EMinNM

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Feb 28 2014

Empathy

Our vocab words this week: torment, deceive, replica, malicious, resent, motive, vicious, and pathetic. (I realize they’re a little grim…we’re reading Greek mythology and trickster stories so go figure.)

Here were Kevin’s vocab sentences:

  1. When I try to talk to Sebastian he makes noises at me and torments me.
  2. Sometimes I deceive Josiah and I give him a replica of his pencil so I can trick him.
  3. Nicholas is malicious to me because he thinks that I have stupid ideas.
  4. Sometimes Dyon and Josiah resent me because I try to be partners with them and they will not let me.

OK, #2 is weird. But 1, 3, and 4 sound really obviously like a kid who is miserable because nobody likes him.

Kevin is bigger than the other kids, he’s the only white kid, and he struggles academically. He gets picked on a lot, and this week was particularly bad. He also has a history (at another school) of getting so upset at kids bullying him that he brought a heavy chain to defend himself with. This is a kid who feels hurt, who feels alone, and who might just snap if these bad feelings build up enough.

Luckily, when I sent Kevin to our kindergarten buddies to “help” them so I could read the rest of my class his vocab sentences, they got it right away.

“He sounds sad.”

“Upset.”

“He sounds lonely.”

We talked about how if one of our classmates is feeling this upset, we have failed as a class. We can’t have anyone feeling so hurt and sad, and we need to fix it. How can we fix it? Open discussion.

Turns out, after some discussion, Kevin has been calling other kids names, mostly “fool,” which seemed like a weird choice of insult to me, but whatever. He also doesn’t pay attention to his tone, and often seems to be snapping or yelling at kids. They have good reasons to be not so enamored of him.

The funniest problem? He runs into people a lot, like physically bumps them. This is funny not because of Kevin, but because I run into my kids ALL. THE. TIME. They are perfect elbow height, and usually I don’t see them until I’m already bumping into them. But, as I point out to them, they don’t get mad at me. Why not? Why don’t they mind when I run into them?

“Because when you run into us, you always say, ‘Oops! Sorry love!’”

“Or you say, ‘Excuse me, hon.’”

“Or you rub our heads!”

“Or pat our shoulders!”

“But you know, Ms. K., it’s kind of like when we slip and call you mom. You don’t get mad either.”

This is literally what they said. Hilarious, because listening to 9-year-olds parrot your ridiculous terms of endearment is too funny (side note: you would not believe some of the things I have come up with on my crazier days…dearlings, munchkins, goofballs, crazyfaces, grandma, the list goes on, and somehow they never bat an eye). Also intriguing because someone made the pretty explicit connection between the fact that I hug them and touch them (non-creepily) and the fact that they associate me with family. I often notice that the kids who have less close family at home (like the ones in foster care, or who are living with aunts and uncles instead of moms and dads) tend to seek out that physical contact more. Interesting that they notice too.

Regardless, we discussed how they should say sorry for bumping people too, and that I will talk with Kevin about name-calling, tone, and bumping people. In return, they will make a big effort to make him feel included, to be kind to him, and to generally think about his feelings more.

Here’s the best part. I have one kid who was a borderline bully at the beginning of the year. He and I had some very frank conversations about the evilness of making fun of our student who has autism, and he is definitely a (charmingly, I think) mischievous one. But his closing point was that we should be nicer to Kevin because he has some good stuff going for him too.

“Kevin does a lot of nice things too. Like when Isaiah and I are drawing, he always compliments us and says he likes our drawings. And when we go to kindergarten buddies, they always want to read with Kevin because he asks them questions and talks to them. And he works really hard and shows perseverance when he’s working.” (Perseverance is one of our Character Core Values that we aspire to, in case you couldn’t tell.)

Two kids wrote Kevin sorry-for-refusing-to-be-your-partner notes, on their own, without me asking them to, and gave them to him later.

And my other bullyish student added this line at the end of her creative writing today: “The mice learned not to think about the bad things so much, and to think about the good things more.” We decided there are good things and bad things about all of us, and it works better when we appreciate the good things and give each other a break on the bad things.

This has been the longest week ever. There have been a lot of bad things. But my kids showed some empathy for their classmate today, and that’s a good thing.

One Response

  1. Sadie

    I think it’s good that these kids are learning empathy “on their own”. Thank you for sharing this method of classroom problem-solving

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