I am a middle school resource room teacher in a large suburban district. We rotate through 6th, 7th, and 8th grade with our students. I just started 6th grade this year with students who just entered middle school. My caseload is comprised of students who are mainstreamed into all the classes. Most of them have mild learning disabilities and I supervise the assistance and modifications they need in their classes. Sixth grade is an exciting year because I meet new students who are exciting, fun, and amazing. Some are challenges – but that’s what makes my job so interesting.
From day one Naomi was a difficult student. She had pale porcelain skin and thick wiry brown hair. But it was her deep, blue eyes that I first noticed. In the general education classrooms Naomi rarely watches the teacher, but just stares around at other students and their papers. The initial impression of all her teachers was that she had mild cognitive deficits. Her background information was sketchy, and I did not know where her real abilities lay. In the classroom when I would give her direct cues of what to do, or would repeat instructions the teacher had given, Naomi only stared back at me with a blank look.
In the Learning Center, however, Naomi is a completely different person. She constantly interrupts my instruction by loudly announcing, “I have a question.” When I call on her, she waits until all eyes are on her before she asks something that rarely has anything to do with the lesson. After three or four questions, she eventually gets out of her seat, comes up to me and whispers loudly that she needs to use the restroom or go see the nurse. Since this is almost a daily occurrence, I always ask if it is an emergency. Her eyes widen, and she hisses, “I have to see the nurse,” or “I really have to go to the bathroom.” Two weeks into school she has figured out that she can go talk to the counselor, so if the nurse or bathroom doesn’t work, she really has to go talk to the counselor.
Naomi has been obsessed with finding a best friend. One day last week she decided she was going to sit next to Cathy on the second row. Cathy was coming off of a first hour where she had arrived late and had to sit through a scolding by her teacher for not having her homework finished from two days earlier. Naomi put her face up close to Cathy and asked her what house she lived in. Cathy narrowed her eyes, pouted her lips, and scowled back at Naomi. Naomi leaned in closer, apparently thinking Cathy hadn’t heard her (because Naomi herself, rarely heard questions the first time), and said loudly, “Do you live in a house?” Cathy darkened her scowl and slipped into her signature “stare down” look.
Where kids sit in the room is a critical component of classroom management for me, and I had already assigned Naomi a seat on the front row. “Naomi, come sit in your seat up here,” I directed pointing to her seat.
“I’m sitting back here,” Naomi responded.
“No. You need to sit in your assigned seat.”
“This is my seat back here,” Naomi countered.
“Naomi, your seat is up here on the front row next to Ramon. I gave you this seat last week.”
“No. You never gave me a seat,” Naomi insisted.
“Yes I did. Come sit in your seat up here.” I stood next to Naomi’s seat waiting for her. Naomi looked at me, looked at Cathy who was scowling back at her, looked back to me, and decided the old seat might be better. She walked up to her seat, put her binder under the desk, and got out her workbook for the class.
I began my lesson on words that have the short “i” and short “a” sounds. Three minutes into the lesson I glanced at Naomi. She had leaned over towards Ramon. Ramon was watching me, but Naomi’s face was about three inches from him. She had a wide, closed-mouth smile plastered on her face, and I wondered if she was going to lean in and kiss Ramon on his check. About this time Ramon turned his head to see what I was looking at and met Naomi’s face closing in on him. His eyes widened, and he instinctively leaned his body away from Naomi as a strangled moan escaped. Naomi’s eyes sparkled and her grin widened even more as she realized -- she had been noticed!
I’ll tell you more about Naomi later. She is going to be fun!