Small Victories

Demetrius was definitely not getting it.

We’d read the piece about sea turtles aloud over in our corner of the classroom, the seven kids who were my responsibility, and now I was helping them with the follow up questions.

I knew he was going to struggle with it.  Of the kids who were in my group, all with me because they needed extra time and help with the material, Demetrius had the lowest level of ability.  He struggled when I asked him to read aloud, so I purposely only asked him to read the shortest paragraphs.  I knew he would retain nothing that he read aloud because he struggled so much thinking about which words were which that none of them were resonating inside his head after the fact.

I could see him now, doodling little drawings in the margins of the reading workbook we were using.  He was off in another world, somewhere very far away from the coast and sea turtles.

“Demetrius,” I asked.  “Have you ever been to Florida?”

Everyone looked at me, wondering why I’d interrupted the quiet I had worked so hard to achieve.

“No.”

Why on earth was I teaching about sea turtles in Florida to kids in Michigan who had never even seen the ocean?  “I never had been either, until last year.”  They looked at me like I was a space alien.  Why would they care that I’d been somewhere they hadn’t been?

“Has anyone here been to Lake Huron?”

Laleisha put her hand up.  “I went last summer.  Someone my mom knows goes up there every summer and we went up once.”  I heard a buzzing of low laughter and guffaws.  “It was nice,” she pushed back.

“Has anyone been to Metro Beach?”  Most of the hands in my group of seven went up now, including Laleisha’s.  “OK, what’s the difference between Metro Beach and Lake Huron beaches?”

Laleisha pondered this.  “The water is colder in Lake Huron, and the sand is whiter and softer.”

We started a discussion about why that would be; eventually it was Demetrius who came up with the fact that Lake Huron was much larger than Lake St. Clair and therefore took longer to heat up.  But since it was larger, there were waves and that could make the sand smoother.

“What do you think that means for the things that live in each place?” I challenged.  I could see Mrs. Simmons now out of the corner of my eye, watching me.  She knew the content of the lesson and she knew the kids would be tested on it.  I couldn’t waste classroom time having a discussion on something completely unrelated.

I had to get this back to sea turtles, and fast.  How?  How?  My mind was racing as the kids started moving in the right direction, talking about how the fish and frogs had to be able to tolerate colder temperatures to live in Lake Huron.   Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the sentence:  “Sea turtles inhabit all of the world’s oceans except the Arctic.”

“Let’s get back to the sea turtles.  This article talks about sea turtles nesting in Florida, Texas, Costa Rica.  But somewhere in paragraph two is the reason why we won’t find them at Metro Beach.  Ten points to anyone who can answer that when we’re done reading it aloud.  Who wants to read?”

No hands went up, of course.  But when I looked down the row, I saw Demetrius actually making eye contact with me, his mouth turned up slightly.  He was engaged.  He wasn’t checked out.  He was actually with me.  Maybe he was just trying to figure out how I would pull this all together too, but he was with me.

“Let’s figure this out together,” I offered, and we turned back to the words on the page.   It was a small victory, but it felt huge.

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