I keep thinking that if I could consider myself an expert at conferring I might actually feel confident in writing a book about it. Then every once in awhile I hear a voice that tells me that the only way to become an expert at conferring is to write about it. Then another voice says, “Can anyone ever be an expert?”
I think about conferring a lot. I know that when I confer regularly with my readers they read more, and they read better. The same holds true for my writers. The more we talk about the moves they make and the meaning they want to convey, the more they take ownership of their work and confidently work at it.
But the consistency in conferring trips me up a lot.
This week I read in a student’s notebook: “I didn’t take the AP exam because my teacher didn’t make me feel like I was good enough. I know that is a terrible excuse to go off an emotion like that. But it also connects with the reason why I don’t do my homework. I get no educational support from anyone. I feel like I’m a nobody that just exists in school. That’s why I turn to music cause it makes me feel special and important.”
That burned. He knew I’d asked to read it. He wrote that for me.
I flip through the notebook and read poem after poem that reflects this student’s sadness, despair, and thoughts of hurting himself. Of course, I take it to the counselor.
I turn to my conferring notes and see that I’ve conferred with this student as much as my others, but he has never let on he was quite so unhappy. We’ve talked of academics, of books, of English things like reading and his writing. I’ve known he’d been depressed in the past. I thought he was doing better.
Now, I wonder. What if more of my students feel this way? What could I have done differently this year that would have let them know I care more about them as people than as English students?
I could have approached conferring differently, more purposefully, more personally. The irony? I wrote about the need to confer with fidelity here, and my first point is about our students’ need for personal attention.
I have 14 days left with my students this year. Surely not enough time.
I’m still going to try.
And now for the rest of the story.
That evening I went to the bookstore thinking I would buy this boy a book. I was on the hunt for the YA novel Someday This Pain will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron, a book I haven’t read yet — but oh, that title.
No copies available.
The next morning, I scribbled a note inside the cover and called Diego into the hall to give it to him. I told him that I’d read his message and handed back his notebook. We talked a bit, and he assured me that he’d written those poems awhile ago, but he still felt lost at school. I assured him that he was not alone, he needed to believe that every adult in this school cares about him — that’s why we teach here, and the worst thing we could do is take it easy on him because life never will. I gave him the book and watched as he hurried back inside the room and quickly read my note.
I’ll take that smile.
Note: When I snapped that photo of Diego, one of the girls nearby laughed and said: “Mrs. Rasmussen, taking it up a notch.”
“I’ll be writing about you next,” I said.
Student name and writing used with permission.