This I believe; I believe in Cole.
Cole was 13 in the summer before my senior year of college, and failing the seventh grade. His parents needed someone to keep him on track during the tail end of the school year and drive him to hockey practice during the summer. I volunteered for the job because the money was great for what seemed like a minimal amount of effort. But I soon learned that Cole needed a whole lot more than a watchful eye. He was a chubby kid who, with his hat on backwards, looked like much more of a threat than he really was. When Cole got off the bus my first day on the job, I asked him if he had any homework. “Any what?” he asked. “I don’t do homework, Emily. What did you make for a snack?” I knew then that this would be more than I had bargained for.
But there I was, someone studying to be a teacher, and I knew that I would have students that would test me as Cole did. So I pushed. I pulled out books, I forced him to the library, I wrote and sang songs to help him memorize math facts and science information. I searched the internet for resources to help me improve his reading and writing skills, and I even convinced him to freewrite for five minutes a day. This wasn’t easy; Cole literally kicked and screamed about how unfair I was. He even demanded his old nanny back, who couldn’t drive or speak English. But for some unknown reason, I didn’t take it personally and I didn’t stop. Maybe it was because I saw the way he was changing, slowly, almost beyond perception for someone that saw him every day. Once school got out, I would get to his house around 10 in the morning and leave around 10 at night, spending most of my days asking Cole to stop chasing the neighbor’s cat with his BB gun. I guess I was dedicated, or crazy.
Cole is a special kid, but it was the few months I spent in his life that made me realize how important the middle school years are. I was planning on teaching high school, seeing as it was those years I most enjoyed and felt that I could better relate to those students. But as the weeks ticked by, Cole was showing me more and more each day that middle school students are in a delicate space between childhood and adulthood, and needed guidance more than most adults suspected.
What I valued most about Cole was his ability to drive me absolutley crazy and then remind me that he really did appreciate me. This child would invite seven friends over to light cans of bug spray on fire at noon, and then ask me to read Harry Potter aloud to him at four o’clock. I found out, mainly by accident, that Cole loved being read to; he could get absorbed in the story without getting caught up in the reading, which for him was painful. These reading-out-loud sessions started with just us, and by the end of the summer all seven of his closest, most unsupervised friends were sitting around in his living room, listening to me read and getting lost in the magic of Hogwarts. It was weird and wonderful, and I enjoyed it more than any other summer job.
It was there and then that I felt my true calling, and it was to the strange and awkward years of middle school. As much as I disliked my own pre-teen years, I feel that believing in middle school students will ease the transition for them. This is an age where students are trying to be children and adults at the same time, and they need the kind of support that both those groups crave. But there are also going to be students who test me, who need boundaries and order, who need to be held responsible for their actions as much as adults are. It won’t always be easy, but my father used to tell me that the easiest way to decide on a career is decide on what you would do every day for free, and then find a way to make money at it. Teaching, for me, is that best of both worlds situation where I can do what I enjoy and make a living doing it.
Today, Cole is a straight B student, looking forward to going to college and studying to be a teacher himself. Honestly, I think that Cole taught me more than I taught him. He helped me relax and learn to be more silly; for example, I found that sometimes seeing how many brownies I can fit in my mouth (8) is just as important as schoolwork. Just as I helped Cole pass the seventh grade, he helped me decide what my life’s work would be. And for that, I am truly thankful. Despite his ridiculous antics, I believe in Cole and all the students that will come after him.
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