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T the Terrible

Updated: Jun 7, 2022

Richard McManus


T__ came to the Fluency Factory as a fifth-grader. She was tiny, looking like either an average second grader or perhaps even a very large first grader. She moved and talked quickly. She always wore a baseball hat, pulled down tight over her forehead so only her eyes showed. She wore pants and sweatshirts, and it was never clear whether she was a boy or a girl. She occasionally swore like a high school student, and she tended to answer back quickly if she didn’t like what you were doing, either verbally or with a punch to the shoulder or arm. She was very angry about almost everything, and frequently punched me when we worked together. Other students were totally puzzled by her. They guessed that she was in the second grade, but she was so mouthy that they doubted that. Moreover none of the other students could tell if she was a boy or a girl -- her style of dress and her menacing talk made it quite confusing. “Is that a boy or a girl? What grade is that kid in?” T__ loved hockey, and played on a couple of teams. When I had her with one of my reading specialists I heard a ruckus from the room they were in. T__ was racing from tabletop to tabletop and running around the room, kicking at anyone who got close. I took her to another space and she began to work quite well, other than some punches to the arm. During our sessions she was always very physical, doing all manner of small-scale aggression, mostly just punches to my arms. But one day, when I was on the phone with a parent, Anders took her to start her session. Three or four minutes later, when I got to the room where they were working I found Anders with his face covered by many colors of expo markers. “Anders, how did this happen? She is tiny!” I said. “She is very fast” was Anders’ answer. I began working with her, and didn’t have her with our other tutors — since she and I seemed to have a relatively mild relationship. The last major violent event was when I wanted to time her reading a word list. “I won’t do it!” she said. I did nothing and pointed at the page. T__ climbed up my back and sat on my shoulders. First she put her fingers in on my closed eyelids, and then she put her fingers in my nose while I continued to sit there. I thought to myself “if she pulls my nose off I am not coming in tomorrow.” After what seemed like a long time she said, “oh, then I will just do it,” climbed down and read the list, doing it very well. Perhaps more than any other student I have taught to read, T__ took off and rapidly became a fluent reader. Among her amazing skills was balance. She once stood on a playground ball and seemed to be able to do it at great length. I pulled out a timer and started it counting up. She continued to effortlessly balance on the ball as the time went by. At one minute she decided to stop, saying she was bored. I asked her Mom whether T__ did gymnastics — and her mom said, “No, she couldn’t do it. She can’t wait her turn.” As she gained in skill I decided that it might be time to have her stop punching me, and said as much. I told her that in the future she would have to pay a “widget dollar” for punches. “Starting next time?” she asked. “Yes, I said.” You can see this coming — I think she punched me about twenty five times in the next 20 seconds. Throughout the period that she worked with us she sparkled along with the sparks. Her Mom asked the teachers at her school whether she should keep coming, since T__ had made so much progress. Fluency Factory is not inexpensive, and maybe she was doing well enough to cut back. The teachers said, “Please keep going to that place.” T__ had changed as she made so much progress. She started to wear girls clothing, and she stopped wearing the hat pulled down to her eyes. She turned out to be pretty! She smiled more, but she wasn’t exactly mellow, just less harsh. She was quite amazing in her work — when we did a little bit of pre-algebra she blew it away. She wanted a special hockey stick, and saved every widget she earned. I bought a titanium hockey stick, a very small but extremely well made one with pink letters. She made three years of reading improvement in 49 hours of instruction, topping all other learners to this date. Her skills must have continued to blossom, as these days Google finds her playing college hockey and apparently doing very well in a challenging college in Rhode Island.

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