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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Concentration (07/24/08)

TITLE: Going through the Motions
By Carol Sprock


With the late dawn of a November morning painting the frosted stubs of hibernating grass with pastel mauves and bruised purples, Ms. Wright dragged her canvas bag overflowing with student work into her classroom and perched behind the battered institution-assigned desk. Ahead of her, under the stark fluorescent lights, thirty chairs with attached tabletop lined up in cramped yet tidy rows, soldiers at attention, facing the blank green chalkboard just the way the principal liked them to be. Apparently, he thought that setting encouraged students to adopt the same pose of intense focus and obedience. Her flesh-and-blood eighth graders, however, completely ignored this default position and claimed the desks as mobile appendages, though the sardine can of her classroom limited their range of motion.

Propping her chin on her hand, Ms. Wright finished inputting grades into her record book and reviewed her scratched notations of disciplinary problems, the most frequent miscreant being Todd in Period 4. Here was one student completely unaffected by the classroom lay-out, merely flopping down and skewing his desk sideways, gangly legs stretching across the few inches that marked the aisle. His ability to orchestrate a melee was phenomenal. Previous middle-school teachers assured her Todd had no learning problems but was merely willful. Perhaps, they implied, she needed to exert more authority. But six weeks of detentions certainly had not rehabilitated his self-control in class. Oh Lord, she murmured in exasperated prayer, what am I going to do with him?


Fourth period with Todd’s class arrived. Like alley cats, the eighteen girls and eleven boys restlessly circled the room before slowly contorting into their assigned seats. With hardly a word from Ms. Wright, they quieted when the bell rang, each beginning his/her ritual for creating an imaginary envelope of private space where none was to be had, settling to their writing task.

Ms. Wright leaned against a window. Her eyes grid-walked the aisles and found Todd gripping his stubby pencil so hard that his knuckles were white within circles of red, forehead scrunched into his nose. His head cocked as if listening for the muse to speak; his lips moving in sync with his left hand. Still writing after five minutes, Todd unconsciously shifted his body, causing his desk to screech, the sound popping the other students’ concentration bubbles. With a start, Todd shook himself, realized everyone was looking, and quickly pulled up his desktop as if riding a bucking bronco, his clownish act receiving the requisite laughter.

Musing on Todd’s behavior, Ms Wright decided to deviate from her lesson plan and insert a quiet reading time. She sent the girls to sit wherever they wanted in the room, most settling on the carpet piece at the front, with the boys remaining at their seats, each shifting to take advantage of whatever minimal free space the girls’ absence provided, their desks following in accord. Back at her desk, she focused on Todd.

Within three minutes Todd’s feet began to tap dance silently, nimbly under his desk. Stifling the automatic urge to rebuke him, Ms. Wright watched as his mouth seemed to pluck and taste each word from the page, following his finger in smooth, regular rhythm across the page, his head hovering just above his book. Faint, indecipherable syllables leaked through Todd’s lips, startling Larson sitting kitty-corner. Todd remained focused on his book, grimacing and jerking slightly in reaction to whatever he read. Hearing more sibilant undertones, Larson teased, “Ya reading about fliezzzz, Todd?”

With only a millisecond pause to orient himself, Todd immediately retorted, “Yeah, readin’ about Raid, gettin’ rid of pests like you, Lar. Watch, cuz I’m gonna crunch ya under my boot.” The fragile dam of silence holding the class in suspended animation spouted several fissures of half-swallowed chortles and hurrahs. Aware of the audience, Todd’s body transformed instantly into its slack, devil-may-care form as he scouted the situation and prepared another witty onslaught.

Sternly ordering everyone to resume reading, Ms. Wright realized that Todd’s learning style combined kinesthetic with auditory. He needed to move and hear (or speak) to engage with and understand something, a style by no means conducive to the “Be quiet and still” school environment. Rather than being attention-deficit or hyperactive, Todd had cultivated monumental powers of concentration and control, his misbehavior an adaptation, one much practiced based on Todd’s instantaneous switch from absorbed reader to lackadaisical cut-up. Deliberating on her discovery, Ms. Wright chewed thoughtfully, obliviously on her pen, her shoes bouncing a tiny tango beat.

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This article has been read 558 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Holly Westefeld08/01/08
It is teachers like this one, who take the time and effort to discern the hearts of their students, that truly make a lifelong difference in their lives. You have captured such a teacher's heart perfectly, and I love the touch of irony that the teacher shares Todd's learning styles.
Joy Faire Stewart08/03/08
Superb details drawing the reader into the 8th grade classroom and what a teacher!
Verna Cole Mitchell 08/05/08
Having taught eighth grade English for more years than I admit to, I was right there beside you, observing what a wonderful teacher you are. You're also a wonderful writer. Kudos.