Last period of the day today, there was a team spelling bee for the seventh graders. All those who came first or second in the class spelling bee were now competing to see who would go on to the school spelling bee. It’s one of those fairly standard and straightforward school competitions. It’s not a big deal, but it’s made to be a big deal, and half the seventh graders in the school are eager to see who will win.
The boy who ended up winning the bee was one of the students I have in class, but that’s not what makes this story worthwhile. This particular student faces several challenges due to a significant brain defect that he was born with, but which ultimately was corrected. Or corrected to the extent that he can function in a regular 7th grade class. When I passed out interest surveys at the beginning of my student teaching, all the kids wrote about playing video games, or going to the mall in their free time. This student wrote about how he likes to memorize facts and quiz himself. This is not the only thing that’s “different” about him, but ultimately it is one of several things that makes social interactions with his peers limited.
So when it came down to him and another girl at the spelling bee, inwardly I was rooting for him, and I knew he had a fairly good chance what with his joy in memorizing random things like spelling words under his belt.
So final word roles around; the other girl has missed her word and he spells it right and another word right. And I can picture in my mind what the average seventh grade adolescent male would do in that situation. They’d raise their hands up in victory, give a thumbs up to their buddies, or maybe stroll back to class as if nothing happened. But not this one, he turned to that girl, stuck out his hand for a handshake and shook her hand and told her she did a great job and that she should be proud of her accomplishment. And all the seventh graders who had already been clapping started cheering. And then he put his arm around her shoulder and gave her one of those friendly sideways you did great hugs, which she thankfully returned.
It was absolutely incredible for him, not only because he won, but also to get the recognition he so rarely gets from peers. It was incredible for me because it made me realize that even with everything that he is lacking, this kid has something a lot of average middle schoolers lack: empathy and sincerity of feeling. He knows through experience exactly what it’s like to not be the one who wins or to not be the one who’s recognized.
Great way to end a day.