Who knew working with kids at an elementary school would make up part of the most amazing summer ever? Kids are so interesting. They love to learn, and at the same time, I think adults can also learn a lot by working with them. A really cool part about my job at a private school is I’m allowed and even encouraged to teach the kids about God. I think working with kids is a great way to witness God at work.
Here are some of my musings from working with kids over the summer. It turned out rather long, so I split it into 3 parts. Part I is about my first week.
Although all the workers get some interaction with all the kids, during the summer I worked mostly with the older kids, the 5th and 6th graders.
For the first few days, some of the kids were wild, and they chose me to be the target of their aggression. There was a group of 3rd grade girls who particularly liked to attack me. They tried to jump on me, kick me, hit me, scratch me, bite me; you name it, they tried it.
The 5th graders were calmer, though they had their own share of quirks. There was one adorably strange little girl in my group who marched to the beat of a different drum. She wore high rainbow-colored socks, and t-shirts that said strange things on them. She proudly referred to herself as weird. She was obsessed with wearing fake mustaches, and even insisted she wanted to grow a real mustache. She would ask all sorts of strange questions, and one time she stared up at me and gave me a highly detailed description of the insides of my nose.
There was another girl in my group, we’ll call her “Janice,” who was really quiet. She was a nice kid, kept to herself, and minded her own business. She kinda reminded me of myself when I was a kid. But she wasn’t talking to anyone, and when she did talk, she didn’t say much. She just sat there, looking miserable. She obviously wasn’t having any fun at all. I tried my best to get her to open up more, but nothing really seemed to be working.
There was a boy in my group who we’ll call “Brad.” He was outgoing, fun to be around, and was really into sports. He made some of the most hilarious funny faces. But he’s short. Really short. He’s easily the shortest kid in the 5th grade. Even some of the 3rd graders are taller than him. He gets made fun of a lot for his height. People call him “Little Brad,” which he doesn’t like. He’s a ringleader, so when he misbehaves he usually influences some of the other boys to follow his lead. Brad has a reputation as a troublemaker. I’ve heard a lot of the kids and some of my coworkers say that about him. I’ve even heard him say that about himself.
There was another girl, we’ll call her “Lisa.” She’s smart, outgoing, well-behaved, and has obvious leadership skills. She’s the type of kid I think a lot of teachers would choose as a teacher’s pet. (A lot of the teachers I had growing up would favor kids like her.)
I think it’s a mistake when teachers think of certain kids as “good” and certain kids as “bad.” With kids you cannot play favorites. Kids can tell when teachers favor certain kids over the others, and it creates malaise. Besides, if you continuously praise the so-called “good students” it’ll go to their heads. They’ll get cocky and arrogant, and as a teacher, you won’t be doing them any favors. Praise should be given when deserved, but I think it’s important to keep in mind that there really are no “good kids” or “bad kids.” Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, different things that make them special, along with some things they can improve on. Lisa, for example, is a kid with a lot of good traits, but can also sometimes be bossy, selfish, and proud. (Three things I also struggle with at times.) As a teacher, I think it’s important to help students maximize their strengths, while minimizing their weaknesses.
On the first day of summer school we separated the kids into groups, and had them make a skit about the day’s Bible lesson. Brad, Lisa, Janice, and some other kids were in a group together. The kids were having fun working on the skit, including Janice, who was slowly starting to come out of her shell. The whole day she had been really quiet, but she finally seemed to be opening up a little. Lisa appointed herself to be the “director” of the skit. She was doing her best to lead the group, but was getting frustrated, since Brad was influencing some of the other boys into goofing around. For the skit, the boys were supposed to pretend to beat up this one kid. We’ll call him “Marcus.” Marcus was a nice kid, smart, but somewhat aloof, wore glasses, and wasn’t very good at sports. The other boys would kind of pick on him and leave him out, so Marcus frequently stayed close to me.
Anyway the other boys were supposed to pretend to beat up Marcus. All of the kids thought Marcus was only pretending to be hurt since this was a skit, so they all played along. Nobody noticed that Marcus really was hurt, and he started crying. Injuries are taken pretty seriously at work (though I think Marcus was actually more hurt about being picked on, left out, and ignored than he was physically hurt), so the big boss man ordered me to bring all of the kids involved in the incident down to see him. All of the kids are afraid of him, and I don’t blame them. He’s a big guy, huge muscles, tattoos, shaved head, and has the power to ban them from field trips, call their parents, destroy them, or worse, expel them. He’s actually a really nice guy, but towards the kids, he purposefully keeps a rough demeanor to keep them in check.
“Are we in trouble?” asked Lisa. “I’m scared!”
“You’re not in trouble,” I said. “We just need to see if Marcus is okay, and apologize for accidentally hurting him.”
“I didn’t do anything though!” said Lisa. “I shouldn’t have to go because I didn’t do anything!”
“Everyone in the group is going,” I said. “We need to see how Marcus is doing and say sorry to him.”
“But I didn’t do anything! I shouldn’t have to say sorry!” said Lisa.
“Everyone is going, and we’re all going to say sorry. I know it was an accident, but we still need to apologize. We just need to show Marcus that we care about him.”
Brad came up to me, shoulders slumped, speaking quietly. “I’m in trouble, huh, Mr. Robert?” he asked. He obviously felt bad for what happened.
“I know you didn’t mean to hurt him. But you a got a little carried away, and you ended up hurting him on accident. It’s good to have fun, but you also have to be considerate of others. You’re not in trouble. Just say sorry to him, and be more careful from now on.”
All the kids had to talk to the boss and explain their version of what happened, except for Janice. I let her stand in the back and kinda go unnoticed. She’s so quiet anyway, she’s usually unnoticed. I made her apologize, but I didn’t make her say anything else. Some might accuse me of playing favorites here, but she didn’t do anything wrong. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and I didn’t want her to feel like she was in trouble. Penalizing someone for something they didn’t do is damaging, especially, I think, for a kid like Janice. She had finally taken a step out of her shell and if she got in trouble for this, she might retreat back, ruining all the progress she’d made.
I think a lot of teachers take a “cookie-cutter” approach to teaching. They go through the curriculum, teaching all the things they’re mandated to teach, but they fail to recognize that everyone responds differently to different things. Every child is unique. Lisa, for example, is confident and obviously enjoys leading. Leaders are responsible for everything that happens under their watch, regardless of whether or not it’s directly their fault. To let her slide away from this situation would be teaching her to avoid accountability, which would hinder her development as a leader.
Janice, on the other hand, is completely different. She needed a self-esteem boost. To punish her in this situation would not have been the right thing to do, and would have done more harm than good. As for Marcus, he needed to feel like he was part of the group, while Brad needed someone to see through his sometimes wild behavior, and see that he really is a good kid.
I think all of us learned a lot about each other that day.
At the end of the week we went on a field trip to Waikiki. All of us had a great time. Janice had finally opened up. She was still on the quiet side, and there’s nothing wrong with that, that’s just how some people are. I’m that way too, so I guess that’s why she caught my attention. But at least now she was having fun. On our field trip she bought a whoopie cushion and started using it on people. Not at all what I expected from a quiet, studious Asian girl. She was running all over the place, was first in line for everything, and even started proudly declaring herself to be a “bad kid.” While we were at the beach, she started pretending to act up, playfully kicking sand and encouraging me to discipline her. She really wasn’t misbehaving at all, but by her standards, it was a lot. I was glad to see she was having fun.
(To be continued in Part II)