Friday, July 17, 2009

Checkmate



By Year Two, I'd come up with a discipline/reward system of checks and balances. For hard work and generous behavior a club member could earn a . Three s would result in an invitation to sign The Shakespeare Club's Honor Roll, a dazzling piece of white paper glued to cardboard and displayed on performance day for all to see.

Conversely, behavior unbecoming could garner an x. I have zero tolerance for bullying, for example. Scripts forgotten three weeks in a row could earn an x. Refusal to take direction. Rude, puking noises as a reaction to a snack. Acts of this sort could rack up xs and three of those suckers would result in dismissal from the club.

It has happened, under great duress to me and to the club member, but it has always been the best move. The other members see I'm serious and the fired participant finds a way to help the club and participate from the outside. Lessons are learned.

Stella, a member for three years, would be an example. By the time she hit fifth grade, Stella acted trés cool and above it all. She chatted through warm-ups, she talked while others were on stage, she shrugged and shuffled playing Lady Capulet, and she made me crazy.

"Stella," I started in, sitting across from her on a schoolyard bench, "you have two xs. You're about to get a third and be asked to leave."

Her brow furrowed and her face registered a glimmer of shock, which I liked. I had her attention.

"The thing is, Stella, I just don’t get it. You used to love Shakespeare Club. You really liked acting. You wrote in your journal and now" — dramatic pause — "well, to be honest, Stella, it's like you just don't care."

"I care, Ms. Ryane," Stella piped up half-heartedly.

"Do you, though?" I turned slightly away and watched other kids on the grounds. They kicked balls, played tag and screamed like children do.

"Stella, you don't have to be in The Shakespeare Club. Really, you don’t. And I'm thinking that maybe I should just give you that final x and cut you loose. Maybe two years was enough and there are other things you'd like to do. Don’t worry, my feelings won't be hurt."

Stella's eyes widened. Her mouth opened and closed.

"I'll always be fond of you," I smiled. "But when you talk while others are working and you whine through the yoga...it's like you've just given up. I hoped you'd be a leader to the younger ones but you're not setting a good example. I think you're ready to move on. So, let's do that, okay? I'll find someone to replace you and you can do other stuff for fun."

I placed my hand on her shoulder, gave a little pat, stood up and took a step — the meeting was over and it went so well....

Stella gripped the edge of the bench with both hands as if to hold herself down.

"But, Ms. Ryane, I do care."

"Wow, really? 'Cause I'm not seeing it...but...hmmm...so you're saying you don't want out?"

"No, I don't want out. I wanna stay in Shakespeare Club."

"Interesting. Okay, maybe I'm just missing it. Let's do this: I'll look a little harder and you show me a little bigger and maybe some s will appear. Hey, you could still make Honor Roll. Is that the plan you'd like?"

It was.

From that day forth, Stella gave steady, strong warriors in yoga. Stella stopped chatting and took her vocal warm-ups seriously. As Lady Capulet, Stella became a forceful parent to her daughter, Juliet.

And she made the Honor Roll.

2 comments:

  1. Hooray for Stella! I'm certain you and Shakesperare got through to her. Sounds like something she might be telling HER students somewhere down the road.

    Love Teaching Will ... keep up the good work!!!

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  2. Thanks so much!

    Stella is now in middle school, but drops by occasionally to say 'hi', give me updates and to make sure that I remember her. She has no idea that I will never forget any of them.

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