Symphony 60

Rafael asked, “Mr. McCrae, can mine star Freddie Kruger?”

“Use some imagination. Make up your own Freddie Kruger.”

Sabrina Palmer came up to his desk and whispered, “Can I say this . . .” and started to read her first sentence.

Neil cut her off and whispered, “Save it until you have finished. Then I’ll want to hear it.”

“Do I have to read it out loud?” she whispered. Neil nodded. She said, “But Mr. McCrae, it’s not any good.”

Knowing Sabrina, he was sure that it would not be any good, but he said, “It will be just fine. You go write it and be ready to read it.” She went back to her seat, looking worried.

Neil looked across the classroom to see how his class was getting along. For the first time in a long while, Oscar Teixeira was fascinated with an assignment. His head was down and his pencil was flying. He already had half a page done while the rest of the class was struggling with first sentences.

Tim Galloway raised his hand and said, “Listen to this!”

He started to read and Neil said, “Tim,” then again, a little louder, “Tim! Save it until you have finished.” Tim ground to a halt with a look of comical frustration on his face. Neil motioned to Tim’s desk and silently mouthed the word, “Write.” After Tim had begun to write again, Neil said softly to the class as a whole, “Don’t waste your energy and imagination on reading something that is half done. While you are hot, write! There will always be time to change things and to share after you are done. Don’t waste the creative moment.”

Larry Whitlock said, “Mr. McCrae can I say . . .”  eil just stared him down, looking patient and perplexed. Larry gave a sheepish grin and said, “I know. Write it, don’t talk it.”

Write it, don’t talk it was a phrase Neil had been drumming into their heads for two months. They all knew it perfectly well, but practicing it was foreign to their volatile natures. Like Larry, each one of them would have liked to shout out the equivalent of, “Tell me. Talk to me personally, and make me the center of your attention.” If they had been first graders, each one of them would have done exactly that.

School is about reading, writing, and math; but even more, school is about learning that you aren’t the center of the universe.

By now, they were all underway; even those who had absolutely nothing to say had their heads down faking it. Neil had at least three minutes of peace before the first student would announce, loudly, that he or she was done. He used the time to study them. It had taken him a couple of weeks to fit names with faces; now he was able to fit personalities to faces for many of them.

Some of them were still mysteries to him. Martin Christoffersen was a puzzle. Big for a sixth grader, tall, athletic, quick with his hands, friendly, at ease with the other students. At back to school night, his parents had seemed bright enough, and their language had been perfectly normal. Probably his family had been in the United States for generations. Neil could find no reason why the boy couldn’t read, except that he was as dense as granite,.

Pedro Velasquez, on the other hand, spoke only the most broken English and his parents spoke none. It was tempting to presume that that was his only problem, but after a couple of months of observation, Neil was not sure. He had just about concluded that Pedro’s inabilities would have been just as great if he had been named Johnny Smith, with ancestors who came over on the Mayflower. It was really unfortunate that he was at a small district like Kiernan; like Brandy Runyon, he needed the kind of special setting only a larger district could provide. All Neil could do was to treat Pedro humanely so that he would continue to consider himself a valuable human being; he could teach the boy nothing. more tomorrow


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