What about, for example, Roger?
Somehow he had learned to keep smiling, gently, with a calm regard for whatever grownup was telling him what he needed to do in this new school.
He had lost track of the new schools he had begun during the six years since he had entered his first kindergarten room. He still remembered that room, bright and colorful, with all kinds of posters and words hung on the walls and from the ceiling. The words were all written in big fuzzy red or blue letters he couldn’t read. He couldn’t read anything then, not even his name, or write. Mom couldn’t either; she wanted him to learn fast, so fast, to help her out. To help them both out.
“Roger Brokentree,” said the teacher, young and very thin. “Is that a Native American name?” she asked.
He smiled his calm smile at her, knowing the next question, ‘Is your father Native American?’ She didn’t ask it, but waited for his answer with a calm smile of her own.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I live with my mom.”
She nodded. “Welcome to our class, Roger. Hannah,” she called to another child. “Please show Roger his desk and his cubby. He is new to our school.”
It didn’t take this teacher long to find out how much Roger didn’t know; she zeroed in on him on September 30.
“Roger, I am going to arrange some extra help for you in writing. I bet you didn’t do much writing in your schools last year, since you had to change schools so often, right?” The school records had finally come; he had been in three fourth grades in three different districts as he and his mom moved from shelter to shelter. “So I am going to have you work with a volunteer, Mrs. Tweedie, while the rest of the class is writing, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Starting tomorrow.”
Roger knew about volunteers, mostly how they didn’t know how to help him. He smiled calmly and thanked her.
Mrs. Tweedie was gentle and quiet. She understood that he needed to start with printing and gave him some paper that had lines that were black, not light blue like the notebook paper the other fifth-graders were using. Roger relaxed about a quarter of an inch. He could see these lines. Then she asked him what he would like to write.
“Just one sentence, mind,” she said with a smile. “You can write one at a time until you can print and spell without me.” She had a pencil too, he noticed. She held it over her paper. “Tell me what you want to write.”
No one had ever asked him what he wanted in school. He forgot to smile. Then he blurted, “I like this school so far.”
That was his first writing. She wrote it, he copied it and read it, and she didn’t seem to mind that he needed to tilt his head and get close to the paper to see the words. She never said, as so many teachers had, “Sit up straight, Roger, so you can see what you are doing.”
Tuesday and Thursday, one sentence, two, four, a page full; then she gave him a stiff paper with all the words he had already used on it. “You are too old to experiment with spelling,” she said in her lilting voice. “Most kids get time to invent for a year or two, like Fiona did” Fiona was her daughter, in the same class, miles ahead of Roger) “so you have to learn to spell words as you are using them.” They exchanged calm smiles. He thought, for the first time in his life, I might learn to do this. “You’re doing verrry well, Roger. English is verrry hard.”
But the word sheet had smaller letters and he had to get even closer to see them. The teacher asked the nurse to check his vision, and he could read all the letters on the big chart on her wall. “He’s fine, 20/20,” she told Mrs. Tweedie.
In December he learned about paragraphs. The others in his class were sharing expositions “for revision ideas,” the teacher said. He saw her talking with Mrs. Tweedie as the class went to lunch.
“You can share with me,” said Mrs. Tweedie the next day. “And I have something for you, Roger, to try.” She pulled out a pair of glasses from her bag. “Perhaps these will help you see the words better.” They had a tag: 2.00, and a price tag that was cut off so he couldn't see it.
On that December day, at age 11, Roger’s life began. He could see the words. He could begin to learn. And in May, when he changed schools again, he took the drugstore glasses with him.