88: You Don’t Know if You Don’t Ask

88: You Don’t Know if You Don’t Ask

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Teachers

You Don’t Know if You Don’t Ask

Ask the right questions if you’re going to find the right answers.

~Vanessa Redgrave

It was a Monday morning. The first bell had rung, and the classroom buzzed with second graders preparing to start the day. Pencil sharpeners whirred. Backpacks flew onto hooks. Conversation hummed about Little League games, birthday parties, and all the fun from the weekend.

I glanced over my lesson plans for the day. Objectives spelled out. Questions prepared to inspire critical thinking. Assessments in place to make sure my students learned what they needed to know. I was ready.

Alex stomped into the room and shoved his binder into his desk before making a beeline for me. He furrowed his brow and planted his feet in front of mine.

“Mrs. Jolley, are we taking a math fact quiz today?” His angry tone let me know that this was not the time for a cute or clever reply.

“Well, yes, of course. We always take a math fact quiz on Mondays,” I replied. “I know you’ve been studying. I’m sure you will do well.”

Thinking I had eased his tension about the test, I was unprepared for what happened next. Alex let out a loud grunt, “UGHH!” The next thing I knew, this usually good-natured second grader thrust his hand toward my face — middle finger extended!

Gasping under my breath, my mind raced with myriad thoughts, all likely unsuitable for me to say: “How dare you do that to me?” “Do you know how much trouble you’re in right now?” “What do you think the principal will say when she hears what you’ve done?”

Then my mind switched to more appropriate teacher language: “Were you thinking that was an okay choice for you to make?” “Do you understand what that means?” “What could you have done differently to express your feelings?”

Thankfully, though not really knowing why, I had the presence of mind to stop and ask a question before saying anything about that finger: “Alex, are you having a rough morning?”

He glared at me, his finger still on display. “Yes! Don’t you understand? I slammed this finger in the door on my way to school, and I won’t be able to write very well for my math quiz!”

The right question. Sometimes it’s the most important part of the whole day.

~Cindy Jolley

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