Wednesday, May 28, 2014


Erin Explains It All to You. 

You know us pretty well at this point, dear reader.  And one of the first things you probably came to realize about the CRL was either:

1 - we love a good show
2 - we'll do just about anything to get a child to read

Bearing that in mind, Mary and I thought you'd enjoy these two little stories about our recent experiences with the word "can't."

The Good Stuff
Last week, I had the privilege of meeting the new recruits.  Our two feeder elementary schools came to HMMS for the afternoon with the purpose of uniting the present 5th graders as an incoming class, and talking a little bit about what happens in middle school.

Days earlier, the CRL had talked about how best to introduce the new cherubs to the All In! experience.  Certainly, there would be teasing involved.  It's all about The Tease.  Gotta start early to get 'em good and hungry. We weren't sure what our schtick should be this time around.  Last year, I whipped out a sealed envelope during my presentation and told the kids that it held the title of the next book.

The kids LOVED it; the Principal - caught off guard and thinking we had decided on a book without telling him  - was none too pleased.  (He got over it.)

We went back and forth a bit, trying to figure out what to do with an audience full of incoming 6th graders.  We went our separate ways with an agreement to ponder.  Whilst I pondered, a student inquired, "Are the 5th graders coming on Friday?"

"Yes they are!"

"Wait, do you know the title of the book?"

I swear I uttered nothing, but apparently my eyes gave something away, because he stopped in his tracks and said,

"Oh my gosh you know don't you!  The envelope!  Oh you're gonna show them the envelope! That drove me nuts last year!"

And there it was.  We had to do it again.

So on Friday, decked out in my blingy CRL shirt, I spoke about my pet dragon and the Gollum Slalom, of factions and field trips, of toilet paper and exploding muffins, of 689 readers and three unforgettable books. 

And then I showed them what they could not have.  

Sometimes we wish there was a camera following us around, so when we tell you two-hundred kids leaned forward in their seats and all of a sudden wanted something so badly they could think of nothing else - one child literally started pulling his hair out - you could see it for yourself.  It was just magical.  We have them primed.

The first step has been taken for All In! 2015.

We know how to use the word "no."  By telling the kids they can't have something, it makes that "something" so ridiculously tempting, they will focus on little else.  It reminds us very much of last year.  Perhaps the long, drawn-out tease fed into our record-smashing number of participants?  

For now, the envelope sits in protective CRL custody.  We won't tell you what's written on the slip of paper that is tucked inside...but we will have to start locking our doors.

The Terrible-Awful
After that very same presentation, I was approached by one of the 5th grade teachers who pointed to the pile of All In! books in my arms.

"Do the kids read these books independently?"
Nobody tells these girls they "can't."

"Yep, it's all voluntary!"

I heard her exhale. 
Then she said, "But, what about the kids that can't?"

I channeled Mary, laughed a little bit, and said, "Oh, we've never had that problem!"

Unsatisfied, she kept going, "Well, they can't."

Now I knew what this was about.  We've heard it before.  A surprising number of parents and teachers are eager to tell us that their child can't read the book; but for some reason, her comment caught me off-guard.

Things I could have said but didn't:
  • We have numbers. Lots of numbers, and a large number of students on IEPs participate in the school-wide read.  
  • All In! gets kids reading.
  • Positive peer pressure is extremely powerful.
  • I'm not in the business of telling a child "You can't."
  • Extrinsic motivation begets intrinsic motivation. We call it The CRL Effect.
  • Have you READ our blog?
  • Um,'s the most popular club for Special Education students.  
  • I could fill the next three hours with stories about students' experiences with All In! that would make you weep.
  • This works.
  • Just go to our website.
  • Yeah. We got this.

Instead, I think I said, "Oh, I'm sure they can.  We have discussion groups, and calendars; some kids use audio, or read with their families..."

She wasn't done.

"Well, they don't understand it then."

"Yes; actually they all pass a test. That's one of the key elements of our program. It's really important that they get to have that success."

At this point, I'm sure she looked at my shirt and thought I really was crazy.  Not only do I think kids will read a book for fun, but they are also lining up to take a test?  She turned to leave.

"Well, good luck."
Parked outside the IRA14 convention center

I was absolutely boiling, and I couldn't wait to tell Mary.  See, she's usually the one tasked with talking me down when I get fired up about something.  Only that didn't work out so well this time.  See, Mary and I spend an awful lot of time together.  We're totally in sync.  She's a fiery one, that Cotillo, and if her "How DARE she?" and "Why exactly is that woman a teacher?" diatribe made me feel better about my own emotional reaction, it didn't really help shed light on the bigger question: Why did this bother me so much?

What, you don't post your notes on Instagram?
We've been reading To Kill a Mockingbird in 8th grade this past month, and these experiences got me thinking about Mrs. Dubose and her advice to Jem about killing camellias.  "'Next time you'll know how to do it right, won't you?  You'll pull it up by the roots, won't you?'"  Mary teaches her students that the camellia represents the growth of racism.  The older generations are the heads of the flower, and the children are the roots.  If you want to rid the world of racism, targeting old folks who have one foot in the grave will do you no good.  You have to go after the kids.  

If this experience doesn't dove tail perfectly, I don't know what does.  The KIDS are perfectly willing to buy in; it's the adults who have prejudices that are hard to over come.

By telling us that we didn't know what we were doing - and already doubting the abilities of our darlings AND our program - this teacher was simply showing her prejudices.  And we took it as one mighty insult.  "How DARE she?"

Now, let me channel my inner Atticus Finch and say maybe she was having a bad day.  Maybe she's come off of a very difficult year and struggling to keep her head above water.  Maybe she has a hard time with social cues; perhaps her question was sincere and she would be horrified to know that we are insulted.  Whatever the case, I don't think she was expecting a response, not one that she was prepared to agree with anyway.  By wishing us well, sincerely or not, she did have the last word.  And that's okay.  While the petals fade and fall, we'll be nurturing the roots. 

Now we'd better run.  We have another school-wide read to plan, and a few hundred middles to get ready for their biggest challenge and greatest victory.

Just watch.

1 comment:

  1. "'People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for...'"(Lee 198).