Like any self-respecting English teacher, I like to tell stories to my students. One such story is the embodiment of a flourishing, confident learner. It is the story of a little girl from North Carolina, USA. A real-life story that shines a light on the amazing capacity of young people to learn.
It is the story of Cameron Mott – the girl with half a brain.
Cameron’s young childhood was cruelly beset with crippling seizures that attacked her brain. The video of her online having one of these debilitating fits is harrowing. At only three years old, her rare condition – Rasmussen’s syndrome – quickly destroyed her fledgling brain with each debilitating seizure.
The frankly terrifying solution was for surgeons to remove half of little Cameron’s brain. After the radical surgery Cameron, as expected, was paralysed in the left side of her body (controlled by the removed right side of her brain).
Then the awe-inducing plasticity of the young girl’s paediatric brain took over. Within a month Cameron was walking again. Months of difficult rehabilitation saw her return to health and return to school within months. After a short span of years, Cameron was a healthy girl living a life of miraculous normality. Free of her debilitating seizures, and now in her teens, young Cameron loves school and mathematics.
When Cameron grows up she wants to be a Maths teacher. She loves tackling mathematics quizzes. We need more like Cameron.
See this short few minutes of video of Cameron’s phenomenal story here, from ‘The Brain with David Eagleman’:
The plasticity of the human brain – with our related capacity to learn – is tremendously malleable. Undoubtedly, we are all born with a unique genetic heritage, but our growth, how we are nurtured and taught, can change the path of our lives. If our students understand this and believe in their own capacity to grow and flourish then they can better gain the confidence to take on any challenge.
As teachers, we are in control of a legion of factors that can grow or diminish the potential of our students to become confident and successful learners. We cannot change material poverty or write the inequalities that scar our society, but in our classrooms we can do a great deal for children. We are gifted with students like Cameron whose brain is malleable, hungry to learn, and full of curiosity.
As the new school year dawns, it is easy to slip into old habits and take on the mantle of well-worn stereotypes. For many students, returning from their long summer break, they return with the baggage of old failures, feeling like they don’t fit in at school. For others, their reputation as a trouble-maker, or ‘not the academic type’, has hardened into a self-fulfilling prophesy.
The story of Cameron is a reminder that we are capable of shedding our past problems and that we can renew ourselves. With no little effort, many of our students, given support and self-belief from their teachers, become the best version of themselves.
The courage of Cameron Mott is an inspirational story that can nourish such a belief in our students and in us teachers too. It is a story that is apt for a new school year and a new start.
This blog is adapted from a passage in my book, ‘The Confident Teacher‘.
I have written about the power of teacher expectations here: ‘The Power of Teacher Expectations‘.