Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Here Comes Trouble

I had a humbling experience today while teaching.

I've started a new job and have been there for roughly a month.  I'm teaching preschoolers again and absolutely loving it.  It's been thrilling to get back into the classroom and see the children engage with materials, watch them create and think and problem-solve.  And it's been interesting for me to be the new kid on the block.

I was at my last job for ten years.  Because I taught a multi-age group (children ages two to five), I had some children for up to three years.  This enabled me to be a well-established teacher with both the children and their parents.  Of course there were new children and families every year, but there were also children who were "old pros".  So I haven't had a completely new class of children in ten years.

The biggest challenge as a new teacher is establishing yourself as a respected and respectful member of the classroom.  The first couple of weeks found me making requests of children to clean up or to change their behavior, only to have them run from me or tell me no.  This led to me reinforcing what I said, every day, until the children understood that yeah, that new lady is really gonna make us clean up!

In every class there are children who are more responsive (or more quickly responsive) than others. The slow responders are the ones who sometimes need a bit more attention, a bit more direction, a bit more rapport.  I rather enjoy the challenge of building a trusting relationship with these children in particular, although every relationship with each child is unique and special.

Today, as we were playing outside, one of my slower responders was playing chase on the playground.  "I got you!" he yelled as he pushed into another child, who fell down.  I directed my slow responder (heretofore known as SR for slow responder) to help the other child up and ask if she was okay.  He stood, with a frozen smile on his face, as the other child rose, dusted herself off, and ran away.  As I moved toward him, SR took off running and I called him.  He continued running until I said, "SR!  You're not in trouble...I just want to talk with you."  SR stopped and let me approach him and explain again that if he forgot to be gentle, he needed to help the other child and check on them.

As I spoke, SR's face remained frozen with that same smile.  You know the one...the one that says, "Oh man...I'm gonna get it."  His eyes darted to my face, then back to the playground several times.  When I finished talking, his eyes met mine one more time, and then he shocked me.

SR threw his arms around me in a huge, tight hug.

So many times we turn tiny issues that are teachable moments into huge discipline issues.  I could have easily lectured, given a logical consequence (you need to leave this area), punished (time out) or used a million other responses in this situation.  The reality is that SRs--in general--tend to receive these types of responses far more than most children, because their slow compliance is seen as defiance.  Is it defiance? Maybe.  Had this SR and I had other confrontations?  Yes.  I knew he knew that I meant what I said.  It was because we had experienced other confrontations that it was so important to give SR an opportunity to try again, to show him I trusted him.

Discipline is a difficult subject and a hard call in many situations.  But this SR's response to me today reminded me of how much power adults have over children and how careful we must always be to use that power carefully, kindly, gently, to teach and to love.  There's no trouble here.  SR kept his hands to himself, interspersed with brief hugs with  me for the rest of the day.

I think I made a friend.  :-)

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