I attempted to chat with her about it, and she avoided and deflected. "I don't know what's going on either," one of her friends told me. I sent an email out to the rest of her teaching team. Everyone saw it, nobody could get her to open up. We know her older siblings are, generally speaking, a mess. We'd hoped this one would be the one who made it.
Then one of her teachers remembered she loves to draw, and started chatting with her about the after school art club. "We have one?!?" she asked. "Is it too late to join?!?" She was assured that no, she was welcome to start attending. The next time I saw her, she told me about it, and the energy and happiness in her voice matched the girl I remember from last year.
I told her about a project I'm mulling over for my classroom. I showed her images from the Ideal Bookshelf site and from Read, Write, Reflect, and Share's classroom mural project. If I had hundreds of dollars to spend on art, I think I'd commission an Ideal Bookshelf of books by Oregon authors, or something like this--
My student responded enthusiastically. She started looking around the room for areas that would be well suited to such a project--above the windows, she decided, and maybe over the cupboards along one wall. Another student asked about the paper we'd use, and she corrected her immediately--"No, she means actually PAINTING ON THE WALL!" Jaws dropped, other kids started asking if they could help.
Will it pull her back into reading? Will it inspire her to start working in her classes again? I have no idea. But I'm pretty sure it will bring back some joy. It will empower her. It will let her experience the healing balm of working for others, for her community. Right now it's just an idea, but if I was interested in the thought of book murals in my classroom before, I am doubly determined now that I've seen it as a bridge to this student, and others as well. I'm still hoping that working on this with her will give her a chance to open up about what's troubling her, if there's anything specific.
Reading is my passion and my joy. Coming into this work after four years of floundering in Language Arts (after 15 years of happily teaching ESL) was a lifeline back to being engaged and motivated and glad to be doing what I do. I want so badly to pass that joy on to my students. What I've been reminded of is that it's the JOY that I need to pass on, not necessarily the reading. We all need a purpose.
I'll let you know how the project goes.