clicks and she grins. “But… I won’t need to memorize the plot diagram for that.”

“Well… you never know!”

6 thoughts on “Slice of Life #22: “Do I really need to know…?”

  1. I’m glad you take the time to engage kids like Erin – they need all the philosophizing you can give them – because at some point, she’ll start doing it for herself!

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  2. You gave generously of your time, IRL with Erin, and you also took the time to reflect and write on it with us here. I think the combination is powerful. In your exchange with your troubled, challenged student you find the line between high expectations and not scaring or discouraging her. It seems she ended this small moment invigorated 🙂

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