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Ninety-five Percent

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On the first day of school, Ronaldo entered my fifth grade classroom, a few hundred decibels louder than his peers.  I asked him to quiet down and find the seat I had already picked out for him.  He looked at me, smirked, and sat down. 

The boy was a restless child who had yet learned where his on/off switch was.  He needed to be reminded often to not shout out, to not get up and walk around the room, to not pester the girl sitting next to him.   He also needed to learn that I had twenty-five other students, some of which had more important needs than his. 

Ronaldo drove me crazy with his many interruptions during instruction.  One day, I noted 17 interruptions in about as many minutes.  Most of those were simply attempts to get attention or laughs from his classmates. 

“Mr. Ramsey, can I get a drink?”

“Mr. Ramsey, can I go to the restroom?”

“Mr. Ramsey, can I go to the library?” 

“Mr. Ramsey, why do I have to do this work?”

Sometimes, I would hand him a pass and tell him to walk up and down the hallway a few times to burn off some energy…and to give me and the class some peace of mind. 

By the second month of school, though, Ronaldo was interrupting more often and keeping the rest of the kids from learning.  I could not keep sending him out on hallway jaunts.  So, I contacted his father.  His English was minimal, and my Spanish was even less stellar. Ronaldo sat grinning from ear to ear, convinced he was in the clear. 

I enlisted the help of my colleague next door.  She translated for me: “Ronaldo is very smart.  Ronaldo is a very good writer – better than most fifth grade boys.  Ronaldo has a great sense of humor and such promise.”  I paused while my comments were relayed. 

“But,” I continued, “Ronaldo is not taking his work seriously.  He blurts out throughout the class.  He is interfering with the learning of the other kids.” 

After my words were translated, Father glared at son and chewed him out.  “Estás en problemas cuando lleguemos a casa!”  (“You are in trouble when we get home!) 

The little tough boy broke down in tears. 

Ronaldo returned the next day a bit reserved, but that only lasted for a few days.  Soon he was back to being a rambunctious fifth grader, yelling upon entering and interrupting every lesson I taught. 

Like most other children with behavior problems during my career, Ronaldo was never absent. 

But I found a way to incorporate his hyperactive behavior into my lessons.  I began teaching my students how to use a four-square organizer to develop strong five-paragraph essays. I instructed my students to feel free to help me fill out the four-square by shouting out their ideas.  As they did so, I would try to capture their thoughts on the Smart Board.  I wanted them to see how important it was to write down all of their ideas before they forgot them.  I wanted them to hear the ideas of their peers and to emulate some of the techniques of composing and revising when they returned to their independent writing. 

The only rule was that they had to be respectful of one another, allowing each person to contribute and to do so without criticism.  I was amazed as my kids did just that.  Ronaldo was in heaven because he could show off his great creativity and did not have to raise his hand to speak.  His ideas were fantastic! In addition, he responded to his fellow classmates with great restraint and respect. 

One morning, we were analyzing the poem, “Mother to Son,” by Langston Hughes.  I drew the four-square organizer on the screen and awaited the onslaught of ideas. “I want some powerful words today,” I announced. 

I noticed several students trying to hide their thesauri in their laps, and I chuckled to myself. 

We restated the prompt for an introductory paragraph and then moved on to the first supporting paragraph. 

Amelia said, “The mother said, ‘I’se still climbin’ on’ which means she wants to succeed.” 

Ronaldo interjected, “I like that!  That is exactly what Langston means!” 

Eduardo added the next sentence: “Her life has been hard.” 

Ronaldo looked up from his concealed thesaurus.  “Do you think it would be okay to substitute ‘difficult’ for hard, Eddie?  It’s a bigger, fifth grade word.”

Eduardo agreed to the revision. 

A few moments later, Martina was explaining why the mother was so tough on her son.  “She wants her kid to be successful in the future and not have a broken heart.” 

Ronaldo broke in.  “I like how you said that.  Maybe we could use “triumphant” instead of “successful”.  It just sounds more powerful.” 

I smiled and asked the class if they were okay with the change.  They readily agreed. 

We moved on to the third supporting paragraph. I saw a lightbulb flash above Ronaldo’s head.  Remembering the poem from the previous week, “If I Can Stop One Heart from Breaking,” Ronaldo shouted, “That’s just like Emily Dickinson wrote about keeping a heart from breaking!  Langston Hughes had an important message.” 

“What was that message?” I asked the class.

They thought quietly for a moment, and then Alicia said, “We don’t get anything without hard work.”  I added her words to those offered by Ronaldo and read the entire paragraph to the class. 

“Anything you want to change?” I asked. 

Usually reserved Martin spoke up.  At the same moment his hidden thesaurus dropped to the floor.  “Ronaldo,” he quietly asked, “Could we change your word, ‘message,’ to “theme”? 

Ronaldo hollered, “Yeah! That sounds much better!” 

Many more whole-class compositions were created that year in much the same manner with Ronaldo leading the budding fifth grade writers through the experience. 

As May approached, I was asked by my principal to move up to seventh grade the following year.  I started collecting boxes for the hundreds of books in my classroom library.  Ronaldo jumped into action and enlisted his friend, Julio, to help.  The boys expertly organized everything and searched the campus for even more boxes.  Within a few days, all of my bookshelves were emptied. 

“We can move things for you,” Ronaldo announced. 

“I’m moving downstairs,” I exclaimed.  “How are you two going to get everything moved?” 

Ronaldo rolled his eyes and spoke to me as if I were the fifth grader.  “We get the cart from the custodian.  We use your elevator key to bring it up here.  We put the boxes on the cart.  We take it to the elevator and then to your new room.” 

I smiled and watched my movers embark upon their adventure.  Soon all of the boxes had been delivered. 

“Now, we’ll move the bookcases,” said Ronaldo.  “Then we’ll start boxing up your cabinets.” 

Within three days, my room was cleared.  One old bookcase fell off the cart and smashed into several pieces.  But I told the boys to not worry about it.  I was just grateful I didn’t have to move the things myself.  Besides, the work had kept the boys busy and out of trouble.  I rewarded each with a large chocolate bar and a soda.

This year, both young men returned to my new classroom as seventh graders.  I made a point of praising each for their charitable act of moving an old man’s belongings. 

Ronaldo entered my classroom on the first day exactly as he had done every day during his fifth grade year.  Loud, obnoxious, and a tad bit funny.  He proceeded to interrupt me during every lesson. 

“Ronaldo!” I barked. 

“Sorry, Mr. Ramsey,” he replied sheepishly, only to interrupt again a few minutes later. 

“Ronaldo!” 

“Sorry.”  Big old grin. 

Ronaldo had grown up a bit. He volunteered to help out more often. 

“Can I stamp the agendas for you, Mr. Ramsey?” 

“Can I pass out the papers, Mr. Ramsey? 

“Can I be first in four-square today, Mr. Ramsey?” 

One afternoon, we were writing about Aretha Franklin’s impact on the Civil Rights movement.  Aretha had just passed away the previous week.  We talked about how this marvelous woman would forever be known as the “Queen of Soul.”  What an amazing sight for me to witness all of my twelve-year-olds bopping their heads and tapping their feet to Franklin’s hit song, “Think,” beautifully connecting them to the music of their grandparents’ youth. 

The writing activity that followed required students to explain what they would be remembered for when they were gone.  “What will you be the Queen of?” I asked.  “What will you be the King of?” 

Most students took the assignment seriously and described their being the King of Kindness, of Soccer, of Words and the Queen of Loyalty, of Patience, of Animal Welfare...to name just a few titles. 

But Ronaldo wrote: "Ronaldo was the King of Interrupting Mr. Ramsey's Class. Every day he would find a way to get Mr. Ramsey mad. However, Mr. Ramsey never got angry." 

I chuckled at his description of me. 

The next day, Ronaldo announced, “I’m moving, Mr. Ramsey.” 

I looked at him and scoffed, "Right. You're lying. Don't mess with me today, Ronaldo." 

"No, I'm not lying. It's true. I'm really moving," he insisted. 

"Mm-hmm," I muttered, rolling my eyes. 

"It's really true," he repeated. "My mother said it's 95% a sure thing that we are moving." 

I gasped and exclaimed, "You mean there is still a 5% chance you're staying?" 

"That's just wrong, Mr. Ramsey," he said. 

I laughed and told him to get to work.  But, inside, I felt a pang of sadness as I realized the kid really might be telling the truth for once. 

The next day, Ronaldo announced again, “I’m probably going to move, Mr. Ramsey. My Mom said it’s pretty much a done deal.” 

“Yeah,” I teased.  “Like 95% real.” 

The boy tried to look serious but broke into a giant grin.  

“I told you,” I said.  “You’re not leaving.  You’re just messing with me.” 

“Dang, Mr. Ramsey.  I’m not lying!” 

While he was writing, I hid the number 95 in various places on the board and around the classroom.  Eventually, the boy discovered each one.  

“Why do you have to be so cold, Mr. Ramsey?” he blurted. 

“Who do you think I learned it from?” I retorted. 

He rolled his eyes. 

On Friday, Ronaldo stood by my desk and stared at me.  “Yes?” I finally asked. 

“I’m probably not going to be here on Monday,” he said.  “I have to take a test at the new school.” 

“You’ll do just fine.  I bet you get a 95%.” 

He didn’t laugh.  “They’re all a bunch of smart kids,” he said quietly. 

“So?  You’re smart too.  Is that really what’s bothering you?” 

He shook his head. 

I put my hand on his shoulder.  “Look…Ronaldo…you are such a great kid.  Don’t get me wrong.  You drive me crazy!  But you’re still a great kid!” 

He smiled a bit. 

“You’ve been going to this school for most of your life, haven’t you?” 

He nodded his head. 

“And this move makes you a little nervous, right?” 

He nodded again. 

“You’re going to fit in just fine.  Just think, you’re going to have a new teacher to pick on.  But I bet that teacher won’t be as tough as I am.  Give him a chance to get to know you before you go all crazy, okay?” 

He laughed a little and then blurted, “Can I stamp the agendas, Mr. Ramsey?” 

I handed him the Spider-Man stamp and the ink pad, and he proceeded to stamp all the student agendas.  He returned to my desk and asked me to hold out my hand.  He left a giant black spider on the back of it. He grinned. 

I grinned too.  “Be good, kid,” I said. “I’m going to miss you…100 percent.”

 

Copyright, Tim Ramsey, 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tim Ramsey has been an educator since 1983.  He taught middle school and high school for 15 years and served as a school administrator for 15 years before retiring in 2013.  He returned to the classroom where he now teaches writing to seventh graders by day and reading to college freshmen by night.  Tim is an avid writer and has been featured in six Chicken Soup for the Soul compilations.  In addition he has received several first place honors from the Arizona English Teachers Association for its annual “Teachers as Writers Contest.”

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Guest Thursday, 20 September 2018