This morning I was in a second grade classroom, where I’m helping the teacher get small group instruction going during her writing workshop. Since today was my first day in the classroom, I spent the first part of independent writing reading over the students’ shoulders, getting to know what they are writing about and where they are in the writing process. One student’s introduction especially caught my eye. It was full of vivid description and tension and definitely stood out in comparison to your average second grade story.
“Wow, J,” I whispered, kneeling down next to his desk. “Your introduction really got me interested in your story. I can’t wait to read the rest!”
At the end of independent writing, I stopped back by J’s desk to see what he had added to his story, but discovered he hadn’t written a single word more. “J!” I declared in surprise. “You mean you didn’t write anything today?”
“I didn’t know what to write,” he replied.
“Well, what happens next, after they enter the house?” I asked. He paused a moment, then launched into the rest of his story.
“So you do know what to write. You write down everything you just told me. I want to see you write it down tomorrow,” I told him when he finished.
J nodded and joined the rest of the class in cleaning up, stashing his story in his writing folder and storing his pencil in the table caddy. I was jotting some notes down in my notebook when I noticed J was standing in front of me. I looked up from my notebook and smiled at him.
“It’s just that I’m worried about my dad,” he started, wanting to explain to me why he hadn’t written anything. “He’s sick.”
“Oh no,” I whispered, kneeling down in front of J. “Is he at home?”
“No, he’s at work.”
“Where does he work?” I asked.
“He has to find work. Outside. Gardening.” J looked down at the ground and I looked out the window at the steady rain that has been coming down every day for the past week.
“How long has he been sick?”
J held up two fingers. “This is the second day.” He wasn’t crying, but his eyes reflected all of the sadness and worry he was holding in.
I put my arm around him and gave him a warm hug. His little seven-year-old body leaned into me and I could tell he needed some assurance that everything would be okay. “I’m so sorry, J. I hope that your dad feels better really soon. I know it’s hard to focus and work when you’re worried about someone.” I gave him a squeeze that he returned before joining the rest of his classmates lining up to go to music.
J has been on my mind the rest of today. So has his father. I hope that by sharing his worries with me, J felt a little bit better. I hope that his father is feeling better soon so that he can work without worry. And I hope that I will remember that when my students aren’t doing their best, there is always a reason.