After that introduction, I knew teaching Chris to read might pose a few difficulties. For weeks, I used every known technique, to no avail.
The only item in the room that aroused Chris’s interest without arousing his hostility was a huge stuffed Snoopy dog--a prize my homeroom had won for selling magazines. I soon noticed that Chris’s route to the pencil sharpener or the bathroom always went past Snoopy.
One particularly restless, grumpy day, Stefan refused to stay at the table with Chris, so I let him move to the empty chair of an absent student.
Chris sat alone at last, and I wondered how he would react. He had his work folder and an independent assignment to do. I turned to help students on the other side of the room. When I looked back, there sat Chris, busily writing. In Stefan’s chair sat the giant Snoopy. The dog was taller than the seated boy, and Chris’s arm had to stretch upward to reach around the animal’s shoulders. He sat there, not looking up, writing his assignment, looking somehow both defensive and defenseless.
And so Snoopy shared the table with Chris the rest of the year. When Chris listened to taped lessons, both he and the dog wore headphones. When Chris had to sharpen his pencil, the dog guarded his papers. When Chris felt angry, he leaned his forehead on Snoopy and was silent for a minute.
The other students seemed to know intuitively that Chris had to learn to start loving something, somewhere, somehow. The growling disappeared. Chris smiled more. The stuffed Snoopy became a regular class member. He even had his own workbook. It’s amazing how much a student can learn when he does his homework twice, once for himself and once for his canine friend.
The author teaches at Mercer (Pa.) Junior-Senior High School.
A version of this article appeared in the August 01, 1990 edition of Teacher as Two Students