"Levitation" by Bill Bussey, Provost
During my first week of teaching back in 1980, I asked my eighth-grade class to hand in a two-page review of a book that they had read over the summer. The Bridge to Terabithia was a popular choice, as were authors like Judy Blume and Roald Dahl. There was always the middle schooler back then who tackled something like Future Shock or The World According to Garp. As I shuffled through the pile, a paper covering a 228-page novel entitled Levitation caught my eye and went to the top of the pile.
It took me only a few sentences to realize that I knew this story. About ten summers earlier, when I, too, was a bored teenager, I remember rummaging through a musty basement piled with old stuff, mostly magazines and books. I made off with a bunch of items, one of them a book that had Alfred Hitchcock’s name splashed across the cover. I recalled the book because it included a five-page short story Levitation that was set inside a carnival sideshow. The story ended with a visual that was forever burned into my brain. This little-known brain-burner proved to be the same Levitation that my young student was attempting to pass off as a novel.
Let’s pause here for a moment. The odds that my student would select that short story, clearly chosen for its obscurity and probably dug out from his grandparents’ attic, still boggles my mind. It certainly boggled his when I confronted him about it. He and I had a greater chance of being selected as soloists for the Bolshoi than sharing this experience. And in the nearly forty years in the classroom since that happened, nothing has ever come close to matching that bizarre scenario. He accepted his F on the assignment, read and reviewed a worthy book in the month that followed, and, with time, we put it behind us. Eventually, we both could finally let our guards down and ask each other, “What were the chances?” I couldn’t have wished for a better ending.
My colleagues would agree with me that some of our strongest relationships with students emerge following a contentious situation. Students far more often than not rebound from tough situations with a teacher or coach and often something durable and real soon follows. As parents, it’s important that we support our children during the bleak times. Trust me, they don’t want to let you down; it’s their greatest fear. But it’s equally important that we don’t allow our own words and possibly our initial feelings of shame or resentment unwittingly hinder our children’s ability to reconcile the situation in their own way and at their own chosen speed. Finding common ground with a coach or a teacher you hold a grudge against would be in a child’s eyes akin to treason.
If we can pause and honestly look back on our own lives, we will remember that some of our most challenging childhood moments with adults evolved into meaningful awakenings and relationships. Let’s give our children the opportunity to figure things out for themselves, to own their mistakes, and to move on a little wiser and ultimately with greater confidence.