Empowerment through Language...

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Attachments, Assumptions, & Putting One Foot in Front of the Other

This school year, I have been rocked to my very core by a small number of 4th graders. I already mentioned in my previous post the kinds of concerns I was grappling with and the questions I have. I hoped that I would erode the barriers and we would start to have fun, as well as get something productive and creative accomplished. Now, with just a month left with this session of the after school program, my goals are to get through one complete 100-minute session without struggle and conflict, both with me and between themselves.

What I have seen are small indicators that I have somehow managed connection with several of the students, even if it does not look like it on the surface. One student will periodically draw me a little picture or write a note, "Ms. Popoff is my favorite teacher." Another will sometimes just stand close and tell me stories or share his feelings. These feelings are often of fear and alienation. Last week, this young man told me he wanted to be called by his middle name from now on. I agreed to comply but asked why the change. He said that he was tired of people never saying or spelling his name correctly so he was choosing the middle name, thinking it would be easier for people. Having changed my own last name partially from the same motivation, I understand the value of naming and how it impacts identity and self. I wonder if anyone else is honoring this young man's choice? I wonder if he articulated that he made a choice to anyone but me? I wonder if he was surprised when I addressed him by his chosen name rather than his given name when I saw him again this week?

Another boy asked me to hold his book for him last week until our next class two days later. Distracted with dismissal  procedures, I agreed but then did not know where the book came from so I left it on the shelf in my host teacher's room, making the erroneous assumption it would stll be there upon our return or, if it had been one of her books, we could read from it again. The teacher saw it was a library book and returned it. The boy came into our session and asked for his book and then my error in our communication was revealed. The boy felt betrayed and showed me quite graphically in a series of pictures he drew. He captioned me as a liar. We exchanged drawings as our way of working out the affront and I have saved the paper as a reminder of how simple actions can violate trust. I also prayed on it. I did not acquiesce fully but I heard him. He heard me too. I hope  he learned as much as I did.

Yesterday, one of the boys ran to me when I arrived, proclaiming that we had to make the day the best ever for one of his classmates. This girl has been my greatest challenge from day one. But there is something under her tough and tumble tomboy exterior that is sweet and yearning. I  asked the boy if it was the girl's birthday and he said, "No, today's her last day."  I asked if she as leaving the program and he said no again, she was moving away.

I quickly went to the young lady and said, "You are leaving me?! I am so sad. Where are you going?"

Then my heart became broken and some of my assumptions about this child were confirmed. She shared that her  father was murdered a number of years ago and  the family had to move because the person responsible was back on the street. The family was leaving the state.

We did our best to make her departure a good one. I did my best to let her know that I cherish her  being. I did so without being gushy. She would never approve of that. But I did  stand by her side while she waited the last time for her bus. I did repack her backpack, which was akwardly jammed with papers and notebooks. I did wish her luck and tell her I love her. I meant it.

She says she is keeping the small note commending her I left folded by her hand, that she will put it on her bulletin board in her new room. She showed the note to her friends before putting it in her pocket.

Driving home, I held back my tears. I will never see her again. I will never forget her. I will never forget her. I will never forget her.

Next week I will walk back into class and try to engage the remaining children in my group again.