Today a first grade student was being escorted to my office for disrespecting his teacher. Before entering the office they noticed me outside the office unpacking a box. I was assembling a book cart for one of my teachers, as my custodians were out. As the student approached me he had a few questions. “Dr. J what are you doing? Dr. J what’s that you’re putting together?” Then he said something that made me pause, “Dr. J let me do it.”

At this point, I was stunned and said, sure, go ahead Theo. He was shocked. “For real Dr. J!” “Absolutely, go ahead!” I replied. I watched him as he looked at the bars, screws, and Allen wrench (analyzing the parts). He asked, “Dr. J what’s this L thing?” “That’s an Allen wrench, it’s used to tighten the screws.” “Oh okay, I gotcha Doc!” At this point, Theo began to try to find out exactly where to start (critical thinking). He grabbed a bar, then a screw, and then the Allen wrench and off he went. He was relentless as he screwed one bar at a time, looking at me smiling to make sure I was looking at him. Occasionally he would ask, “Doc you checking me out?” I replied, “I am Theo”. I watched him make several mistakes but never intervened (the little guy showed great determination). After about 30 minutes he jumped up and said, “Dr. J there it is, it’s not tight though. You’ll have to tighten it up.” I replied, “I got it”. Then I thought about the teachers he’ll encounter the next 11 years in school and the system where he’ll be expected to sit, review the standards, and memorize standards preparing him to pass a test.

As educators, we have to recognize and tap into our students talents. If the teacher expects Theo or any other student (especially boys) to sit still for 30 minutes during a lecture like we were taught, they’re sadly mistaken. Theo is a kinesthetic/tactile learner with critical thinking skills, he’s analytical, and he’s very determined. Unfortunately, all if these skills can be suppressed if expected to operate and excel in a traditional classroom setting.

Finally he asked me, “Dr. J are you proud of me?” “I am Theo.” “Dr. J are you going to tell everybody I put it together?” “I am Theo!” “Dr. J am I still in trouble?” “Yes, you are Theo!” One thing I’ve learned in my educational journey is that all of our kids are uniquely gifted and will always exceed your expectations. However, they must be given an opportunity. In this interaction with Theo, I’m reminded of the quote by Ignacio Estrada that all educators should live by – “If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.”