I wrote this a few weeks ago and never got around to posting it due to being quite busy, quite down about goings on in my country, and struggling with my students. But today was one of those great days where I was reminded to start fresh and give my students a chance each day. And so I came back to this:
“I have an angry student.
With learning disabilities. I don’t quite know what he struggles with because my co-teacher won’t tell me. She won’t tell me much of anything, because she flat out doesn’t care. But I know he’s angry. My first day with this student consisted of breaking up a fist fight. A nine year old fist fight. Meanwhile my co-teacher continued on the lesson as if nothing was happening. Here in Korea, or at least at this school, they don’t seem to want to acknowledge that kids can be different at such a young age.
So he flips tables. And hits kids. And pushes chairs over. He uses his height to intimidate and his big hands to crumple and throw.
Feeling the huge weight of the language barrier, (plus the chaos of 25 other unruly 3rd graders running across tables and jumping around) I found myself avoiding confrontation with him. And thus avoiding teaching him. What was I to do without language? He could just be in the back doing nothing. As long as he wasn’t hitting other kids, I was happy.
But recently something shifted. I noticed that he understood more than anyone gave him credit. And I strengthened my resolve to not give up or to label him as the “problem child”. So I altered things. One day I gave him a different task. He stayed in his chair for the majority of the time and by the end of the lesson I thought I caught a crack of a smile from the corner of his mouth. The next week I isolated him from distraction and refocused his energy with a specialized assignment. The results astonished me! Not only did he focus and try, but he succeeded! He traced over English letters and mouthed the sounds. His pencil moved quickly and finished with full English words! Even as I spoke in a foreign tongue he nodded and “Nei”ed in understanding. His happy energy was a welcome change.
But the greatest moment came at the end of the day. After class was finished, I passed him in the hall and he beamed with a lanky ear to ear smile. Gazing shyly through his long bangs, he told me he was happy. I happily returned the smile and through broken words and simple gestures reaffirmed what a good job he’d done that day. Then, as if overwhelmed with the flurry of positive emotions, he lunged at me with a quick hug, bounced around in excitement, and then jumped off smiling down the hallway. And as I watched him bound away, it hit me. I’ve been struggling with my 3rd graders. With so many various circumstances working against me, I’ve simply tried to stay afloat. But here I remembered the importance of acknowledging all my students- even if it’s through gestures and garbled language. Even if it’s just a smile or kind tones. I need to see through the currents of chaos. It is possible to unlock the potential in each child. I just have to find the right key.
It took two months for me to open that smile. But it was there all along.”
So as thanksgiving rounds the corner, it’s nice for me to stop and appreciate things. I am thankful for these beautiful moments where my students teach me. I am thankful to be reminded that compassion, kindness and patience can go a long way (for both parties). It is needed in our world now more than ever. I am thankful for all of the love and support that I have across the globe that’s led me to where I am. As one of my students wrote, “I’m thankful for my life.”
Happy Fall all!