Relating to an individual child in the class

Barbara R’s Story
Daniel K’s Story
Dessi’s Story
Doris’s Story
Isabel T's Story
Jukka’s Story
Liviu’s Story
Oksana’s Story
Sally’s Story
Sasha’s Story
Wolfgang's Second Story
Wolfgang's Third Story

Barbara R’s Story  (Rules are rules … or are they?)

At the beginning of the school year I took over a class of English. I had taught them Home Economics when they were in Year 5. So I knew most of them from that time. There was a new student in this class, about 13 years old. I didn't know her name. She wore a nice orange crocheted hat. Now NOBODY is allowed to wear a hat in class, and teachers have to enforce this rule. So I asked her to take it off. She refused, in a soft voice. So I asked her again, the eyes of all the other students were on me and I felt compelled to maintain my authority. She refused again. It was very quiet in the room. There were 34 students and it is NEVER completely quiet. So I insisted she should take her hat off and at that moment I realized she was bald. She had lost her hair during a treatment to fight cancer. Nobody had told me. I felt very ashamed and apologized to her. Of course she was allowed to wear that hat. Rules are rules, but I had just blundered.

This experience changed me. If I had been more sensitive I could have noticed she had lost her eyebrows, too.

When she handed in her homework she had adorned it with drawings of flowers. During her next stay in hospital she wanted me to keep teaching her. She couldn't be cured and died two years later. By that time I had changed school. The notice of her death came by e-mail when I was sitting in the staff-room and I broke down and cried.

So even today I try to find out why a student behaves in breach of a rule, especially with wearing hats.

Commentary

If you insist on rules you can do great injustice to a child. A teacher should develop a sensitivity to realize when enforcing rules can actually do harm. There is always a human being at the other end.

Daniel K’s Story

I talked with a Christian girl from my class. She was disappointed that I didn't make a difference as a Christian. I had to rethink my psychology topics. What she had said helped to alert me to how I can make a difference. I needed to be more sensitive to the students and provide more opportunity for them to discuss my way of teaching. After each semester, I now carry out a survey among the students and ask, for example, what characterises my teaching.

Dessi’s Story

Through the three years that I have been teaching in a Christian school, I have learned a lot of things and I have seen how God changes students’ lives. For the first year and a half I had no responsibility as a class teacher. Then at the end of the first term, one of our colleagues got work at university and I had to take the responsibility for her class – third grade. I was really embarrassed because they were young students and my teaching experience had been eight graders. Right through the year, I prayed a lot and had lots of difficult and easy moments with the children. By the end, I was sure that, if I would be a class teacher in the following year, I would like to be the teacher of this class.

The new school year started with a change – the class had changed. There were lots of new children. All but one were Christians. And I was told that he was a difficult one. I have had lots of conversations with him. Almost every day there was something wrong in the class and he was one of the reasons. I had to explain the mistakes and show him how to correct them. And the words I used were not always the proper ones. But now I can see that little by little he goes closer to God. Sometimes when someone is in trouble he suggests praying – the one that in the beginning said that there was no God now wants to pray and sometimes, when someone tells him he is not a Christian, you can see his eyes full of tears.

Commentary

It is amazing how God works in people’s lives through other people’s lives. God has different ways to make his people do His will. I had never imagined that I would be able to speak to this boy in the way I did so many times this year. I understood again that one of the main points of teaching whatever subject is to show love, the love of Christ, and to give the gift we have received, the gift of love in our hearts and minds. There is a lot more work to be done with this class and I want to be God’s instrument in this task.

Doris’s Story

It was a Religious Education class and I showed the pupils a picture from a counselling class. It showed a person with stones built up on both sides of him. He seemed to be in a cage. Each stone represented a sin that forms the cage e.g. selfishness. Then when we looked at the final “key stone” being inserted, the stone that seals the cage, one of the boys said it was about selling. “That is the moment that my mother says to me, I’m going to sell you”.

Commentary

This taught me that the students interpret the lesson through their own life experience. It may also be very difficult to know how to respond without totally disrupting the lesson. How we respond as teachers in such critical moments can be very important. There may be things going on in the students’ lives that we are unaware of.

Isabel T's Story

It was my first day at that school. I didn’t know any of the students. Seated in front of my desk were two girls and one of them was talking all the time (not very loudly).

I began to introduce myself and she continued to talk. When I finished my introduction of myself, I touched that girl gently and asked her to introduce herself. But when I touched her, she said loudly, “Don’t touch me”. I said, “I´m sorry, dear (in fact I used the word “daughter” which in our language is the equivalent of “dear”), I’ll not touch you any more”. And she said, “I’m not your daughter”. “You are right,” I said, “I’m sorry”.

Two days later, I was teaching the same class again and there she was in front of me again. I began to talk with the students, looking gently at Claudia from time to time, but I didn’t ask her anything. She wasn’t talking to the girl beside her as she had been on the first day. She was looking at me all the time.

After the class, she was the last one to leave the room and, when she was leaving, she suddenly turned and came back and, with tears in her eyes, she said, “I’m sorry, you may touch me. I’m sorry”.

(I learned later that she was being harshly treated by her grandma and she wanted to live with her mother. She became one of the best students in the class.)

Commentary

The teacher was not angry and she gave her space so that the girl could approach her again.

How natural is the authority of the teacher?

The teacher showed humility in stepping outside of the position of authority.

Jukka’s Story

Abel was an 11-year-old boy with a strong will. His self-esteem was low but still he managed school quite well. Abel had problems especially in physical education classes, because he had a hard time losing competitions. He could be very rude and unfriendly when he was disappointed. One day he was in a team that did not do well. He reacted and started to bully his companions and spoke in a very unfriendly way. I asked him several times to stop but he just continued his bad behaviour. Then I explained that he was going over the limit and that I would soon have to punish him and he and the class knew exactly what I meant. He continued anyway so I took him aside and said that I would punish him and talk with him after the class.

After class we discussed the matter and I asked if he understood that he had crossed a limit and he remained quiet. I could see that he didn´t want to talk about the matter. Then I started to teach him, saying: “God has loved me so much that he gave me boundaries. And when I respect those boundaries I live and feel well. Abel, I care for you and that´s why I put boundaries in your life. If you continue as you now have done, you will soon lose all your friends. Do you understand what I am saying? I want to know if you have understood this before we discuss your punishment.”

We agreed to continue our discussion in detention the next day and I promised to help him at the same time with other difficulties concerning school subjects. I sent him home and sent an e-mail to his mother explaining what had happened. During detention we continued our discussion and we discussed about how God is firm in His love and how he therefore sets boundaries for our behaviour. This He does only to prevent us from hurting ourselves and others. The discussion went well and the next physical education class went well and after class he came to me and asked if he could help me with arranging and cleaning up.

Commentary

The teacher knows that Abel will test him again after a few weeks. But now the teacher has a relationship with him and they can talk. The teacher also helps him with other subjects. Abel’s family are believers, so they could talk about God and his way of thinking.

The teacher made himself equal to Abel by saying that he had boundaries just as Abel had. He did not appeal to his own authority. He was humble.

When they lost the game, the boy blamed the others and the teacher/referee. The boy always wants to win and often tests the limits. Could the teacher involve the other children in any way to help him? Because the other children would not want to be on his team, they become part of the problem.

Spiritual growth: They could talk about what his behaviour does to the others, to himself and to the community. They could also talk about what they build their self esteem/value on. What about asking Abel to referee a match?

Liviu’s First Story

I asked the students in Grade Nine to do an essay on a certain subject for my class. When they brought their work to me, I found some papers which had been copied from the internet. This gave me the chance to talk with them about cheating. I marked all the papers according to their contents. If work had been copied from the internet, I gave them a choice between being given the minimum grade or submitting a new piece of work of their own. Students agreed to this procedure but one of them, who had received the best mark, came to me to ask to rewrite his paper because he had also cheated (even though I hadn’t suspected him and his work seemed to be done by himself). I appreciated his behavior and I was so happy that he understood the message!

Oksana’s Story

There was one student that I didn’t like at first. It was her attitude that I didn’t like and even her appearance. I guess that influenced how I perceived her actions: thinking that there is always a bad motive behind what she did, while it could well be just the fact that she didn’t care much about studying. But I knew that my attitude was wrong and there came a time, when I decided to do what God’s word says and change my attitude. I started paying attention to what was good about her and told her about it. I started working on how I perceived her. And, oh, a miracle happened! She changed! Well, she still had not a very good attitude towards the subject, but she did change. And I changed too. That’s what triggered the process – me deciding to change the things. It was an important revelation in my life: even when it’s hard, if we make effort and at least try to give other people our love, as little as it could be, it works!  It changes relationships and influences how people behave and treat others.

Commentary

With God’s help, it’s possible to start loving someone you have difficulty even liking and God gives us an even greater love than we can imagine. Amazing breakthroughs can happen which are way beyond our expectations. We discussed the importance of consciously starting to pay attention to the child, and speaking to them about what you like in them. Oksana did this. She talked of how she made a deliberate effort to praise and encourage the skills this student possessed and to point out the student’s strengths. We need to see the pupil as somebody God loves and to remember that each of them has a calling. Children are made in the image of God, and this in turn demands an attitude of “I value you.” We do need to be on guard to say the positive genuinely and without lying. A smile goes a long way! Building relationship is basic to all personal interactions.

Sally’s Story

I was Sarah’s first teacher in school. I remember her first visit to my classroom, she was quiet and withdrawn. She didn’t say a word to anyone all afternoon, and I was worried about her settling into the class. She generally did what was asked of her, preferring to watch first and then have a go herself, but showed no signs of interacting with other pupils or with adults in the room. I asked the head-teacher about her background, and was told she’d been seriously ill with meningitis as a toddler and had to re-learn to walk, talk, feed, etc after the initial illness. Her mother had decided she couldn’t cope, and Sarah had been in taken into foster care, where she’d been ever since. She was well looked after and loved by a well-known foster family in the area near the school and I knew they would be giving her all the care and encouragement they could.

Sarah slowly settled into the routines of school life, but remained quiet and didn’t make strong bonds with children or adults in the class. She still preferred to watch before trying anything new and lacked the confidence of the other children. At home she was seeing children come and go on short-term placements with her foster family, and not making strong ties with them either.

Then we had a summer holiday, during which I knew from the foster parents that the process would be completed for them to adopt her.

It was a very different child who came back in September. She gained confidence, matured and was interested in what other children were doing and began to make friends. Her father told me she had changed on the day the adoption came through and they had a party to celebrate. She smiled from that moment onwards.

Commentary

Sally was putting Sarah’s confidence-building before her academic achievement. The story shows how much belonging means, both in general and in the family. What could the school have done? Could have talked about being God’s child (adopted) and that he will never throw us out. It is important to think about how we talk about belonging and families.

Sasha’s Story

We live in a very busy world. “I don’t have time” is a normal phrase today. Sometimes it takes an effort to stop, look and pay attention at those who are around us.

Natasha was a cute little 5 year old girl. She attended a kindergarten in Ukraine. Her older sister and she were originally born in another country and were adopted. Natasha was a curious, smart and athletic little girl, but there were some problems with her and the biggest one was lying. She lied at home to her parents and I heard many times about Natasha’s made-up stories from her kindergarten teacher.

When once Natasha got in trouble in her class and we had a talk, she lied to me about what happened. I realized she did it because she didn’t trust me enough and was afraid. So her teacher allowed me to pull her out of her class in order to build some relationships. I would ask Natasha different questions about her favorite toys and games, her likes and dislikes. We also talked a lot during recess time and played. It was interesting to see how quickly she would open up and share with such great enthusiasm. She felt special. We were amazed to discover the need that was hidden behind her misbehaviour and this was lack of attention. She desperately needed more attention than she was given at home and at school.

Natasha’s parents did a great job teaching her about Jesus and Bible and developed a very strict system of punishments for different forms of misbehaviour including lying. But somehow her need for attention wasn’t satisfied.

Now when I see Natasha in the hallway she often asks me if I would take her out of class again. As we discussed Natasha’s progress in class with her teacher, we were amazed how little was needed for Natasha, just a little bit of attention and somebody taking time to listen to her and show genuine interest. 

Commentary

When she got more attention, she stopped lying and was doing well in her work. Should the school talk to the parents? They should not tell the parents that they are doing something wrong, but what the school has observed, namely that extra attention made a positive difference.

Wolfgang’s Second Story

I once taught a class of about thirty lively twelve to thirteen-year-olds. One of the girls, who had shown a lot of motivation and had contributed a great deal to classroom interaction, suddenly turned silent. She seemed more and more detached, apparently lacked interest and became much less reliable in her written work. In the first two weeks or so I didn’t talk to her about it, but finally I asked her what had gone wrong. She hesitated, then told me she had fallen in love, she had been dating a boy who after a while had shown no more interest in her and had broken off the relationship. I said something like, “Miriam, I know that hurts. You are going through a really difficult time. It’s obvious you can’t concentrate in school.”  The day after, she was her old self again. She came to class prepared, ready to contribute and learn new things.

Wolfgang’s Third Story

Another class I taught was a group of sixteen-year-olds. It was a French class. There was one new girl in the group; she had come from another school and she lacked the grammar and vocabulary of a whole school year. In her old school they just hadn’t bothered to tackle volume three of the French textbook. So I gave her a copy of volume three and we made a plan for the next few months to enable her to catch up with the rest of the class. I corrected her written work regularly, and after half a year she had caught up with the others.

Then, one day, something heart-moving happened. The girl asked me if she could bother me with a personal problem she had. And she did. She told me that her life was full of fear, she was constantly afraid of people and things and developments. Could I give her some advice? We talked for two hours, then I invited her to our home. I just didn’t want to counsel her alone; I wanted my wife to get involved too. For the next year she was a regular visitor in our house, she played with our children, had meals with us, and we shared a small part of our life with her. She changed gradually, became more self-confident, and one day the Lord entered her life. If you want to know: she is a teacher now, and one of her subjects is French.