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The Words Inside You

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She waited til she knew everyone was asleep. It was 2am and she no longer heard the tv. Now Jordan could find what she had been wanting all day. A quiet, still place to read. Undisturbed. Not partner reading and not reading with the class.They were fine. But they couldn't take her there.

Even reading by herself wasn't reading by herself. Too many noises. Way too many distractions. No way for her to really enter other worlds when the one she was in kept competing for her attention.

Jordan tried at home. But that was impossible. Living with four brothers. It wasn't their fault. They just couldn't keep still. Or quiet. And that is why each night. Once everything was still. She would sneak out into the kitchen. Lean up against the refrigerator. And read by the light that shone through the kitchen window. The one from the streetlamp. The one that she knew would automatically shimmer off at 5am.

She had three hours.

Three hours to herself.

Three hours to fly.

Her spot on the floor. Up against the fridge. Was perfect. The humming and gentle vibrations made Jordan feel as if she was actually in flight.

She would rest her elbow on the stack of books that she brought home each day.

Twenty Minutes.

This always made her chuckle when she had her older brother sign her reading log proving that she had read for twenty minutes. Her mother was always asleep when they left for school, so it was just easier to have him sign it. He could imitate their mom's signature perfectly.

He knew. Knew that she woke up each night to read. Knew that she was different than he and his brothers. Different in a good way. He would always make her show him the books she read. And tell a little bit about each. By the time Jordan reached the eighth or ninth book he would sign it.

I guess you read for twenty minutes, he would say. They both would giggle.

It was time to wake their brothers and get them ready for school. It was always a rush, but they always made it. They sat together on the bus. Ever since the day that boy teased her for reading a baby book. He only did it once. Her brothers saw to that.

Once at school, the day went quickly. School to her was just her in-between place. She and the librarian became good friends early on. Like when she was in kindergarten. So she always let Jordan check out more than 2 books. That and she'd let her have her pick of any books she was getting to get rid of.

The one part of the day that did take forever was, ironically, Reading. She hated always being told what she had to read. She understood that she couldn't always read whatever she wanted. But never. This drove her crazy. And always having to respond to what she read.

When did she get to decide?

When did she get to create?

Jordan was fairly certain that the books she read each night morning were not written in response to something that was read. Most likely they were written in response to something that was thought, dreamt or imagined. As a result of just a little bit of...

Free time.

Quiet time.

And space.

This was something that Jordan seemed to be having less and less of.

She finished third grade with decent grades, but school was beginning to take too much out of her. It never was her favorite part of the day. But now she began to dread it.

Told what to read. Told what to write. Told...How...To...Think.

She was a good kid and she played by the rules. But why were there so many of them? And why did every minute of the day have to be filled with stuff?

Halfway through her fourth grade year Jordan stopped waking up to read. She just couldn't. School had just become so exhausting. Physically and mentally. Now she could barely wake up in time to make the bus. In fact, there were days when she didn't. On those days her brother would walk her to school even if it meant that he would be late.

And no matter what, he would still sign her reading log. The way he figured it, she had plenty of minutes in the bank. But he missed asking her questions and she missed answering them. They no longer sat together on the bus. But her brothers still kept a good eye on her.

By the time fifth grade rolled around she stopped checking out books altogether. It was too depressing to watch them sit in her desk all week. Collecting dust or even worse, getting in the way of the textbooks and workbooks that she was assigned. The librarian continued to try. She even went so far as to let her order books from her catalog. Told her she would the first one to read them. It didn't matter.

The summer before middle school Jordan did not read one... single... word. Not one!

Jordan's first day of middle school began like she had predicted.

First period. Textbook. Syllabus. Reading assignment. Questions for homework.

Second period. Textbook. Syllabus. Reading assignment. Questions for homework.

This pattern continued until last period. Fifth period. English. Which she thought was just a middle school word for Language Arts. Her teacher began class by handing each one of them a blank sheet of paper. He then pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and played something called Adagio for Strings. She had never heard it before. The kids laughed, but she kinda liked it.

They were then told to write about whatever they wanted. They could write a poem, a story, anything! She couldn't believe it. It had been so long since Jordan had been given any choice that at first she just sat motionless. Her old teacher would've told her to get her pencil moving. But not Mr. Johnson.

Interesting she thought.

When the bell rang Mr. Johnson told them to have a nice evening. He also told them that for homework they could work on their writing. If they wanted. They didn't have to.

Jordan couldn't wait to get home. She rushed to her room and dove into her bed. She wasn't sure what she was going to write. But she had an idea. Then her brothers got home. And there was too much going on for her to concentrate.

That night she woke up at 4 am. To write. She still fit. In her old spot. The same refrigerator. The same humming and vibrations. It was like she never left.

Each day she would show Mr. Johnson what she had written. And each day they would sit down and discuss ways in which she could grow her writing. That was how he put it. She liked that better than red ink.

It wasn't long before she was waking up at 2am again. Her brother now had a job before school. They would share a cup of coffee before he left for work at 4am. Jordan would read him her latest story and he would sit. Not once taking his eyes off her. She's back he thought. He would kiss her on the forehead and head to work.

The next day Mr. Johnson announced that they were going to be having a read aloud. At night. And parents were invited. Jordan told her mom about weeks ahead of time. She hoped she could make it.

Jordan worked on her piece for weeks. She felt good about it. She felt good about herself. She felt good.

She was ready. Nervous. But ready. It was the day of the big event. Jordan took out her writing and began silently reading it to herself. There were a few parts she just wanted to go over. Just as the bus was pulling up to school the girl sitting behind her grabbed the papers out of her hand. She then passed them back to all of her friends. All the while laughing and teasing Jordan for caring about something so stupid.

Her brothers were not on the bus that morning. Two of them were sick and her oldest brother was at work. By the time the bus stopped Jordan's papers were gone. She couldn't believe it. She didn't dare tell Mr. Johnson. Jordan had a headache the enitre day and did not eat a thing. When she got home she went straight to her room. She buried herself in her blankets.

She went to the kitchen to get something to eat since she hadn't had a bite all day. On the table was a note from her her mom.

Good luck tonight Sweetie. I'm sorry but I won't be able to make it. My boss told me if I didn't I would be fired. I know you be great.



About a half hour before the big event some of Jordan's friends came by. They were going to walk over together. Jordan didn't want to go, but she couldn't find the courage to tell them what had happened on the bus.

When they got to school they couldn't believe their eyes. Mr. Johnson had rolled out a red carpet and his classroom looked amazing. And to no one's surprise, Adagio for Strings was playing from a stereo he must have borrowed just for tonight.

One by one Jordan's friends read their pieces. And they were wonderful. She was so happy for them that she almost forgot that she had nothing to read. Jordan still hadn't old anybody what had happened on the bus.

Mr. Johnson called her name. For some reason she walked to the front of the room. Knowing that she had nothing to read. And as she took a step behind the podium tears began to form. Someone handed her a tissue. When she turned to see who it was she couldn't believe her eyes.

It was her older brother. Looking down at her, he placed his hands on her shoulders and gently kissed her on the forehead.

You don't need the papers Jordan. The words are inside you. They always have been.

Jordan closed her eyes and took a deep breath. And she recited her story word for word. Anyone watching would have also noticed that her brother silently did the same. He knew it by heart.

As they walked home that night neither of them spoke a word. They didn't need to.

Jordan woke up at 2am the next morning. She snuck into her older brother's room. Kissed him on the forehead and whispered, thank you. A couple hours later they shared a cup of coffee as Jordan talked about her next story. He never took his eyes off her. He never would.

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Jon is currently the assistant principal in Dorchester County, Maryland. This is his seventh year serving as an assistant principal at the elementary level. Prior to becoming an administrator he served as a Math Coach and an elementary school teacher. During his ten years as a classroom teacher he taught first, second, fourth and fifth grades. During his sixth year teaching he earned Nationally Board Certification, which he held for ten years. For seven years he ran a Young Gentleman's Club that was aimed at helping young men reach their full potential.  

Jon received a B.A. from Furman University while majoring in Philosophy. He later went on to earn his B.S from Salisbury University while majoring in Elementary Education. Jon was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to student teach in New Zealand. He eventually received his M.A. degree from Salisbury University in Public School Administration.

Jon lives in Cambridge, Maryland with his amazing wife and two awesome children.

  • Guest
    Maija Kurtz Tuesday, 02 February 2016

    As a higher ed administrator, I found my students, especially my older students also faced the same life challenges as Jordan times 5. It only takes that one student, one indIvidual, who flies to make the time you spend on a 100 all worth while. Thanks for reminding us. Great story.

  • Jon Harper /  @Jonharper70bd
    Jon Harper / @Jonharper70bd Wednesday, 03 February 2016

    Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment. I agree, it only takes one and I am lucky to have many that inspire me each day.

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Guest Tuesday, 11 December 2018