Ms. White sighed when she noticed Billy drawing outside of the lines, again. He was the only one of her second grade students that couldn’t grasp the concept she was teaching.
She walked closer to Billy’s desk, noticing how Mildred and Richard, who sat on either side of him, kept their crayon marks within the set parameters. Richard’s face had a look of strict concentration and Mildred’s hands worked slowly while her thick, brown crayon filled in the bark of a tree.
Ms. White stood next to Billy, but he didn’t look up. Almost carelessly, he was brushing his purple crayon against the top of the paper—a place where he’d colored with his blue crayon earlier.
The assignment she’d handed out was fairly simple. It was a picture of a tree in a field, with mountains behind it and a grass plain all around. Aside from the sky area, each of the different sections had a small number inside it. At the bottom of the paper was a list of which numbers correlated with which color. Billy hadn’t colored in any of those sections. Even more frustrating, he was using colors he shouldn’t in an area that didn’t need to be colored.
“Billy,” Ms. White said to get his attention.
“Yes?” he answered without looking up.
“Did you understand the assignment?”
“No, I don’t think you did,” she said, trying not to sound upset. “Explain to me what you are supposed to be doing.”
“You said to color the paper,” Billy said. “That the colors match up to the numbers on the bottom.”
“That’s right,” Ms. White said. “If you understand the assignment, why aren’t you doing it?”
Billy looked up from his paper. He didn’t appear mad or defiant as Ms. White expected. His expression was one of confusion.
“But I am doing it.” He pointed to his paper. “See. Look. I colored.”
Leaning down, Ms. White pointed to the uncolored tree. “You haven’t started yet. All you’ve done is color the part you didn’t need to with colors you shouldn’t have used.”
Billy blinked at her. She could see him trying to puzzle out what she had just said. “You never said not to color this part or that I couldn’t use blue and purple.”
“Oh? So that’s it, is it? I have to spell out every little detail for you to follow directions?” Ms. White no longer tried to hide her frustration.
“I’m sorry,” Billy said. His voice started to quiver. “I like what I colored. But I guess it’s no good.” He set down the purple crayon and slumped back in his chair. He looked defeated.
Something about his tone and body language made Ms. White pause. She looked again at the night sky he had drawn.
It was beautiful.