By grade 12, I knew I wanted to be a teacher so signed up for the cadet teaching course – one afternoon a week in a grade 2 classroom. For me, this was as close to heaven as I could get at that time. I have forgotten the name of the teacher over the years and can’t name the students in respect to the student’s privacy, but a couple of stories from that year stand out in my mind.
I will call the first boy Mike. Mike refused to do most of his work in class. The teacher was unsure where to go with him since he wouldn’t show any work. One day, as I passed his desk I noticed him drawing a car. The detail and perspective would have done many a junior high student proud. “O, Mike!” I exclaimed. “That is so good. You should take it home and show your parents.”
His flat answer and lifeless eyes raised to look at me still break my heart when I think of them. “Why?” he replied. “They will just throw it away.” To this day, I find a way to hand every picture children give me. I don’t get many Christmas or end of the year gifts from kids because they know these pictures are what I cherish best. Thank you, Mike, for teaching me this. I only hope you found someone who could show you the value in your art.
The second boy I will call Scott. Scott was always losing his temper at school. The kids knew to watch for the tension in his shoulders and hands. He had so little control of his emotions, especially when frustrated with the work he needed to do. When his moods would escalate, you could almost here the catching of breath and feel the lack of air in the room. Action would stop as the kids did what they could to stay out of his attention while the teacher helped him calm down.
One day, in spring, the teacher decided to make use of my presence to take the kids on a walk. The children enjoyed the fresh air and sun after being cooped up in the classroom for so much of the day. The children chattered happily. John even stopped to ask the two elderly ladies who were watering their gardens if they were going to have a water fight. It was a sunny, peaceful change of peace.
That is, it was peaceful until Scott saw a big branch on the grass by the sidewalk. Picking it up, he began swinging it around. All movement stopped as the teacher commanded, “Scott! Put that down!”
Scott looked at the teacher, looked at the branch and began breaking it over his knee into pieces throwing each out into the road. At that point, the teacher and I were just making sure all the kids stayed safe while watching Scott to make sure he wasn’t in danger either.
As the last piece flew out into the road, one of the children let out an audible rush of air. “Whew!” he breathed out. “I thought he was going to hit somebody.”
At that Scott dashed over to the stick closest to the side of the road and picked it up. A small child was riding a tricycle across the road. Scott swung the stick over his head yelling, “Hey, kid! Want me to bash your head in?”
We all gasped as the teacher exclaimed, “Scott!” with all the authority her voice could carry.
Scott’s looked at the teacher, looked at the stick and tossed it back into the street. “Just asking,” he said nonchalantly and got back into line with the other kids.
The teacher had a compassion for Scott that taught me. She understood that he needed to feel a sense of belonging in that class so did not penalize him for what happened, at least not in front of me. Instead, she allowed me to include him in games with the other children. I can still remember the game where Scott came tentatively over to join, feeling concerned because of how often he was not able to understand so many of the rules. The other children in the game didn’t treat him as a pariah or put him down, instead a spirit of camaraderie bloomed as they encouraged him. I watched Scott’s scowl lines smooth out around his mouth as he excitedly played.
Thank you, dear teacher, Scott and the others for teaching me that children can help each other through inclusion. You helped me learn that the answer to anger problems isn’t exclusion or distancing.
Thank you to those children who are now adults in their 40’s. You helped me on the journey toward becoming the teacher I am today.