Andre is named after his dad. His dad’s name is also Andre, and he sounds gruff on the phone. That’s what Nancy says anyway. I haven’t called home on Andre because I don’t have him in class. Andre has trouble with reading, so he’s in a special reading class downstairs. Right now, though, you wouldn’t know he has trouble with reading. He’s sitting up in front of the room, on a fictitious Lorax panel, offering to read Fatima’s story for her.
“No,” says Nancy. “She can read it herself.” Nancy is forty-one years old, with fifteen years under her belt, and she has the ability to push kids further than me. The kids love her, and so do I, but I get easily embarrassed around her with kids, because she knows so much more than me. I get competitive when I should be completely open to learning. She sits on a table with a clipboard in one hand, her eyes firm.
“Please?” asks Fatima. She is from Afganistan, just last year, and she’s not in my class either. She’s still receiving extra English instruction. She has written a story, but she’s too embarrassed to read it. She knows that there are words she wrote that she may not know when she returns to them. In Andre’s hands, her story is separate from her. Fatima has been concerned about how she appeared to teachers all year, but her interest in the students (particularly male), is fresh. She has been wearing her waist-length hair down more often, and brushing it in the hallways between classes. It is black and shiny and beautiful, and during Ramadan she was embarrassed to wear her head scarf. Now she sits and waits for Nancy to let her off the hook, thinking that she’ll cave if she looks at us pathetically for long enough.
“No. I’ll tell you what. You and Andre can both hold the paper, and take turns reading each word—he reads one, you read one. How about that?” Nancy continues to watch them. I try to catch her eye, but she is too busy observing them. The rest of the room waits.
Today is the culmination of a three-day unit between language arts and science involving The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. Students have read the story, watched the movie, and selected a project to present—being part of a panel to speak on the environment, rewriting the story so that the environment thrives, or sharing a poem to give advice on current environmental practices. Both Nancy’s class and mine are crowded into her room. Students are perched on tables, which makes them feel cool because they’re sort of breaking the rules. They’ve been doing a pretty good job of listening to presentations, but this is the class we were most worried about. It is the end of the day. Both of our sixth block classes are chatty. They are also high-achieving, kind students, but they talk too much. So with fifty of them in the same room, we were a little worried. Nancy and I have taken turns reminding them to be quiet, and they have respectfully responded, but they still need reminders. It is not the easiest environment in which to present a story.
Andre and Fatima look at each other. “Okay,” says Andre. He watches Fatima’s eyes, as I watch his. He has deep brown eyes, like dark-roasted coffee beans, with long camel-like eyelashes around them. He is child-like in so many ways—his voice and his stature, his optimism in his approaches to other students. Everyone loves Andre, truthfully. He can bring the angriest, most volatile child in seventh grade to a grin with his repeated, pestering jokes. He walks up to random people in the hallway (including teachers) and tries to dance with them, arms flailing wildly but controlled. Andre can’t sit still in class, so sometimes he gets in trouble, but he apologizes and moves on. He wishes he could sit still too. When I see him in the office with a referral for disrespecting a teacher, I wonder what that teacher said to him, because I have never seen it. If you can set Andre up for failure, you shouldn’t be teaching.