Vera, Vera, my little gawky bird. Six-year-old Vera, ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder), knew how to play the power game. She entered and said the Pledge in a monotone, (I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands. One nation under God - explained your God or no God- 'Americanish'. Our little community was explained over time.) checked her 'To Do' list with a disgruntled, "I don't do subtraction." She pretended to enjoy the computer, sat quietly appearing not wanting to be seen, worked until asked to change to a subject of her choice, but controlled the environment.
It was time to have her interact with another person. Harold was my chosen 'victim':) He was excited about reading "The Little Red Hen". Vera did not want to read, let alone with a boy, so I sat between them as Harold's page-turner. "Vera," I directed, "We will make your first oral reading easy. Your job will be to read 'the' as silly as you want every time Harold points to it." He cheerfully read. I praised his word sounding-out skills. About the third page, Vera whispered in my ear, "If you make me read one more 'the', I will stick my tongue so far down your throat that it will hurt." (Remember, she is only six years old.)
I spoke not a word, calmly helped her off her chair, nodded toward the door while making eye contact with my assistant who escorted Vera out the door. Perplexed by my silence, Vera walked out, sat on the chair and watched me through the window as I mutely went back to turning pages for Harold. At the end of the story, I walked to the door to talk with Vera and her nurse. Vera had realized she had forfeited the game of school with inappropriate language. If she could resolve to play the "game of school life" she would be allowed to re-enter; otherwise she would stay outside the door. She was given a laminated pictorial paper for problem solving. I explained that in Dr.K's classroom we practiced school manners and learned new skills through cooperation and sharing. This teacher likes to teach.
Vera was welcome anytime to learn her academic subjects with minimal interaction with other students, but that no interaction was unacceptable. In a half-hour she decided she would whisper new (acceptable) words when working and talking with other students, and tell me when she was tired of reading. (Paul Galdone's "The Little Red Hen" , also, showed what happens to 'lazy' little girls and boys with the "Not I' said the cat, "Not I" said the dog, and "Not I" said the mouse. "He that does not work, neither shall he eat" is hard to swallow.)
Silent discourse with respect was silently felt by Vera. (Minnesota Civility Project, Civil
Discourse) supported me all these years. Change had begun.
Freedom, Independence, and Responsibility: my mantra for the Fourth of July with emphasis on responsibility for the citizens of the United States of America. The World Cup Uruguayan coach, Oscar Tabarez, this week's quote concerning character taught to his young citizens and winning team, "A young talent should train and prepare for life's challenges, character, and win the World Cup. Behavior; no fouls, no bad conduct, and whatever happens, no back talk to referees."(Wall Street Journal, July, 2018). Yeah, to another teacher and coach like me.
Clyde, Clyde, Clyde you missed on all three counts. The young 12 year old student with the insincere, morally meaningless apologies such as, "Oh, I'm sorry." (NOT, said I to myself) Clyde had entered our psyche unit because he had attacked a boy in the final round of a history competition. Apparently, the other boy had laughed at Clyde when he placed second. Clyde had run up the aisle and assaulted the boy. His father had had difficulty pulling him off the other boy. The final insult to Clyde; his best friend placed first, earning a position on the state team.
Clyde's psyche report, disjointed thinking impaired Clyde's seeing the 'big picture' as shown on his psychiatric evaluations. I lamented over visualizing his early childhood. He showed mixed-hand dominance and significantly impaired fine motor speed coordination for both right and left. (I am guessing, coloring, cutting, and pasting were too childish for him. There are few substitutes for teaching fine motor skills in the classroom). Clyde had been 'over-adultized'. He even insisted on reading Time magazine, although Kid's Time was available.
Clyde's parents had instructed him in a 'modernized Puritanical fashion'. He habitually walked with his neck angled at 45 degrees or more. They rigidly insisted that he look them in the eye when he was being spoken to; therefore, the inclination of his head to avert a lecture. Only , in our classroom did he relax his neck. By the second day the angle of his head improved measurably. He used me as a 'sounding board' ti bring up topics for discussion his situation without naming names. He gave his opinion concerning parents that act "too good". He said, "They made then go to church, made them join, and participate in church functions, even as an accolade". (Note the confusion with pronouns and acolytes.) His parents impressed on him that "getting good grades, getting ahead and getting into the best schools". Goodness, the "getting" for whom?
Since Clyde and Mark's, another student, viewpoints of society and parental control differed entirely, I began their social study's reading: America Will BE (1994) Chapter 8 "Life in New England." They were to debate issues concerning children's strict discipline. They both used decisive arguments for and against:
Puritan children were being treated like miniature adults,
Not healthy to work so hard at age six
Children wonder about things so they need to explore
They are not 'full of sin, as full as a toad in of poison'
Spanking might stop laziness but would increase disrespect, (the word respect was prominently in my classroom)
It is hard to love or honor adults who believe that
'Better whipped than damned by the devil' - who is the devil anyway?
Clyde took the Puritan view in the debate since his favorite book was the New Testament. You should have seen the utterly incredulous looks when I asked them to change sides in the debate. A row almost ensued, but computer time was used as an intervention. Threats and name-calling were disallowed. This was not about right or wrong, but strong defense of points of view. A minuscule beginning had begun for Clyde.
For the next day's assignment they would discuss, 'Two Views of Nature' as a Puritan and an Algonquin over putting up fences. Puritan's (immigrants) fenced in their crops and allowed their pigs and cows to roam freely. Native Americans fenced in their animals but not their crops. The Puritans' animals were eating the natives crops.
Educating them was my best defense against losing freedom of expression. Passion without punching. Maintaining civil discourse, incivility especially invective to deliberately provoke not allowed. (trolling- Googles word).
Independent thinking with responsible behaviors.
Two Perspectives, two Perceptions. Hmmm Immigrants?
Happy Fourth of July US of A!
Glop, glop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is; college graduation! Pat yourself on your back. Graduation speeches glop everyone together - naturally. (Do you want to hear all 700 names separately when you are there for your "darling child'?)
My darling child, Doris, age twelve was my dark-haired cooperative (in the hospital environment) sporadically happy sixth-grader. With her family she kicked and screamed because of neglect, sexual and probably verbal abuse. She had been, temporarily, in foster care, until she went to live with her maternal grandmother who claimed she was unable to manage Doris along with her own health issues. Doris became even more unruly when told that her grandfather (a convicted sex offender) was coming home.
Doris attempted suicide. In lock-in she had lessons and I assigned her reading from The Hobbit with staff under my directions. Doris wrote summaries. Our back and forth comments mainly discussed her fears. Tolkien's lines comforted Doris with a little "typing" accent from her teacher.
I smell you
I feel your air
You are Fear
Who walks unseen
But I am a Hericane
No one takes my mind from me
The energy within me
Shall make you flee.
The young suicidal patient remains the most difficult for me to comprehend, understand or help.
The hospital report said that she was prone to misperceptions, cognitive distortions and poor judgment when stressed. I thought she saw clearly. She knew something was wrong with the picture of family support going to her grandparents and her siblings, leaving her abandoned. She had chosen submission that exploded when she no longer could passively closed out her emotions. What real life had taught her or given her had been a joke that she would undo with help from the medical staff. Doris remained bland and restricted, making sporadic eye contact while biting her nails to the cuticles.
I ignored her nail biting, but encouraged her to close her eyes and exhale two or three times when negative thoughts of what I called the monsters of her mind. "Doris, you'll soon be on your own at 18." We would hear her quietly murmur, "Don't feed the monsters of the mind - those monsters at home."
On Doris's dismissal day I sent her my our favorite rendition above and paraphrased Tolkien's referral to life as a great adventure (The greatest adventure is what lies ahead. Today and tomorrow are yet to be said. The chances the changes are all yours to make. The mold of your life is in your hands to break.
Many experts, psychologists, pastors, and counselors predict the graduate future relationships balance on agreements concerning
Children of society, as you receive your diploma, turn and congratulate your gate-keeper, mother, father with a blown kiss and pat them on their back with a "Thank you."
Feel the effervescence of your accomplishment. Fizz, fizz!
We celebrate the "everyday" as mothers. Having completed Mother's Day, I'm feeling the daily tasks and joys every day as a mother. The joy of continuing our legacies, as mothers, of love and nurturing along the continuum - tapering dependence for support, comfort and sympathy. Realizing the child's rights and responsibilities.
My revelation of these truths, C. Anne, who entered the hospital as an over compliant twelve-year-old. She was an only child and had been encouraged to perform like a miniature adult. Her actions and choice of words, unbeknown to herself, mocked the adult role. (Reminiscent of the "Valley" girl characterization. "OMG can you believe my mother..., like, said that. Yeah, like, really stupid, like.")
C. Anne is classified as a drip, a nerd by her few friends' descriptions, according to her hospital entry forms. The younger students were uncomfortable with her fake superiority, shy act. She had been home schooled, daily tutored most of her academic years. My initial assumption of overbearing parents was confirmed by numerous doctor evaluations.
C. Anne had incapacitating migraine headaches lasting up to two and a half weeks associated with her jaw joint (temporomandibular joint anterior open bite). Treatment for her jaw locking included a dental appliance known as a splint, various medications and scoping of her jaw joint. The apparatus looked like prehistoric plastic with a straw hole puncture. Her entry notes to the children psychiatry center stated that her symptoms and treatment had severely hampered her ability to interact and learn in a standard classroom. (You can say that again.) C. Anne complied with every instruction in an adult manner.
Neuro-biolgical muscular feedback had been working. She began to share some knowledge and minimal communications in my classroom. I teased her about her newly inserted jaw appliance as state-of-the-art in orthodontia and that she would be the envy of "Braces Group" in her hometown. Then I told her that my niece once felt left out because she did not have orthodontic colored braces. This demur, submissive child had sent numerous signals using her previous jaw appliance as a flashing red light screaming quietly, "Stop, I need support." However, she had mistakenly carried her somatic behavior beyond her own control. Her hierarchy continued to taper medication and appliances. Her mother, with hospital help, decreased domineering support, comfort, and sympathy.
Celebrate the everyday. Your observations and interestingly joining participation will bring you joy every day!
My most illuminating child, by far, "Little Tut". An eight year old patient, by clinical doctors, was considered beautiful by his family, school, and generally his social groups. "Little Tut", nicked named in my private notes, was raised with praise to feel good about himself. He was "catered to his every need" - be happy. Little Tut's parents, as many parents believe, organized their lives around him so that he would have great self-esteem. He felt 'entitled'. Little Tut transferred his learned expectations acquired from his environment to everyone else. "It's all about me" attitude was radiated from his beaming face.
"Disaster came into Little Tut's kingdom" when his parents adopted two foreign students with special needs. Suicidal (SI) and homicidal ideation (HI) at age eight. Upon classroom entry, I assigned him the storybook software to write about a young boy since he had spied the Tut art in my classroom from my foreign travels. He delved into Egyptian history in his internet searches and felt involved in it's young king. Little Tut told stories wanting to be liked.
Paraphrasing portions of the Little Tut's story plot that exemplifies his 'transference': Tut had lots of gold, but no one liked him because he was so spoiled. Not even his family liked him. Of all his journeys he had never been on the longest river that ran north, the Nile. A fairy came to grant him his wish if he killed the dragon attacking Egypt. This would be his chance to be liked, so he took a spear to kill the dragon. Egyptians had weird traditions, like shaving their kids' hair. In art, men danced with men, but they did favor all sorts of cats. There was a very rich beautiful girl mummy. She had golden cats in her tomb and was probably the second richest Egyptian. He killed the dragon.
Little Tut had not surfaced for a week while creating his computer pictures for his story. He made a pyramid with its secret hidden treasures, searched the internet, and wrote his name and codes in hieroglyphics. His hospital staff had numerous materials to lead him into discussing his own circumstanced. The King Tut Strut from Copycat Magazine (1998) encouraged his own rhythm and dance:
Beware caregivers of the "Kid trap" for using entitlement. Lynn Johnston's For Better or Worse cartoon gives a perfect example. A young boy was turning 'thirteen' and his friends expected a party. Organizing a party is the easiest thing they said. And the last frame...have your mother do it.
It's never too late to recognize the good in a child's life by seeing it in their parents' mood...seeing their world. Little Tut's expectations changed as did the parental view:
Spring. My fresh flower of spring, Lesha, 10 years old, stepped into my medical classroom as if she were walking on rose petals - a graceful flow to her quiet gait. Despite the fact that society had rained on her parade. She had been physically abused, not sexually. Lesha docilely complied with a calmness that made me shiver. She was my newest suicidal student, African American. At least she had a personality characteristic of self that I felt would thrive that spring.
Lesha lived with her recovering alcoholic mother and stepfather. Another stepfather stepping in to demonstrate his fatherly abilities of controlling. He abusively confronts her with abusive and intimidating actions and words (hand raised, in her space, "bad girl". You get the idea.) Her mother is, also, submissive. (Where would I go? He cares for us.)
The parents laughed during the entrance interviews about Lesha's suicide attempts and methods. Their rudeness was apparently obvious in their therapy sessions. Lesha's grandparents lived next door, but avoided contact for the last two years. She had been hoed under by her support group.
Incivility, abuse, and rudeness had wilted the "rose". Suicide attempted by drug overdose. (Rudeness as defined as "low-intensity deviant behavior with ambiguous intent to harm" was contagious.) Lesha clung to her belief that she was responsible for her abuse and well deserving of her stepfather's treatment.
But, the clinic tried to revive Lesha through:
Spring was in the air.
Perseverance - believe - and "Go for the Gold", the Olympian creed caused me to immediately reflect back to Trevor. He had faced insurmountable odds. His history showed physical abuse by his biological mother and was removed from his home. His father took parenting classes and regained custody. Trevor's step-mother's only statement listed under reason for hospital admission, "He's out of control. She is his third mother after his biological mother and the present living-in-female. He faced the view of four significant persons who batted him back and forth, literately and figuratively. The adults faced marital and custodial situations, school snags, and a poorly blended family. Trevor was diagnosed as behaviorally dyscontrolled and identity confusion.
Trevor was sold "believe" to help him focus his efforts. When he or any child under my medical mental health assistance was grumpy, without a word, I would snap the non-breakable magnetic mirror with "Mad, Sad, Glad" written in bright neon salmon lettering from the white board and place it squarely in front of their face. I knelt and whispered, "We get mad, sad, and glad.
Previously, I had explained that we all get mad or angry, sad, and glad, (the rhyming word had more effect for angry). Then the class would repeat mad, sad, glad a few times enjoying the sounds and rhythm. We (gesturing inclusive with big swooping arm get mad (my ostentatious pout), but then glad - that we (circling gesturing again) can ask for help. Courage.
Trevor would look in the mirror and peer at himself - sometimes silly and occasionally shyly share his own reflection, too. The mirror was a useful impromptu lesson for self-regulation.
I would share with the class that I was glad that we can all ask for help. We never know precisely what is in our heads. That is what makes us excitingly different. Difficult for us to understand, but we do not become bored. Get your hand up fast, because a first word begins your perseverance. We need to talk and ask questions for understanding and for focusing. If your class is large close your eyes tightly, wait your turn, and remember that you are controlling your mad (anger). This will help you feel glad, maybe not much, but you will feel a trickle of glad inside.
"Trevor, who is in the mirror? You, rings in my memory. You decide mad, sad, but glad that you ask for help. It's easy to get mad. It takes courage, like an Olympian, to move to the next step.
Trevor's lesson interruption reminded me to allow interruption of my focus and be aware. Societies all over the world become mad or angry, not all at the same time, we hope. Those golden moments of time give us license to ask for help.
Persevere, believe, and you'll go for the "goal", you. An eleven year old went for his own reward.
An Olympic ceremony's song pops into my head with a John Lennon verse added.
Imagine all the people living in harmony
"You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be as one
My anti-Valentine's Day boys entered. Alex handcuffs, Darin with a sheepish grin, Cy hates girls, Mark thinks they are stupid like his mom, and Bailey, also, a 10-year old; who collectively did not want to do "prissy" things. Because of all the boys resistance to Valentine's Day, I gave my usual handshake and eye contact while adding a pat on the back. The pat on the back stuck a heart-shaped sticker with each student's positive personality attribute. I made sure to block the next person's view and asked them to seat themselves in a semi-circle at the worktable.
My favorite way to teach was by discovery, though it was often difficult to keep my composure. We stood for the Pledge of Allegiance, began our discussion concerning the assemble line for car manufacturing and how it would relate to our making valentine cards faster and less 'painful'. All agreed to expedite the process to have extra free time. As I talked, my educational assistant walked around the room strategically affixing compliments on the rest of the classes backs.
Suddenly all joy broke loose when Alex leaned back and exclaimed to the student beside him, "There's a mushy heart on you." The five boys squirmed like a can of earthworms trying to remove their positive stickers. Permission was granted to remove them only if they stuck them on their journals, homework folders or notebooks. These truths were to be worn for three hours and be visible if they wanted the party. This was bribery. They had permission to complain. We all remember our faults. I was simply putting their positives into perspective. (Some children kept them for their entire hospital stay).
Our Valentine's Day party let the boys discover that being nice is nice when they could claim coercion, "My teacher made me." They grumbled and groaned. I assured them that my heart ached for them, but they had to make valentines for the nursing staff. The group organized an assemble line without the conveyor belt. The mission was to assemble symmetrical red hearts with doilies designed and the verse from "Dear Abby" cut and pasted on each.
Everyone in the group had to assemble or forget the party. Clem, the brainy student, spoke up that "Dr. K does not renege on her word. She may apologize but does not go back on her word." He told them he had once lost computer privileges abruptly when she had pulled the plug saying that he was more important than any computer. While grumbling, Marc informed Bailey that "Dr. K may be nice, but she is not easy." Bailey, our only fourth grader among these sixth graders stood up in a huff and said, "Okay, I am the boss. Let's get this line going so we can party." He assigned the jobs. He put the nurses' names on the hearts and check off the names on the list at the end of the assembly line.
To my dismay and secret delight he assigned the worst cutter, Clem, to cut out the verses. Production was under way, paper and paste everywhere. Dollies stuck to everything including scissors. My assistant and I had to restrain our educational good intention instincts to help. This was a self-confidence assignment and not to be compromised. No one would have to say, "But Dr. K and Ms. H helped.
Eventually, "Boss Bailey" stepped forward and delivered 15 hearts each with a nurse's name and children's signatures. After examining each one I announced, "Mission accomplished. Men, chose your computers. Start your engines.
The party began and I knew that someday they would join us in a better way. Imagine!
The world in a better way. Share this "mushiness" and give a love pat to some one. Happy V day!
You knew a sport motivational acronym would pop into my blog after watching the National Football Conference Championship, and I went ape. The Minnesota Vikings lost to the Philadelphia Eagles. I have a Masters Degree in sports and physical education besides my PhD so this blog is about me losing control. "Focus control, Kaye, control what you can control, " I said to myself. Use APE as I had mentally coached my students. Tara, mentally unhealthy and inaccurately read by me popped into my head as the blow to the MN Vikings' spirit settle over me last Sunday. Poor execution.
Tara, an 11-year-old "terror", entered my classroom; I greeted her with the perfunctory handshake, "Good morning", a smile and pointed her to her table with her name card. Passive-aggressive was written all over as she collapsed huffily into her chair. (Subconsciously fuming to myself that her 23-year-old stepfather issues had not been clinically discussed, though I had recorded my sense of uneasiness in Tara about their closeness in age.)
Support from Tara's family was very weak. Tara's mother(33) was in therapy at age 18 and apparently attempted suicide. Tara's mother reported that Tara had severe temper, often throwing things and had "fits" at least once a week lasting 30-60 minutes over discipline, such as being asked to go to bed. Tara didn't get along with her 6-year-old brother and sister, age 8. She often ran down the road. Her stepfather followed to bring her home. She had climbed out of a bedroom window and threatened to jump off the roof. Tara's parents sent her to stay with the maternal grandmother.
We grappled with Tara to change her and her family's expectations. Speaking to the class in general I had reminded them that, just as we do in sports and my classroom, they could signal for time out in life with "be kind to yourself minutes" to warm up before beginning the actual school work. Each should find their own way, their own routine, put troubling thoughts on the back burner. We joked that I was getting them ready for the working world where people won't wait for them to 'get their act together'. (Attitude.) Acquiring a routine, 'like a dance'; no words needed be spoken, just let your body feel the rhythm and flow into the day without thinking deep thoughts. Choose a simple thought for the day --- a soft stuffed animal, favorite music, or as many adults do --- keep photos or sayings on their desks, to signify their own motivations. (Preparation.)
Here, Tara had given a burdensome smile. Her issues seemed heavier than waking up and getting the body to function. I knelt by her desk and softly said, "Tara take ten before you condemn Tara," and suggested time out to speak to her primary nurse.
Upon Tara's re-entry, I was motioned to the door. Law requires supervision by the teacher in the classroom at all times, so I hesitated to do more than simply step outside the door, but Tara's nurse had asked another nursing staff to step into the classroom and to please close the door.
Apparently, Tara had not condemned herself and felt she had finally committed to changing. (Effort.)
Tara had been taken upstairs to have photographs taken of deep bruises on her thighs. According to Tara, her stepfather had abused her physically and sexually.
The sign had been there. I had not read it accurately. Poor execution. I had gone on two premises.
Firstly, Tara had not accepted her young stepfather, thereby judging him negatively in his attempt to fill a father role, especially concerning discipline. Secondly, the sexuality concerning their age difference had not been resolved. I had put aside the latter, since I had already reported my observations a number of times without further notification on the issue.
I had had difficulty returning to the class. I had motioned my educational assistant to monitor the assignments while I sat in my office viewing them through the painfully clear two-way windowpane.
Cynicism is not what I felt as much as a flood of sadness. The same sadness as the Vikings lost. It's what I saw in their eyes, that they longed to see themselves experience the Super Bowl. The same sadness that I had felt for my failure to help Tara to feel life, "Next to Normal".
Of course, even the strongest break our own acronyms, but don't go acting like an ape. Focus control on what you can control, set goals, and "blow out" (a pause before-with effort). Claiming the lack of execution helped me and will help the Vikings 'not giving up'---attitude, preparation, and effort (Evolution;).
A Hand in
A Hand in
A Hand makes the chain of human help begin. My simple true story blog experiences from the mentally ill children link society to the importance of social services.
My "hand" narrative began with Katy. I met Katy through the fibrous dark panel of a hospital drawer. Most children in my classroom had slipped through society's cracks. But this little girl had disappeared into a "black hole" in the back of her hospital trundle bed drawer and wouldn't come out. The nurse had asked for my help, although, I had never met this fragile child.
I crouched next to the drawer. Katy peered fearfully from her encampment. As if possessed, I began coaxingly cooing in a singsong voice:
Katy, Katy, come to me.
In my school it's safe with me.
Katy, Katy, come and see
All the nice things for you and me.
I extended my hand without a word. The disheveled back of Katy's head appeared as she scuffled forward in the drawer. Her little body tumbled from beneath the bed. She reached for my hand with a shiver. Quietly and silently Katy, the nurse, and I walked hand in hand to my classroom contemplating our separate fears and apprehensions.
My own nightmare and connection to this fragile, blonde (and later bouncy and gregarious) raped first grader began the long walk; a hand in, a hand in, a hand to the classroom of hope.
Katy asked for help in writing her name so I placed my hand over hers to guide the pencil. She bit my hand. I recoiled, stifled an utterance of pain, and grimaced at the sight of blood. I offered my hand again, only, this time with my palm up as if inviting her to dance. Often, it neutralized a situation if I could defy using usual human reactions that children expected.
Biting usually was not cause for alarm for the hospital staff. Nor was it for me until the nurse popped her head into my classroom saying, "We haven't checked Katy for HIV, yet. There's some history. I will let you know." Click, the door closed. In those three seconds my pulse rate and perceptions changed.
The hospital staff and I had a deep compassion and drive to change these sick children's lives, especially those who were demoralized in their struggles. I, figuratively, grasp your hands with hope for the New Year that
A hand in
A hand in
A hand we will take joy in the small and big changes for the children of 2018.
Happy New Year!
Kaye is a teacher and author of multiple works including Valerie Valentine Visits Vincent Vampire