YOUR SUBJECT IS BUT A PORTAL TO THE LEARNER
Today’s blog was inspired by Kathryn Craig, M.Ed., a LinkedIn colleague, from her post: Taking Messes and Turning Them into Messages This is such an important topic in life and in education. Whenever there is a problem or a mess you can be sure it has a message to tell. And that message can be a life changer.
Thinking about this in education dredged up an old memory of a student I once had. I’ll call him ‘Tony’. I was teaching Spanish to all the grades at a private school in Las Vegas. Tony was in my kindergarten class and was the kind of nightmare that makes teachers want to quit their jobs.
Tony’s mother had a Hispanic housemaid that she had difficulty communicating with. One day I got a call from her. She called me to translate for her because she was having a hard time communication with her maid. Through the housemaid’s eyes, I got an insight into Tony’s parents, his home and in particular Tony’s father.
I found out that his father was extremely strict and overbearing. He would not allow the maid to sit down at any time during the whole day and when he came home from work he would put on a white glove and run his hand over furniture and appliances to see if they were clean. He was equally overbearing with his wife and son. I found out the housemaid was the most recent of a series of housemaids.
I was floored by everything I learned from the housemaid!
From that day forward I saw Tony’s in a completely different light. I felt a lot of compassion for what Tony had to deal with at home. I began allocating more task based roles for him like allowing him to come to the front of the class and flip the pages of the song chart. He became ‘The official song chart page flipper’. I also let him hold and speak for our class puppet.
Incidentally, letting children act or talk through a puppet is great therapy. They will feel free to express themselves openly and you can often find out a lot more about what is going on in their lives than you ever could talking to them directly. Our class puppet was a king and Tony really enjoyed giving Spanish commands in a gruff voice through the king. I read between the lines and understood that he was probably telling me how his father spoke to the household.
Giving Tony this little bit of freedom to do helpful things, rather than scolding, seemed to have a positive effect on his behavior. I was probably the first teacher not to send him to the corner or punish him in some way. And if this was kindergarten, I shuddered to imagine what Tony could have been like by the time he got to high school.
Before this, I had been tempted to send a note home about his behavior or send him to the office but with the new information I now realized that if I did that, it most likely would have cause Tony more problems at home with his father. The abusive cycle would have escalated for him.
The scary thing is that Tony is not alone. There are probably thousands or hundreds of thousands of children that undergo every kind of hardship, humiliation and abuse at home. This has to be frightening and can result in lots of rage. The child’s mind is so wrapped up in this that they cannot think, act, or react normally and often fail in their studies.
If you were a tiny person living with giants who treated you and those around you cruelly and unfairly, you would feel impotent to do anything about it because of your size and lack of authority. But when you got to a place like a classroom, you would want to unleash your pain and hostility, wouldn’t you?
Tony did not need ‘more punishment’, he needed validation and someone to understand his need to act silly and play and get dirty like a normal child. My interaction with the housemaid came out of sheer chance but if I had not had the opportunity for that interaction, Tony’s behavior would have led me to scold him more often in front of other children. This would have only deepening the cycle of abuse.
Tony did not become a model student but he seemed happier in the classroom and grew somewhat attached to me.
One day I saw him at the skating rink and he came over and grabbed my hand so I could skate with him. He took me for a bit of a wild ride but I chuckled to see the smile on his face. Understanding his plight helped me put a little more joy and self-confidence into his demeanor. I hope his future teachers reaped some of the benefit! I don’t think children are meant to carry the loads of the adult world. If parents can’t put smiles on their faces teachers should try to do so. Most of all we should not pass judgement on them if they don’t look and behave as we think they should.
Don’t judge the behavior of others until you have taken a deep look at their circumstances.