"Mr. Malley," he said, turning around on his chair.
"Yeah dude," I replied, wondering what was coming. He was looking me in the eyes, which was out of character, a smile radiating on his face, which had been happening more and more frequently.
"Yo, you're the first English teacher to ever tell me I'm a good writer."
I paused, shifted my weight from one foot to another, unsure how to respond. "That's because you are, man."
This exchange actually happened today and it's been under my skin the whole day. Last night I read this kid's blog post, which was full of voice and creativity and inventive figurative language. He was an extremely reluctant writer, and actually put his head down on his desk in the beginning of the year when I explained to my students that Mass Media is a writing intensive class. His blog post was arguing against my practice of making my students submit weekly blog posts of 400-500 words. The title of his post was "U Buggin" and that, in and of itself, brought a smile to my face. The post had a number of cosmetic errors but overall it was seeping with good writing. It has me wondering. This kid is 18 years old. A senior in high school. He was forceful in his assertion that no one had ever complimented him on his writing. Ever. How does that happen? I am a teacher because several teachers along the way took the time to tell me that something I wrote resonated with them.
What is the impact of going through school with the belief that you suck at something that is such a vital skill? This kid's writing had a lot of good stuff going on. It had verve. I suspect it didn't just appear. When I read and respond to blog posts tomorrow, I'm going to go out of my way to find things to praise in my other students' writing, because I'm wondering how many of them feel the same way.