The Kids Are Alright: Two Questions for Connecting with Students

By Jim Delisle, coauthor (with Judy Galbraith) of When Gifted Kids Don’t Have All the Answers

Two Questions: Connecting with StudentsAs I’ve believed for decades, when we seek the wisdom and solace of children, whose views of the world are often unbridled by the prejudice of life experience, we often find clarity. I hope the following story helps you take a breath . . . laugh . . . smile . . . ponder, or wonder.

It was the final day of school last June. Textbooks had been collected, Field Day was over, yearbooks were signed, and I had only 45 more minutes with my ninth graders before never again being their part-time teacher. What a perfect time for a writing lesson! As I distributed pens and paper, my students’ faces were as shocked as Martha Stewart catering a middle school cafeteria.

“For ten minutes—I promise, that’s all.”

To my relief, my students complied, daring me to engage them in something not frivolous.

“We’ve shared a great year,” I began, “and even though I’ll see you again next year, you and I will never again be us. So, in parting, I have two questions I’d like you to answer:

  1. What gives you hope?
  2. What gives you joy?

Write quietly. You have ten minutes.”

I waited anxiously, wondering if I’d get cardboard drivel or tender prose. You decide. Here are some of their responses.

It gives me hope when . . .

  • I see a friend succeeding in something I helped them with.
  • I think of my parents still being alive when I am an adult.
  • I see a very biased person change his mind.
  • I see my mother going through so much and still being strong and never hanging her head in shame.
  • I see that only a few girls have someone to dance with them.
  • I see my grandmother and she still remembers who I am.
  • I see that another meal is on the table.
  • My mom says “see you later” instead of goodbye.

It gives me joy when . . .

  • I make a baby laugh.
  • I finish a good book and see the world from the eyes of a character in it.
  • I feel the hot summer air and know that my season of freedom has just begun.
  • People give me the kindness I deserve rather than treating me as if I am not popular.
  • I read Maya Angelou’s poem “Phenomenal Woman.”
  • I hear preschoolers singing their ABCs.
  • My brother gives me a ride to school happily, with no complaints.
  • I wake up on a summer morning, greeted by the sun, and realize that this day has the potential to be the best one of my life.

As my students read their statements, one to the next, a hush even more powerful than the energy of a school year’s last day embraced us all. For one last time, we were together; we were a class. When the last statement was read, one of my students said, “Great ending, Mr. D.”

“No, Dan,” I corrected him, “A great beginning.”

Like each of you, I am proud to call myself an educator. Let us each maintain that pride every day of our careers, because our students, our clients, our friends, our colleagues deserve for us to bring out the best in them.

Your turn: Ask these two questions of your own students or kids and post some of their replies.

Jim DelisleJim Delisle, Ph.D., has taught gifted children and those who work on their behalf for more than forty years, including twenty-five years as a professor of special education at Kent State University. He has taught students in elementary and secondary schools and currently works part time with highly gifted ninth and tenth graders in South Carolina. The author of more than 250 articles and twenty books, Jim is a frequent presenter on gifted children’s intellectual and emotional growth. Jim and his wife Deb live in Washington, D.C., and North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Free Spirit books by Jim Delisle:

When Gifted Kids Don't Have All the Answers The Gifted Teen Survival Guide

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