We Should All Strive to be More Peculiar

I sat at a table with my English teacher colleagues the week before school started. Our district ELA leaders had us look at photos of “peculiar” children and write responses. A great lead into their encouragement to pay attention to “the one,” and the book talk of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs that came later.Miss Peregrines

My colleagues and I put pen to paper, thinking about the students we’ve taught and the students who we’ll teach this year. We wrote, and then we shared. We laughed at our responses, and then we talked seriously about the students we serve. We love them. They are needy, and so many fall in the low SES column every time we sit in a meeting like this and look at data.

But they are ours, and we love them. We love the challenge of reaching the kid with the dark eyes and the rough demeanor. We love the hope we see when a child “gets” what we hope he’ll get.

I work with some of the best teachers on the planet. (I know that’s an overstatement. I haven’t even met close to enough teachers on the planet to make that call. But seriously, you should meet these people.)

Here’s a glimpse into how they think. Remember, we each had a picture of a “peculiar” looking child:

Matt:  I know you, kid. Life has asked a lot of you, early. Feed yourself, protect yourself, find your own place to lay your head at night. Unsurprisingly, you think of yourself as an adult, and you’ve acquired some adult habits. To cut the stress, you know? Now you’re here in my room, and there are rules for kids, which you are definitely not. Who the hell are these people, anyway, with their nice phones and clothes, and not a worry in the world beyond what grade they get on some ridiculous paper. Their hand aren’t covering in thick, yellow callouses, their nails aren’t dirty and chipped from hauling who knows what for too little pay. Someone made sure their hair was cut, they have glasses, they’ve got time to give a shit about some book. Not you. Not like you. You got yourself up, and made it here, thank you very much, and ?I had better not waste your time, because you have things to do. Responsibilities. I know you kid, and I suspect that you are going to break my heart.

Tess:  Peculiar children?  They’re probably more interesting that non-peculiar children … if there is such a thing as a non-peculiar child.  I think many children, like adults, learn quickly to hide their peculiarities to blend in, to seem ‘normal,’ to avoid judgment and the need to explain themselves.  What a shame. The truly peculiar child – like the truly peculiar adult – is one with no peculiarities at all.  Our differences are what make us interesting, what make us human, what make our society function.  If encouraged to embrace their peculiarities and nurtured to develop their peculiarities, I dare suspect that we would have a more dynamic, productive, functional society.  A girl can dream.

Perhaps a matter of semantics, I liken “peculiarity” to “atypical” … but neither term should be confused with “abnormal”.  “Abnormal” connotes some sort of condition that necessitates correction, while “peculiar” and “atypical” are flags of something interesting, something precious, something unique to be treasured.  We should all strive to be more peculiar. 

Just sharing.

What are your thoughts on “peculiar” children?

2 thoughts on “We Should All Strive to be More Peculiar

  1. Carol Roger August 28, 2013 at 8:34 pm Reply

    Okay. As I wipe the tears from my smiling cheeks, I KNOW what you mean. I don’t want to squelch their ‘peculiarities’. I must continue to pay attention, to listen, to encourage their resourcefulness, their vigor, their power. That is my duty as a teacher.
    Thank you.


  2. Erika B. August 28, 2013 at 1:31 pm Reply

    As I sit and wait for September 9th to roll around, excited to meet and learn alongside my new students; I am thoroughly enjoying being invited into others’ experiences as their journeys have begun.

    Matt, your piece brought me to tears…because you and I must teach the same young man…from TX to NY, he gets around :). And, it’s no surprise that he does because his resiliency and determination allow him this journey. Thank you for illuminating his voice.

    Tess, how you managed to highlight the realities of our students (and ourselves) with this simple, yet profound sentiment, “The truly peculiar child – like the truly peculiar adult – is one with no peculiarities at all.” is enlightening. Thank you!

    Amy, semantics is right! Yet it most certainly gets us thinking…


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