Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Lesson in Self Control...

I have this poster hanging in my classroom.  I put it up every year in the hopes that my favorite 10 year olds will read it and it will somehow be absorbed into their little minds.  And today, I really feel like maybe it is.

One of my toughest little guys this year...the one who makes me want to visit Baskin Robbins on my way home nearly every day to recover from the war we wage for 7 hours a day...struggles mightily with this issue in particular.  When he doesn't get his way it's like walking on eggshells while I wait to see if he has a full-blown temper tantrum.  (Think 2 year old on the floor wailing and kicking his feet and you've got the right idea...sadly!)  Today, though, he was dealt a blow that ANY 5th grader would find difficult to bear...and yet, he took it...without a tantrum...and in the process taught me something about him and about myself.

One of the things that every 5th grader at my school looks forward to is becoming a safety patrol.  The familiar orange belt from my days as the Captain of my school's safety patrol squad has been replaced with neon yellow, but the job remains as status-bearing as it's always been.  Only the cream of the crop get the privilege of sporting that belt and badge.  And this little guy doesn't fit that bill by any stretch of the imagination.  He's got quite a way to go, in fact.  But being who he is, though, he DID fill out the safety patrol application.  Today was the day we broke the news to him that he didn't make it in this round.

We decided that waiting until the end of the day was probably our better move so that if he did tantrum, as many expected he would, he would still have learned much of what he needed to during the day and he would have after school care to look forward to, a place where he enjoys spending time with his friends free from the frustration of the academic demands that the school day brings.  When it could be avoided no longer, the guidance counselor took the little guy aside and broke the news.  And then my little guy made me more proud of him than I've yet been as his teacher.  He put his little chin up and worked his guts out to hold those tears in.  And he almost made it.

As he was on his way back into class, I pulled him aside and let him go for a walk with me. (Side note...interns are INCREDIBLE to have at times like this!) As we walked, I told him how very, very proud of him I was for how he was using self-control.  He kept drawing deep breaths and wiping away the few stray tears that escaped from time to time.  When I found an empty classroom, we sat down and chatted for awhile.

I told him that I knew he'd just received news he didn't want to hear, but that he was accepting it very admirably.  I let him know that the reason he was not selected at this time for the safety patrol was because of his past choices.  I helped him to understand that the consequences for our choices often stick with us for much longer than we'd like them to, but that they CAN be overcome if you want it badly enough.  He said that he did.  And we discussed his plan for overcoming, for proving to everyone in authority that he is a new person.  He left with a plan for how to make sure his self-control is in evidence and to work toward his goal for being a safety patrol.  More importantly, he left happy.  The tantrum others had expected never materialized.  My boy is growing and maturing already!

And when the drama of the day was over and I had a moment to reflect, I thought back on the lessons that my little guy showed me about himself today.  And about me as his teacher.

  • Just because people expect you to react badly...it doesn't mean you have to.  This young man put on a master class in self-control today.  It was unexpected, but not beyond his ability to achieve.  I need to revise my view of his capabilities and start raising my expectations for him.  Instead of allowing myself to lower the bar because of his past exploits, I need to give him space to grow and be someone new.  He proved today that he can.
  • When you want something badly enough, you will control your responses.  He wants this job as a safety patrol.  He wants it in a bad way.  And now that he knows what is required of him to attain it, he's focusing his energy on making it happen.  I'll be interested to see if he can hold it together and develop these new habits over time.  If the strength he showed today was any indication, I have no doubt that he will achieve his goals.
  • You don't have to be what you've always been...change is not only possible, it's likely.  This little guy has chewed up and spit out some of the best teachers I've ever known.  I'm just the next one on the list to take my turn at being challenged by him.  But to think that he's going to repeat that pattern this year just because he has for so many in a row is unfair to him.  It's not giving him the chance to show that he's learned, that he's matured, that he's grown.  Living things don't stay stagnant for long.  They just don't.  I need to rethink my view of this little guy.
If you're anything like me, you can immediately see the applications here for my own journey...and for yours, too, if you look hard enough.  Just because people expect me to continue to be a big girl...because I've been one for a long time now...it doesn't mean that I have to be.  Because I want this change in my life badly enough, I'm controlling my choices now in a different way than I ever have before.  And I don't have to be what I've always been.  Change is not only possible in my life.  It's likely...and it's happening.  Now.

This 10 year old and I are SO MUCH ALIKE!!!  Wonder how many of his past teachers ever thought that?!?!  I'm so grateful that I had a chance to see him do this today.  It will certainly change my view of him...and of myself!

Thanks, Buddy...I needed to see you differently.  And I needed to see myself differently, too.  Looking forward to watching you grow this year, big guy!!!

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