From A 6th Bowl of Chicken Soup for the Soul


Her chocolate curls obeyed the rhythm of her dancing feet, as she twisted and bounded on limber toes beside me all the way to my classroom. Once inside, I pulled out the materials I would need to evaluate the learning problems of this spunky little first grader. She sat there, skinny legs swinging wildly under her chair to the cadence of some jump-rope chant she was humming under her breath. Her bottom lip reached up to recover a small crumbly remnant of lunch as she grabbed the pencil I placed in front of her. Big eyes, eager to please and full of mischief, smiled at me as I began to recite the spelling words.

“Big. The big dog jumped over the wagon. Big.” I watched as she struggled with her pencil grip and scratched out a “d” for a “b” and a “6” for a “g”. “That un’s wrong too, huh?” I watched the light in her smiling eyes fade word by word to dreary surrender. She scowled at her little hands, as though she was scolding them for their misbehavior. I winced, suddenly very doubtful for my purpose and decency. Time paused for a moment as we sat there in silence, pondering our predicament. Then, very unexpectedly, those little feet that had hung there so lonely for a dance recovered their rhythm. She banished the pencil from her hand and produced a grin so intense with mischief and sport that it startled me.

“Ya wanna wrestle?” she invited. My bewildered gaze was met with a challenging grin. Slow to catch on, I repeated her query, “What? Do I want to wrestle?” She was not about to leave me with such a humble impression of her talents. Her invitation announced what she was good at—wrestling.

After some negotiating she settled on four matches of arm wrestling, one for each remaining spelling word. And when we were finished she skipped out of my classroom boasting a winning record. Her gentle yet pointed appraisal of my testing etiquette left me contrite yet resolved to level out the playing field. I instituted some new rules. Rule one: It is illegal to use learning difficulties as an excuse to sneak up on young learners and rob them of giggles and dancing feet. Rule two: If I ever forget rule one, I must spend an entire recess in the middle of a dodgeball circle, surrounded by sixth-graders.

Renee Adolph

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