|yes, I took a paparazzi photo |
of Jason Reynolds. Wouldn't you?
But what really stands out about Jason Reynolds is that he tells the truth.
During a round-table discussion at the Nerdy Book Club gathering during the NCTE Annual Conference, Jason spent 12 minutes talking to teachers (and four high school boys who were sitting at our table) about how to empower students. He was funny and smart. He talked about how important it is for teachers to connect with students and to tell the truth.
At the end of the 12 minutes, as Jason got up to move to the next round-table round, one of the high school boys leaned in. "Were you a good student?" he asked around a smile.
"Nope," Jason said; he didn't even hesitate. "Are you?"
"Nope." The kid laughed, a blush creeping across his face. "I feel like I'm a lot like you."
"I wasn't a good student. But I could have been," Jason stopped moving and looked right at the kid. "So I'm not going to let you off the hook. Because you can be great too." The young man nodded as Jason started to move away from our table. Jason continued: "Excellence is a habit."
And then he was gone, off to talk to the next set of teachers.
For the next 30 minutes I watched this young man track Jason around the huge ballroom. He leaned in to hear Jason's words when Jason was nearby. At one point, he covered one ear to block out the noise and he tilted his head to hear as much as he could from Reynolds. He soaked up his words.
At the end of the session, I watched Jason carve out space for these young men. As teachers lined up to meet Jason, he homed in on the kids, taking pictures, shaking their hands, making eye contact.
During our round table, Jason had issued a challenge to teachers. He reminded us to be humble, to find ways to connect with kids. He told us that his books are really thank you notes to kids, to all they bring to life. He nudged us to tell the truth and to really see our students.
And then he showed us how to do this. He told the truth. And in return, the kids in the room, the ones who matter the most, responded.
I'm so grateful to have witnessed this powerful transaction and to be reminded of why we teach. I'm tucking this moment into my teacher heart, to carry it back to our classrooms and to our students, to the ones who matter the most.