Even as a seed, teachers must grow the goodness in the child.
Ikira loved to eat. He could be an Olympian for eating. During meals, he positioned his body for maximum consumption. He would get his face low, aligning his lips with the edge of the plate. His fork was a food shovel. Food would go into his mouth like ocean waves crashing into the rocks. Most of the food made it inside. The rest splattered across his face.
It was like animal planet… only real.
He wasn’t obese, but he was a hefty child. When other children had one or two servings of food, he was finishing his fifth and wanting more. I’m like “I can’t even eat that much and I’m grown man!” I talked with his parents about his eating habits and they were concerned. So, behind closed doors, we hatched a plan…
…only two servings of food. Yikes!
At the first meal time, we had chicken nuggets. Ikira had already demolished seven, and was ready for more. I prepared my words, looked him firmly (scared on the inside) into his eyes and said, “No more Ikira.”
The room fell silent.
Ikira continued looking at me earnestly. He didn’t hear me. Oh man. I took a breath. “No more Ikira. That’s enough food.” Now the message hit.
Immediately, Ikira’s eyes and face clenched in anger. “Brace yourself!” I thought. He placed his hands on the table and pushed his chair back three feet, slamming the shelf behind him. “Stay calm.” I kept thinking. He crawled down to the floor and under the table and belted out a piercing scream. Children and teachers covered their ears. “This is going to take time” I thought.
For a month, Ikira kept pushing, crawling and screaming. It was almost routine. “Stay calm. Stay positive” I kept saying to myself. I would look under the table and say to Ikira,“I know you’re mad and you want more food. We can eat again at snack time.” The words changed, but the message was the same: positive.
Then… one day… “No more Ikira.” Bam! Chair hits the shelf and Ikira is under the table. “Stay calm. Stay positive” Children and teachers cover their ears. “Brace yourself!”
Wait for it…
…wait for it
I look around. Everyone is looking around. What’s going on?
Throughout this entire story, some people may have scolded Ikira for going under the table. They would have given a punishment for pushing the table and slamming the shelves. But, I didn’t get mad. I didn’t punish him. I kept feeding him kind words. I kept my emotions in check. I kept patient. I thought about my training as a teacher; my knowledge as a teacher. Look for the good.
There was silence. And, as clear as day, I saw a teaching moment…
I said, “Boys and girls, I’m proud of Ikira.”
Huh? Really? Everyone looked at me astonished. Even Ikira peeked up from under the table. “What?”
“I’m proud of Ikira. He pushed the table, yes. He hit the chair against the shelf, yes. And he is under the table. But, he is not screaming. He’s learning. I’m proud of him.” I look under the table. “I’m proud of you for not screaming. I would really like it if he would join and finish eating with us.”
Ikira looked at me. My praising words melting his frustration. His face softened. He smiled, got up, and finished the meal with us. A month later, I praised him the first time he didn’t crawl under table. A month after that, I praised him the first time he didn’t push his chair back into the shelf. And, five months when this whole thing started, I gave him the biggest praise the first time when he simply folded his arms and showed an angry face. He had learned a new skill.
People, this is learning.
Emotions, and how we handle them, is crucial for preschool teachers to teach their students. There were times when Ikira didn’t have an outburst, but it took five months before I could comfortably say that he had learned a new skill. Teachers need a keen eye for observation to weed out that teachable moment amongst all the chaos.
Look for the good.