Magic moments happen in teaching, and they make our hearts soar.
But, there are moments that can break. Us and our hearts.
Z is struggling. He lies down on the picnic table outside the room. When we’re all inside, he enters saying, “I don’t want to sit there.” He paces. We look for a place. He settles beside N. Then moves. Again and again. Searching for a spot.
Sitting is painful. School doesn’t fit, and the discomfort emanates from his being.
Someone says something about dads. He blurts, “My dad doesn’t come home no more.”
Enter Reading Workshop. Z gets together with his book group they are planning. Z says, “I don’t read at home. I read here, not at home.”
Later, Z paces in the corner, reading his book, Reading and walking, in circles. This is his way.
Lunch happens. Z doesn’t eat. He doesn’t want to. Can’t. He just wants to run. Too soon, recess comes to an end. The class is lined up. Z is on the field.
Enter Writing Workshop. Z rustles through papers. “What paper? I don’t have it. I don’t.” We look and find. I coach. He tries. Off he goes.
In the corner something happens. I hear, “Stop it! Why does she have to do that! Why is she here.” I walk over.
We talk. Z calms.
This thing called school doesn’t make much sense to Z. He asks, “Why do we have to do this?” I try to give him a purpose, a reason. But he doesn’t see it.
Z can read and write, but his heart isn’t in it. It’s elsewhere.
This breaks my heart. And Z isn’t just one student in my classroom. He is one of many students in many classrooms, who don’t fit. His life, his being is too big for the small classroom and industrial chairs. The expectations don’t make sense in his 10-year old brain.
He faces years of schooling. I worry. What am I doing to help him? What is he learning? What will engage him?
He breaks me from time to time. I get cowardly. I don’t want to feel that pain, that frustration. I don’t want to feel helpless.
I complain to my closest confidant who tells me to count my blessings. He tells me Z needs me. He’s right. My selfish self is shamed, and my teacher self tries to reconstruct.
Part of that reconstruction has been an study of empathy. To understand it, to embrace it, and to teach it.
In her TED Talk on the power of empathy, Helen Riess discusses her research. She states that we are hard-wired for empathy, and we can learn it. “We all need to see our specialness reflected back.”
Thanks to Anna, Beth, Betsy, Dana, Stacey and Tara of Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the Slice of Life March Story Challenge. Read other bloggers slices here.