From Classroom to Chatroom

A Teacher’s Virtual Odyssey

By Michelle Harmon

Tenzin looked at me with the indifference of a shark passing by in the water.

“Let’s read together,” I said.

In one fluid movement, she glared at me from her seat and then released her dull gaze back to her homework. When I put the book between us and moved my chair closer, it just deepened her determination to ignore me.

I read aloud from page one, finished the first paragraph, and slid the book over to her to read the next one. No response. I read the next paragraph. For several days, I fished unsuccessfully for her attention. Finally, I moved locations, telling her I would be at my table—in the school library where this class was held—any time she wanted to read with me. As I worked with other students in our study hall period, I caught her considering me every now and then. Weeks later, she sat down and opened the abandoned book.

Her voice was small, airy, unconfident. Her background, I learned from others, was lean:  she was poor and fatherless. Her mother, who spoke little beyond their native Tibetan, earned money cleaning houses. My charge was not only ill at ease speaking a second language but guarded and ready for rejection. Yet as our student-teacher relationship took shape, her pursed lips relaxed, revealing gapped and jagged teeth. 

Listening to her read, I wanted to correct her pronunciation, but didn’t. She had to be reeled in slowly, motivated to read. We got to the point where I read a page, she read a page, I read a page, she read a page. Eventually, she sat by me every day, and when other students took part in our sessions, she read independently.

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Michelle Harmon

About Michelle Harmon

Michelle Harmon taught thirteen years in the Boise School District.  She was Borah High School’s newspaper adviser, journalism instructor, and American literature teacher.  Upon retirement, she joined the faculty of Idaho Digital Learning.  She continues to promote journalism in Idaho as president of the Idaho Student Journalism Association (idsja.org) and as Idaho State Director of the Journalism Education Association.