Teaching With Courage

I feel kind of silly linking up to this one, because hands down, Kim's post is the best I have read in a looong time! I love her second story! I do have one special memory I'd like to share though:

My absolute favorite memory of my first year of teaching is of a little girl who came to my class a few months into the school year. She came late because she had been expelled from our local private school. Expelled in kindergarten! I didn't know much of the background - just that she clung to mom with a fearfulness that she tried to cover with angry bravado. I was told that Child Find was monitoring her (a local program that identifies special needs kiddos). I was told that her previous teacher thought she was autistic and wanted cameras installed in the classroom to capture all of her unbelievable behavior because she should be institutionalized.

I took a deep breath and treated her as I would any other child.I welcomed her to class, I explained our rules and procedures and schedule. For the first week, all was quiet. She watched me closely, trying to get a feel for me. During the second week the other shoe dropped and I saw all of that "unbelievable" behavior. She threw fits to outdo any other fit I have ever seen. Fits that could last over an hour. Screaming at the top of her lungs fits. But the whole time, she was watching me. She'd be screaming away, but I could feel her eyes on me, gauging my reaction.

So I ignored the fits. I kept treating her as a smart, valuable member of my class. I didn't give in, but I didn't get upset. When a fit would start I'd send the other children to center time and let them play while I sat next to this little girl, acting like I was grading papers without a care in the world. Inside I was scared to death that the principal would walk in and see me with this apparently out-of-control child or that the fits would never stop and I'd spend my whole first year teaching trying to deal with this child. But, I never let on. I just casually sat by her, grading the papers and acting like it didn't bother me a whit that she was screaming her head off. When the fit was over, we went back to what we had been doing and I treated her just as I would any other child.

Within a week or so, those fits stopped. She saw that I wasn't going to get angry. I wasn't going to send her away. I wasn't going to back down. I was going to keep her in my class and love her and teach her to the best of my ability. With that security, with those boundaries tested and proven, she felt safe enough to trust me. Once she trusted me, she didn't need to throw fits any more because she knew that I would be fair and consistent.

Fairness and consistency wasn't something she'd had a lot of. I came to know many months later that part of the reason for her fear and anger was that her mother, a soldier, had been deployed at least 4 times since this little girl was born. Since her father wasn't in her life, the little girl bounced around among relatives during those deployments, which lasted months long. She didn't get consistency or fairness plus she was angry with her mother for leaving, but also fearful that she wouldn't come back. That whole mix of emotions was just too much for her to handle, thus the behavior problems.

I won't say the rest of the year was perfect, because there were hiccups of course. But we were able to send Child Find away, satisfied that far from being special needs, she was actually intellectually gifted. I saw so much growth in socialization and empathy over the rest of the year. Each week I'd have something new to share with her mother about her improved behavior with her peers. By the end of the year she was a fully functioning, beloved member of our class with many friends. I am so glad that I didn't give in during those first weeks, that I didn't tell my principal that I couldn't handle it.

Now, I'm anxious to read your stories! Please join the linky party and let me know of a time of courage in your life!

8 Rustle Up A Response!:

Ms. Kerri said... Reply to comment

What a great story. Thanks for sharing and reminding us of the impact we can have as teachers.
Ms. Kerri and her Krazy Kindergarten

Mrs Poultney said... Reply to comment

Jennifer this story really touched my heart. My husband is currently on deployment and will be back in 21 days (who's counting), he left in January. Our children have handled his absence so graciously, supporting each other and me. Don't get me wrong there have been bumpy times along this year especially with my son who has ADHD, but we kept to our routines and boundaries and they are so excited about him coming home. I forewarned his teacher that he would probably have some difficulties around the 2 - 3 month mark and he did, so she was able to make sure he knew that everything here was still the same and that the rules didn't change. She did this in a very caring and supportive way. I am glad that he had her. It is so difficult for an adult to deal with an absent spouse, it is a hundred times harder for children to deal with it. As a military wife it brings a tear to my eye to hear how you supported this young girl, it is not only our soldiers who make the sacrifices, our children make the greatest sacrifice of feeling secure and growing up without their hero with them all the time. I want to send blessings to all the soldiers who have been deployed and a bigger blessing to all the families missing them.
PS Sorry this is such a long comment, couldn't help myself.
Mrs Poultney's Ponderings

Chase Castle said... Reply to comment

OH my, this story has brought tears to my eyes. Understanding and patience and love is what this child needed. It saddens me that her other school, especially being private didn't take that additional time and effort to love on this child. Thank you for being the caring, loving and supportive adult this child needed. This post reminds me that I need to continue to make that extra effort with those sometimes difficult children. One never knows what might really be going on and if we don't take the time to figure it out we may lose a great mind to a misdiagnosis.


Kim said... Reply to comment

Oh Jennifer... I LOVE this story!
What a sweet, SWEET reminder of how important courage in teaching is.
I bet she will always remember you for your kindness and caring approach.

Finding JOY in 6th Grade

Miss Trayers said... Reply to comment

A wonderful story of not only courage, but caring. It's amazing what these kids can show us if we really take the time to look! :)


Elizabeth said... Reply to comment

Tears, Jennifer. This was the sweetest story and such a beautiful reminder that we need to look at the "big picture" sometimes.

Fun in Room 4B

Angel Read said... Reply to comment

I love this type of story! That's inspirational.

Mrs.Slocum said... Reply to comment

Amazing story of patience. These stories are really giving me strength for next school year. Thanks for coming by my blog!

Mrs. Slocum
Teacher's Don't Steal, They Share!

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