Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Sep 22 2012

I wish I could help more…

One of my girls is having a rough time right now. She apparently had a lot of behavior issues last year and would have hysterical yelling or crying episodes because she felt like her teacher was being unfair and not treating her well (I know this teacher, and in all honesty he might have been). She’s got a little mouth on her, and will sometimes snap at her classmates or suck her teeth or roll her eyes at me when she thinks I can’t see (spoiler alert: I can always see). But she also desperately wants positive attention and to feel smart, and she takes an enormous amount of responsibility for her younger siblings, who do things like jump out of the kindergarten line in the hallway to grab a quick hug from her. All in all, she’s doing really well this year, working hard and learning lots. Her behavior is on the whole improving.

But I have to qualify these with “all in all” and “on the whole,” because some days, like yesterday, she comes in and you can just tell it’s not going to be a good day. Little things make her lash out or sulk, and if she doesn’t have a problem, she creates one, then invariably ends up in tears. The thing is, her dad was killed this summer in a DUI car crash. Often she will connect her behavior to her dad, saying she was thinking about him a lot this morning and it made her really upset. Sometimes she doesn’t see the connection, and she just says she is so angry and she doesn’t know why. It’s like some mornings she wakes up and is fine, and other mornings she wakes up and remembers she doesn’t have a dad anymore, and the whole world comes crashing down.

Yesterday she had a vocab quiz, which was hard for her because she missed our vocab review activity yesterday. It was a bad morning already, and she showed her displeasure by stabbing her eraser until it broke into a million pieces. I confronted her about why that was not OK (respect classroom materials), and she rolled her eyes, sucked her teeth, and was generally a brat.

When my kids whine or are disrespectful, they simply have to repeat whatever they were trying to do (get out a notebook, close their book, ask a classmate to move, etc.) until they can do it respectfully. It used to take 3 tries, now they mostly do OK with one repetition.

It took her 4 tries to get out of her seat and move to the back table. But while the other kids had Specials, I tried to talk to her about it. It was clearly an angry-but-don’t-know-why morning. But, when we got to the heart of it, that the vocab test made her feel stupid, I told her that it makes sense it was hard because she missed the review, and it doesn’t make her stupid, and she is actually very smart. And she just melted into a little ball, head hung way low, tears splashing onto her uniform pants. I wanted to pull her onto my lap and just hug her, but I didn’t, because she’s kind of too old for that and is a fiercely independent kid, so might not actually appreciate it. So we just sat for a bit.

She didn’t feel like she was ready to go to Specials, and she didn’t feel ready to talk to the counselor, who knows the situation and is working with her little sister (side note: my munchkin is actually the one they call when sister is having a meltdown, and this little girl pushes aside her own hurt to go calm her sister down, every time). So instead she asked me to write out some multiplication problems for her. I didn’t really help her with them, we just sat together, working. She’s actually really good at math, and I think she needed to do something she was good at, almost to prove to herself that she really is smart. At the end of specials, she had finished 7 problems and 3 word problems, and seemed to have calmed down. The rest of the day, she was fabulous.

This is yet another situation where I am hopelessly underqualified. I have never lost a parent (and it would probably destroy me if I did). I don’t know what to say when she says she misses her dad, except that I know it’s hard and I like her anyway and she’s still a good person even when she misbehaves. I know those are all good things to hear, but they are woefully inadequate for the level of hurt she feels. It’s amazing how fast you fall in love with these little people who were strangers to you a month ago. I actually got teary twice while writing this, thinking of my little kiddo who’s trying so hard to hold it all together, when sometimes it can’t do anything more than fall apart. You want to make everything OK for them. But you don’t know how, and in all probability, you actually can’t.

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    In which I muse about New Mexico, teaching, and life in general.

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