It’s hard being a kid, especially in middle school where up is down and right is wrong and social rules are ever-changing. I truly feel for my middle schoolers – I do; I wouldn’t want to go back.
For Davis*, that’s also the case, except he still has to muster his way through the next two and a half years of strife and confusion. His struggle is three-fold: (1) social cues alone are hard but couple that learning curve with autism and it becomes even harder; (2) transitioning from elementary school to middle is one of life’s BIG changes and comes with the need for greater emotional maturity, which not all of our students are ready for; and (3) Bear Claws – oh those coveted Bear Claws, a symbol that you are Top Dog with the most Class Dojo points and a chance to win free dress and front of the line lunch passes.
It is EVERYTHING in the social jungle that is middle school. Unfortunately, today, Davis did not earn a Bear Claw.
His day started out just fine, earning points for completing morning work, station rotations and fulfilling his classroom job. But something went awry after break and the points slowly kept slipping out of sight. He was neck and neck with Angel* when all of a sudden, Angel got double points for doing EXTRA WORK and SHOWING INDEPENDENCE. Poor Davis just couldn’t bounce back.
It was all too much.
And he just snapped.
“TEEEEAACCCHHHHEEERRR!!!”, Davis wailed in his Level 4 voice. “I NEED A POINT!!!!!! YOU HAVE TO GIVE ME A POINT!”
Of course, a Level 4 voice would never warrant a point; that would incite anarchy. Instead, he was issued a Warning, shortly followed by a Needs Work aka negative point.
Davis was down. But not out. Not yet.
With the help of my Amazing Aide, Davis sat on the stoop near the door and explained his side of the story. He argued his points like a well-seasoned attorney, citing all the evidence of the inherent unfairness of the point system in general and why he deserved a Bear Claw for his efforts today.
Five, ten, fifteen minutes passed and Davis was finally ready to rejoin the class. He took a few final Lazy 8 Breaths and strolled back to his seat. Before he resumed his rightful place at the corner desk, closest to the board so his wandering thoughts could be redirected to the lesson at hand, Davis, a kid whose struggle was real, took it upon himself to teach this teacher a lesson she’ll never forget.
Right there, in the midst of our planner and Remind.com end-of-day routine, Davis, with tear-stained eyes and a sniffily nose silently stood in my bubble space and placed a pink heart sticker directly on my heart.
He gave me his heart, with all of his heart.
I stood there for a few seconds, shocked yet honored to be a part of this moment.
His simple act of kindness was a keen reminder that even though he did not earn the Bear Claw today, Davis’ heart would always be in the right place.
*Names changed for privacy
Christine Terry is a Special Education Teacher and the Founder & Executive Director of Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services. She combines her teaching credential, psychology and law degrees, and a whole lotta chutzpah and heart to serve students and families seeking academic, behavior and advocacy support. Learn more at TerryTutors.com