The Ten Year Old Superhero

After I did a workshop with Meg Rosoff I was struck by her advice on finding your voice. I’ll never forget hearing the other participants read; I was moved by their work and embarrassed that their writing was so powerful. The exercise Meg gave me was this: 
Write down the name of one person who has made a lasting impression on you and write them a letter.
Dear Iago,*
When I first saw you I was struck by your eager smile despite the rain and lateness of your lift home. You even waved at me because you’d had seen me around school. Kids always mill around ‘the new sub.’ They whisper too, it’s all very like Shakespeare’s Iago. Only they don’t whisper poisonous words just curious ones. Your whispers were always the loudest.
‘Who’s she?’
‘She’s married to a King.’
‘I like her; she’s a Hello Kitty watch.’
‘No she is a King, like, The King.’
You always smiled and filled every silence. But confidence is a double edged sword when it’s worn as armour.
What were you hiding underneath the toothy smile besides the pinched face?
When you came into the resource room, I’m not going to lie; I figured you’d be on the list.
You were like those little blue bears with instructions – never has homework done – handle with TLC, was written on your file.
My job was to do your homework with you, first thing in the morning, after maths but before Irish.
And I couldn’t do it.
Not without asking why. And you were shocked. 
‘Why can’t you just do your homework when you go into school, you’re always here so early?’
You told me that no one had asked you that before. Then you smiled, again.
And I was having none of it.
I told you how when I was little and in school, I never had my homework done either. We were always gone to the hospital visiting dad. I felt bad about it until one very special teacher told me that it was OK. She said that when I come into class to go to the other kids and ask for help. She promised that she’d leave us chat at the back of the room while she did shared-reading at the top. All the other kids in my class loved helping me because it meant they were mini-múinteoirs and we got to chat, even if it was about homework.
But you told me you were too far gone, even for a mini-múinteoir’s help.
And I was having none of it.
Then you changed the subject and for a while I let it flow. You told me about Superman and all your stickers. And I told you that you could be a superhero too.
With that you sat taller and asked how.
‘By coming into class in the morning, unpacking your bag, taking out your homework copies and asking the other kids for help.’
Class ended and I had nothing concrete to put into your progress file. So I used buzz words and walked it off.
You didn’t come into the resource room next morning and when I went to your class to get you, you were nowhere to be found. Not at your desk. Not behind the door. Not even on the comfy seat by the library.

And then I saw you – sitting at the round art table with ten helpers milling about you and all of you organising your notes and finding answers. So I left and got the next girl on my list.
We were talking about my watch when you came in. You knew the little girl and so you sat and chatted. I went to the white board and cleaned it.
You told her about being a superhero and how it means asking for help and that it’s OK if your homework isn’t done because there is still some time in the morning to start it. Together you went through her bag and sorted her notes and books. 
I didn’t interrupt you, didn’t even look at ye except of your shadowy reflection in the white-board. Two little heads bowed in silent work.
That was my last day as a sub at your school. I passed you at the school gates with your school jumper tied around your neck and you shouted, ‘Hey Missus, you made me a superhero.’
And I was having none of it.
I told that, ‘You did that, I just asked the questions.’ 
You smiled. Ten years old. Sandy brown hair.  I saw your eyes light up then.. It was only then that I could actually see your eyes match that smile.
I noticed how there was a gang of you sitting on the school wall, with all your jumpers tied around your necks and the torsos of red wool flapping like Superman’s cape behind ye. Your arms hung in the air with fists pointed to the sky. And you whispered, ‘who needs kings when we can be our own superhero.’

*This is not the child’s real name. The school or teachers have not been mentioned, all privacy, rights and privileges of the teaching profession have been kept in mind while writing this. I have subbed in MANY schools and as such the identity would be impossible to guess.

Are there any writers out there that are going to try this exercise? 
 What teacher helped you? 
What are your best/worst memories of school?
How would you help a child like Iago*?
Can you relate to Iago?

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By Michelle Moloney King

Artist. Poetish.

3 replies on “The Ten Year Old Superhero”

this is really lovely michelle. well done both for helping that child and writing this inspiring article!


Poor kid reminds me this kid i see outside church. no matter how long the distance between the Irish countryside and here there is so much we have in common.

I had good teachers but a lousy brain.


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