Monday, March 28, 2016

Puzzle Pieces

I have a young man in my class this year who might just be the hardest-working man in the 7th grade. He is, for lack of better words, just an incredible kid. He pays attention in class, behaves at all times, and respects his classmates. He is generous to a fault, helpful, and kind. He is not especially popular amongst other kids, but rarely do I see any of them turn him away. He knows and addresses each teacher -- whether you have him or not -- by name. He is the purest of spirits and the biggest of hearts.

And I'm worried.

See, this kid struggles academically. He works hard to focus in class, and he constantly worries about his grades. When he gets a poor grade, he immediately comes to tutoring to fix it. He will sit and work for hours at a time. He reviews his notes. He studies my anchor charts. He can spit out words like "appositive phrase" and "subordinating conjunction" and "dependent clause" with the best of them. He can define them. Mostly, he can recognize them. And he can sometimes create with them, but only in isolation.

See, this kid's brain doesn't work like others. It's like a jigsaw puzzle. He has the pieces. He knows what to do with them. He's constantly checking the picture on the box. But as he works, it's like someone dumped all the pieces from the other puzzles on the shelf into his box. And his brain isn't built to sort all of those pieces. It just isn't. So instead, he picks up a piece, he looks at it, and he knows two things:

A) It's a puzzle piece.


2) It's in the same box as the others.

Therefore, it must fit. So he looks at all of the holes in the puzzle, and he attempts to place it in there. Then, realizing that this piece fits none of the spaces, he finds another piece. Maybe a bright orange piece, but the puzzle is clearly an evening sky. And he picks them up, piece after piece, trying them even when it is not logical.

But it is logical to him because they're in the same box. And if they're in the same box, they must go together.

Tomorrow, he has to solve a hell of a puzzle. He's tried 3 times before, but it's as if each time he attempts a solution, it gets worse. Every morning, he greets me. Then he begins the worrying, the fixating, the doubting. See, the worst part is that he knows he can't solve it. And he knows what it means to fail in the attempt. His fear of failure is paralyzing and frantic all at once. He knows that before he even takes the lid off the box, he'll find pieces that don't make sense. Except that they're all in the same box, and if they're in the same box, they SHOULD fit.

For the last two weeks, I have sat with him in tutorials as he prepares for tomorrow. He reads and then looks at the answer choices. We talk through possibilities, but we keep finding odd pieces that have no home. He struggles for the pieces, nervous and searching my face for clues that he might be right. I struggle to hold back my tears, heartbroken and searching for the way to make things alright.

To make the impossible feel possible.

To find the boiling sun in a midnight sky.

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