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My role is that of an ally; I am here to help and guide and offer options. I do not judge. I do not grade. I remember the many phases of life, the difficulties of each one, the fragility of being a teenager forming one’s own ideas and preferences. Adolescence is a time to evolve, but our culture expects teenagers to obey all the rules while evolving, sending them mixed messages daily. “Dream big!” runs into “Your first sentence will include the name of the book and author and your argument.”

I work now with a current student who has clearly suffered from a year of high school on Zoom. He is less than his usual self. He even looks thinner. His statements are less energetic, his facial expressions show his discomfort with using strong verbs because they might not be right for this paper, this teacher.

“What do you want to tell the reader about this particular book?” I say. “What do you believe the author did really well?”

He thinks. “She used the protagonist to show how privilege changes the perspective of those who have it.”

“Okay, jot that down,” I say gently. “I agree with you. How does she do it?”

“We have to pick two literary techniques for the second part.”

“Okay, you’ve got your list of 8 techniques nearby, what would be your top three?”

“I know that she used characterization really well with Dana.”

“Cool,” i say. “Can you think of some examples?”

“Sure, like when she rescues Rufus and brings him back to his house.”

“Nice. And what could be another one.”

He rubs his face and tilts his head, trying to summon the energy to choose.”

“I kinda think juxtaposition because the contrast between her life in 1970 and her time in the 1800s is so big.”

“Great!” I say. Jot what you just said down. And some examples of the juxtaposition. You can draft your opening paragraph with these and satisfy your teacher’s requirements.”

He brightens and types at his keyboard, fingers flying.

He’s still showing up and picking his way through the debris of school to work on assignments. He’s the hero.

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