Monday, May 20, 2013


Today was my first of 24 days working one-on-one with a kindergartener with behavioral issues.

I've seen a lot of these kids in the school. Since I'm not clinically trained, any speculation about causes would need a lot more than a grain of Morton's.

I'd met the classroom teacher before and like everyone else I have met at the home school, she's good at what she does. This teacher speaks native, and has a sense of humor. Already a plus. Prior to class she gave me a download, and I also spent about 10 minutes with an administrator who oversees the school's students who need a more personalized approach.

The last thing I am going to do is to presume I know everything. In fact, it's much more helpful to presume I know nothing. I was upfront with her: I take this job seriously enough to know that they are the experts, and that what they prescribe is the course of action I want to implement. The things I can bring to the table to help any of these kids, and especially those who need a little more, are qualities learned in other fields.

I'm a parent. I've been in leadership roles as a coach and mentor to other young people. My background in journalism and other communications roles has given me a foundation for getting to know people. It's in a way (theoretically) easier with young children... they are less trained in the arts of deception. Or at least, they are less skilled.

So I'm not a psychologist or a professional teacher, but I'm human, I know the importance of what's going on, and I have a conscience. This isn't a job you can coast through. If you did, you'd pretty much suck at life. That's not going to be me.


This boy has two siblings and a single mother. He doesn't always show up to school on time. He doesn't eat well. Apparently sometimes he doesn't eat at all. He has focus problems and simply refuses to participate in some aspects of the curriculum. The teacher said that the things he has trouble with, particularly reading and writing, he often just balks at doing the work.

He has a three-page learning plan, with goals established and incentives understood. Some of the incentives amount to "don't disturb others" and the rest amount to "make an honest effort to do the work."

He's in his second classroom. The first didn't work out.

This is absolutely not what I like most about this job. I feel like I have done a good job connecting with the kids. Hell, I'm an overgrown kid myself, we all know it. One thing I think works is to talk to young people on a level they can comprehend. It's not a balanced relationship: kids are there to learn, teachers and aides to instruct and assist. It's not about being friends with the students. But, I think that my strength is to try and speak to them in a way that isn't heavy-handed. As much as I can be, I am the boss in the relationship, but that authority needs to be wielded with a very light hand for the most part.

So in accepting this job and from the information several people provided my going in, I was worried a bit. This kid by all accounts could be quite the little hellion. I braced myself.

Class started, but he didn't get there until about 9.


For each activity, he can earn two "points." In blocks of three, if he earns four of an available six points, he is rewarded with free time and the opportunity to pursue less-structured options that keep him at bay.

These blocks span about a 90-minute period for each. I should have asked what the norm is. But, today he hit six-for-six in each of the first two blocks.

I was feeling pretty good about myself.

So when it came crashing down during, of all things, recess, I was completely thrown.

An earlier recess had been fine. But in the early afternoon, he melted down. He commandeered two soccer balls, hid behind a line of shrubs and lobbed the balls over a fence into an adjacent street. When we tried to reason with him he became belligerent and used some pretty choice words -- words I didn't hear until third grade, or use before fifth. He also grabbed a kid's hoodie and slung him to the ground.

We were on a field perhaps an acre in size; he found his way to a fence that led to a playground area. There he fled and ducked under some playground equipment. It was a while before he calmed down. The principal got involved. Five teachers stood at the perimeter.

It scared me.

Not because of any imminent danger. The scary part is that he just flipped the switch from mostly engaged to completely unreasonable.

And then he flipped back.


Minutes later he came toward me, I opened the gate and he went back to playing on the field as if nothing had happened. And nothing the rest of the day even remotely approached the raging that went on for those 10-12 minutes that seemed like an hour to me.

Where does this come from? What is in this kid's head that makes him so angry and unwilling?

Right now, for kids like this, this is THEIR problem. But some day, if we don't come to understand it, deal with it, and defeat it -- it might become OUR problem.

This is a small boy who is essentially innocent. But something's causing him distress. It could be diet, it could be environment, it could be organic... the only thing for certain is he is trying to process something that he isn't yet capable of handling, and the only outlet for it is a venting of inappropriate language and actions.

It's not fair to just write him off. The responsible, human, caring thing to do is to try and help him beat these demons, whatever they are. And that means giving him a hand --  and a chance.


I've got 23 more days with this little guy and his 21 classmates. I anticipate there could be the occasional rough seas ahead. But we're getting this ship home safely.

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