Growing Brains

We started out as a class of four. The two weak ones, dare I say seemingly unproficient ones, took the two back corners. Mr. Tough Guy sat between them and sized me up for two days. A gangling white boy obsessed with President Obama sat in the middle row off to the left. He seemed like the type who would ask me personal questions later on. They were a strange mix, but by the third day I enjoyed their chemistry. On the fourth day I learned two of them had taken and passed the GED.

I was left with the two sitting in the corners. A week later my class downsized again after one helped jump another cuffed offender. He’ll be gone for awhile.

My one student and I just looked at each other the first few seconds as he wandered around the desks wondering where to sit. He sat in the middle of my nine desks, and I decided to make him my guinea pig, poor guy.

At the conference a couple weeks before I learned that juggling for two minutes physically grows the brain. I saw the pictures, it appears to be true. That’s just cool. I’m working with youth who have destroyed, stunted, and damaged their brain in dozens of ways. Shouldn’t we use this information? I bought a couple of koosh balls just in case I found the right offender or the right class to introduce juggling, and on Monday he showed up.

Chemistry teachers and English teachers are allowed to be a little crazy, right? So I tossed him the two plastic fringy balls and taught him the basics of juggling. Toss. Toss. Catch. Catch. Now that I’m over 30, so the brain experts say, it could take me awhile to get this myself, so it was OK that he never mastered the skill. Meanwhile, his brain grew, and I told him so. He didn’t know what to think, glancing every now and then at my TA for encouragement. Is she always this nuts, he seemed to ask.

It’s English class, so I made him write about the experience. Again, I’m just trying what the experts say works with boys. Let them write about real life experiences. He said he writes Mom, so I told him to write a letter to her about what just happened (not edited).

Dear Mom,

Today, Tuesday the 4th of 2013 around 10:30 AM my teacher Mrs. C. made me do the weirdest assignment I’ve done in about five years. She gave me two little porcupine looking balls that were made out of rubber and made me juggle. Their was no way I would’ve done it sitting down so she told me to stand up and try it. I stood up and started to throw one ball at a time and catching them one at a time also to get the hang of it. Once I kinda got used to it I started to throw both of them trying to catch them but I would fail. Its actually harder than you think. I kept trying for about three minutes until I finally gave up because I was getting frustrated and annoyed that I couldn’t catch them. Mrs. C. was telling me that once I would get it down then that means my brain has grown. Being the only student in the class feels kind of boring and weird but then again this way I can learn better. Let’s see how this week goes.

“Porcupine looking balls”? I misjudged him. He told me that he messed up his Freshman year, but did well in English the next three years of high school. Now he’s with me for English 9.

Then I really confused him by teaching him Rummy. Why? Some schools find success using video games to inspire critical writing. I was going to try using a card game in the same way. Before I continue, I have to confess I am classically educated and I believe in the beauty of a classical education, but I found that you can’t replicate that kind of education on your own. It takes a school, the whole school, to accomplish that task, so I’ve had to dabble with the progressive ideas, i.e. video games, with my limited resources, i.e. a pack of cards. Prisons always have cards.

“Get ready,” I told him toward the end of the first game, “because you have to explain your most difficult decision in writing the next game.” His head must have hurt by that time, though, and he squinted at me. He wrote me two sentences out of which we discussed pronouns, missing words, and wordiness. He looked almost dizzy. This was English class? Hey, we grew our brains for three minutes, wrote a letter, learned a new game, analyzed strategies, and talked about grammar. Sounds like a good use of 65 minutes to me.


About hey miss

A teacher. A prison guard. I used to think that was like oil and water. Like lightening and metal. Some days it is. Some days it's magic.
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