A Light That Never Goes Out

Cross-posted from http://justtryingtobebetter.net/

This may or may not have happened.

He handed me his first piece of writing homework and, of course, it was illegible. ‘I’m not good at writing’, he’d told me. We’d been working on lists: Things I lost by the time I was ten or Things I’d been given by the time I was ten. He wanted to tell me about his hamster. He’d stayed behind to tell me all about it: how he lost it in his garden and feels sad about it; how he’d look after it more if he still had it. I told him to write it all down at home.

Being ‘not good at writing’ wasn’t a surprise. The notes I’d been passed from the ASN team told me that. He would feel better if he was given a laptop to write his work, something his previous teacher echoed. He had great ideas but there’s no point in him writing it in his class book as you won’t be able to read it. Better to type it up. He’ll feel better about it and you won’t need to struggle to decipher his handwriting. And I thought to myself, ‘No. It’s time to stop this nonsense.’

He’s twelve and the most important thing he has learned so far in seven years of school is, ‘I’m not good at writing.’ And that’s not good enough, is it? We might dress that fact up by giving him a nice laptop to do his work. We might constantly remind him that his ideas are great and he can express himself very well at times. Perhaps that’s fine when you are twelve. His work nicely typed up, perhaps pinned on the class notice board. His teacher might tell the other pupils to read his work because it was one of the best in the class.

But what happens when he gets to fifteen, sixteen, twenty, twenty five? Who is there to tell him that his ideas are great; when he realises that his inability to write legibly will exclude him from any number of things that others can do? So when we condemn some children to a life of illiteracy because it is difficult – not for him, although it is, but for a system which can’t find the time to help him with his problems- we cannot absolve ourselves of responsibility when he enters society after he leaves us. ‘I’m not good at writing’ does not sound quite so cute from an adult who has been through twelve or thirteen of formal schooling, does it?

I spent perhaps five times as long deciphering his handwriting that night as anyone else’s in the class. I returned class books and explained the feedback process and that everyone had their own improvements to make. Then I sat down next to the boy who told me ‘I’m not good at writing’. I asked him why that was. He said it was something he’d never been able to do. I sat with him and looked him in the eye and told him that I would do everything I could for him to get better at writing. He wrote out one sentence in large rounded letters. He looked at me and smiled.

Remember, this may or may not have happened.

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