Saturday, February 11, 2017

Space for the Story

“Do you have anything I can help you with?” Dwayne asks me, the same way he asks me every time his class comes to the media center. Dwayne gets in trouble. A lot. He’s lucky if he makes it through a class without getting sent out by the teacher for getting mad or saying something inappropriate. He’s 13 and can barely read, but for some reason, Dwayne likes me, the librarian.

“Well, do you?” I don’t need any help in the media center right now, so I make something up. I never tell him no. “Why don’t you sharpen this cup of pencils for me?”

Photo: Joanna Kosinka

This kid craves connection. Like so many kids in our school, Dwayne has a tough life outside of school, but school life is just as rough. What is that like, to struggle all of the time? To never be able to relax because you are failing/ hungry/ moving again/ can’t read the assignment/ are constantly in trouble? He smiles at me most of the time, but it is one of those smiles that doesn’t mean he’s happy. It just means he hopes I’m listening.

I often tell people that being a media specialist is like being a grandparent: I get to love on all of the students, and then I send them back to their teacher before we get tired of each other. I get to spoil them a little. I give students boundaries and expect them to respect those boundaries, but I am not the main disciplinarian, nor am I a task master.

I am the one who doesn’t know a girl just had a crappy first class with a sub, so she gets a clean slate when she walks through my door.  I am the one who lets a boy take a power nap in my nice comfy chair because he had an AAU basketball tournament that lasted until 10:30 in the neighboring city last night, and he didn’t sleep long enough to function well today. I am the one who looks at the Lego tower and says, “I don’t know. How high can you build it?” and then doesn’t flinch when the whole thing crashes, spilling Legos everywhere.

The next time Dwayne asks if he can help me, I tell him I could use his help before school each morning to log on my 10 computers so they will be ready for the day. I figure it will keep him out the cafeteria where he has nothing better to do than mouth off and get in trouble, and I really hate logging on all of those computers. It is during one of these early mornings that I learn that Dwayne doesn’t think he lost his book last month. It’s probably in the storage unit they rented when he and his mom were evicted and he had to go live with his dad. Mom gambled away the rent. The other adults at school don’t know this yet. They care, but they don’t have the time or space for his story to come out. And so I listen to this heartbreaking story. I don’t try to fix it (not right now, anyway), and I don’t get overly emotional. If I did, he might not confide in me later.

The next morning we work, me printing out overdue notices and him logging on the computers. As I tap on my keyboard, I pray for the chance to connect with other kiddos who need to tell their story, and I break a few pencil leads so someone can sharpen them again.

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