“You know what you need this morning?” Groggy-eyed, a boy more than likely suffering from the effects of a late-night gaming binge, nods. He still gets my reference. “Let me hear you say it,” I tell him.
“I need a Marcos attitude.” Kids chuckle, no one more than Marcos. It’s quite a feat, really. To have your brand name practically hijack the product name is pretty rare. Coke has done it. Coke, for years, was a synonym for any dark soda, with root beer being the only possible hold-out. Levi’s has pulled it off, too. Jeans and Levi’s were more or less synonyms for several decades that I can recall. And now — in my class —a good attitude and a Marco attitude are pretty much the same thing.
Marcos is ready to go at 7:45 each morning. Big smile, strong work ethic, great participation. When most of the kids have not yet shaken the slumber from their eyes, you can always count on Marcos to get things going. He is too much coffee without the jittery side effects.
“Get yourself a Marcos attitude this morning.” I must say it several times a week. And Marcos relishes the nod. Some mornings, it only serves to fuel him more. He’s one kid I’m not worried about. He’s got it together. Clearly, somebody at home has got his back. They make sure he is always on the right track. And so it goes.
A few months into the school year, we are writing our “Person of Greatness” essay. The unit asks the kids to write about someone who is great and who they can align with the research we’ve pulled from the article pertaining to how to achieve greatness. The article suggests that greatness, in any given field or endeavor, has very little to do with natural talent, but rather comes from very specific and painstaking practice.
But celebrity culture makes me gag just a bit, so I tweak the assignment. The kids must write about someone they know personally. Usually, they argue that they don’t know anybody of greatness. I gasp in mock horror. Because they do.
Parents. Good parenting, heck even adequate or slightly subpar parenting aligns nicely with the painstaking efforts and time commitment the article claims greatness requires. “Do your parents respond to feedback and make adjustments?” They all sort of shrug at one another. “Sure they do,” I say. Has anyone here had their privileges adjusted because of their grades or behavior?” A few chuckle. Many nod. Easily they start to make the necessary connections. And most choose parents. A few choose coaches or grandparents. For extra credit, you must read your essay to your person of greatness and have them sign off on it. It’s the least I can do for parents. It’s a lonely, selfless job. Underrated and underappreciated by those you most serve. How often does a thirteen-year-old tell their parents how great they truly are? Many parents email me to say how much they appreciated the experience. It’s a favorite assignment of mine, for sure.
Of course the problem with assigning essays, even cool ones, is they must be graded. About 160 or so and all roughly the same. It can get pretty painful. And, I won’t lie. Sometimes I am skimming through them, fast and furious. I come across Marcos’ essay. He’s a good writer and usually nails all the requirements. At first glance, I see he has chosen his father as his person of greatness. Sure. He must be the guy that has helped shape such a great young man.
And then? I have to stop. I reread the opening. I reread it again. You see, Marcos has chosen his father because his father is working so hard to get him out of foster care so they can live again as a family. I find myself reading it over and over. Each time though, it says the same exact thing. It just doesn’t make any sense. I was so sure he didn’t have a care in the world. Now, I’m realizing that his world is far from having no cares. It is one of those clear moments when you really appreciate the true depths of all that you just do not know.
The next morning, Marcos is there. And, of course, he is ready to go. “I read your essay yesterday,” I say. He nods. And I feel we need a sincere moment of recognition. “You know, if I had to write that essay, I would definitely choose you as my person of greatness.” He smiles. Blushes a little. “And you know I think you’re a great kid,” I continue. He sort of nods and shrugs at the same time. “But I need you to know that I respect you as a man.” I extend my hand. We shake. “Lots of kids in this room. But you’re probably the only one that is practically a man.” He takes this to heart. Nothing he says. It’s just something I sense.
The day rolls on and we still joke about people needing a Marcos attitude. But only Marcos and I know that most of them, probably all of them, may never come close to having a real Marcos attitude.
For more inspiring classroom stories, please check out Mr. Bowen’s recent best seller, Our Kids: Building Relationships in the Classroom.