Monday, October 20, 2008

Looking, asking, listening....

When I worked as a teacher's assistant (among other things) in an elementary school a few years ago, I quickly learned that you literally had to have eyes in the back of your head. Not only could you easily miss the big things in a classroom full of 25 to 30 kids who all come from different backgrounds and are at different levels educationally, the small details that sometimes matter the most, particularly to a child, can be overlooked. The usually laid back kid who comes in grumpy, the child who sleeps through parts of the class or even the child who eats so ravenously at lunch you can hear them down a noisy table.....sure, all of these circumstances have the potential to be aggravating or even a concern. I've worked with each of these kinds of children and I learned from a few wonderful educators to look beyond the aggravating behavior to the cause. How to do this complicated thing? Simple. Just ask.

Ask the gumpy child what's goin' on. Maybe a child on the bus or in the hallway on the way to class is being a bully to them.

Ask the sleepyhead what time he/she went to sleep the night before. Maybe there is a family crisis happening and the child isn't getting good rest.

Ask the noisy eater why they eat so ravenously. Maybe they don't get to eat when they get home.

With children you never quite know what their answers will be. I've heard every reason for unusual behavior from being abused in some way to a simple, "Mom didn't give me my favorite cereal this morning!".

Could I or the teacher I worked with fix every single problem that walked through our door? No. Could we make our students feel safe, cared for and challenged while they were with us? Most definitely. For some, the simple kindness of asking if they were okay was enough.

This all came back to me in a flash when, last week, I noticed a student come in to the school's Homework Haven program (before school) with both shoes untied. This is a habitual thing for the child and I wasn't very surprised. Since I was volunteering in the laptop station with Dad, he got to the student first to tie the loose shoelaces....the shoes, at second glance, were a full size too small. Well, no wonder the child didn't want to tie those shoes! Dad, who used to work in a shoe department, checked where the big toe was to make sure. Yep, he needed new shoes.

Dad's card in hand, I made a quick run to Wally World later that morning and got that youngun some shoes. When I returned to the class, I was a bit worried that the shoes wouldn't be what the child would like. I shouldn't have worried one bit! That sweetheart "ooohhed and aaahhhed" over those things like they were limited edition Nikes, y'all! And then he said something that made my breath hitch in my chest. "Thank you! My feet don't hurt anymore."

A few days later that student's mom wrote the dearest thank you note. She explained that she was temporarily out of work and knew that her child's feet hurt, "but what was I to do", she said. She offered to pay us back and was proud to say that she had just started a new job. She went on to thank us for taking care of her baby when she could not. It was all I could do not to lay all over the desk I was sitting at and weep. I quickly let Dad know about the note and after he read it, he told the child that, "Your momma doesn't need to pay me back. Why did we get those shoes for you? Because we love you."

Says it all, doesn't it?

Sometimes in this information inundated world I think it's easy to forget to just.....ask. Ask how someone's day has been, ask if life's going okay, just care enough to ask and listen.

As I was leaving the school that day, this song came on the KLOVE radio station. It perfectly suited the occasion. My little Everyday Occasion.

Brandon Heath - Give Me Your Eyes from Brandon Heath on Vimeo.


Joanna said...


Sandy Toes said...

How exciting!
-Sandy Toes

imbeingheldhostage said...

Oh bless you. I would've laid across a desk and wept too! My oldest was one of the kids that came across as angry with a huge chip on his shoulder--because he was so shy and didn't want anyone to know. Very few teachers took the time to get to know him, and for them he blossomed.