Thursday, May 29, 2008

Loser? I Think Not.

This morning, Troy was snippy and began with his oft-heard lament, "Well everybody hates me anyways."

What are you talking about?

"No one wants to hang out with me at recess or sit with me at lunch or anything. Everybody thinks I'm a loser and hates me."

His peers and I had responses to this, but Troy would hear none of it; he had made up his mind that he is unpopular and unloved. He actually got up, tears rolling down his cheeks, and said, "Well how do you think it feels to not have a friend in school?"

I felt terrible for Troy. He has the lowest self esteem, and even though he is often the bane of my existance, I wish that I could give him the gift of positive self esteem.

I offered some commentary on "black and white thinking." A peer reminded Troy that he had told him "Hi" this morning when he saw him in the hallway (Troy did not remember that.)
I told Troy that even though his friend was upset (sullen, pouting about something silly and refusing to talk to him, he did not "hate" him. Unfortunately, this knowledge did not find an opening in Troy's mind. In his mind, he was a useless friend who could not impact Dakota's mood and was therefore "a jerk." This kind of rigid thinking is so difficult to crack. I keep trying, but my efforts seem so futile with Troy.

Another student, Curt, was listening to our conversation. He interrupted, "You know what, Troy? You are welcome to call me any time. No one from school has ever called me either. I don't have a single friend in this school. I mean it, Troy; you can call me. Maybe we could hang out some time. I'll give you my phone number--here. He painstakenly copied the number (after getting it from me) and handed the slip to a dumbfounded Troy.

We eventually got back to work, but I could see that Troy was still upset, in spite of everyone's efforts to convince him that he is valued. I met with a colleague later and talked about another student but came back to the subject of Troy. I commented that I wish there was something we could do to help him fit in more in school; to feel important or part of something. We didn't come up with anything.

Eighth hour came along, and Troy reported to me for Language Arts class (one-on-one) his time. He was smiling, which was promising, and he asked, "What are we going to do today?"

I didn't know the answer to his question until it came out of my mouth. "Troy, I have an idea. How would you like to make a movie?"

"What do you mean?"

"I think that 5th graders at the gradeschools are probably a little nervous about coming to the middle school next year. I'll bet they have a lot of questions about what middle school is like. What would you think about finding out what their questions are and then getting the answers for the kids and making a movie about what middle school is like?"

"I could do that?!"

"Of course. You could go around with a video camera, getting action shots. And let me warn you, Troy, if you have a camera, kids are going to flock to you to be in your video."

"They are?"


"Could I interview Mrs. Flotsan?"

"Sure, but you'll need to start by developing the questions you plan to answer in your movie. Let's talk about some of the things you think 5th graders wonder about middle school."

"Like, 'Am I going to get my butt kicked?'"

"Yes, like Am I going to get my butt kicked."

We brainstormed some other possible questions. I sugggested we send an email to some gradeschool teachers to see if they might be willing to solicit questions from the 5th graders. Troy lit up; "Could we send one to Mrs. Landers?" (his teacher last year)

"Of course. "

"But not Mrs. Snider; she hates me."

"You know what, Troy, I don't believe that Mrs. Snider hates you, but I think you definitely should send her the email. I think she'd say to herself, "Wow. Troy is making a movie? That's pretty impressive!"

"Okay," he said.

A moment later, as I began typing his ideas for the email, I heard him say to himself, quietly, but with great excitement,


This blew me away; this kid, who just this morning had referred to himself as a loser, called himself AWESOME!

This, Ladies and Gentlemen, these three little words from a boy who generally thinks he is inadequate, flawed, and a "loser," now thinks he is wonderful. This is what keeps me going. This is what makes me hang in there when this same child is being hateful, hostile, and sarcastic. It's these tiny bites of intermittant reinforcement that are what make a difference and what will keep me going (9.5 more days)...

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