My heart was struck with joy this week regarding one of our 1st graders. He is a boy with so much testosterone welled up within him and I just wish he had a dad at home to wrestle with. He could easily be labeled a "problem child" because of the way that he responds to instruction, but that's not the way I see him. To me, he is a fun-loving, super smart kid who just needs quality discipline.
Over the past year, I have often dealt with his temper tantrums after telling him that he needs to go wash his hands before snack time. He is usually playing with legos building a spaceship, using his free time productively. But he is just a stubborn little kid that doesn't want to follow directions. I have easily lost count of the number of times we have seen him erupt into fits of rage. But we have worked hard at being consistent with him, as well as all of the other teachers in the school who have put together a special behavior program for him.
I witnessed the payoff earlier this week during a very normal snack time. I told him he had a choice to go wash his hands immediately or after five more minutes of free time. Usually he picks the "five more minutes" choice, duh. But this time he didn't say anything. No response. I could tell that something was bothering him, but I didn't have the time to get into a deep conversation.
After three minutes, I came back to him and gave him a warning that he had only two minutes left of free time. It was then that he realized that I was serious and began pouting a little bit. He was flat on the floor for the next two minutes. I could see the wheels turning inside of his head. He was thinking about his choices: 1) Get angry and be unhappy or 2) Follow directions and have a tasty meal. He knew what the right choice was, but he really wanted to keep playing with legos. At the same time, he also knew that I wouldn't let him play with legos if he didn't follow directions (Adults often have problems with kids when they give them instructions but don't follow through with consequences. Kids pick up on this quickly and the inconsistency is very confusing and frustrating for them).
As I watched his little mind work and after I told him that his time was up, he simply got up and he went to go wash his hands without complaining. After he finished his snack, I went over to him, looked him in the eye, told him I was proud of him, and thanked him for doing it without complaining. And, of course, a congratulatory high-five.
It's times like these that I get so excited to be a teacher. It gives me so much joy to see little bratty kids change and grow to be more responsible. The end of the school year was yesterday. Thinking back over the year and the work that my coworker and I have invested into these kids' lives makes me so much happier than I think I could be doing any other job. I am beginning to think that this isn't really a job at all, but a privilege to help other people.
Image from here.