I have asked this question more than once throughout my 20 years of experience as a bilingual teacher. It’s never easy to find the right answer; it’s just a matter of trial and error. I just know we need to have a lot of patience and more than anything else, LOVE and COMPASSION. There is no other way.
When I first started my career as a PreK Teacher, I had absolutely no classroom experience except my know-how as a Mom. I had just graduated from college, though I was older than the average graduate. I have gone to the Alternative Certification Program (ACP) to become an Elementary Teacher. There was little exposure to the Early Childhood Program at ACP, but with the help of my mentor and the Administration, I learned a lot of good ideas that helped. Also, my middle kid was an Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder and Bipolar child, so that helped a lot. I had some experience dealing with hard to get along kids.
My first encountered with this child that I’m about to discuss with you was in the middle of the first semester of my first year as a teacher. He came in late in at the beginning of the first semester and he was trouble. He didn’t know anything about rules, hated everyone around him, was hurting badly psychologically, verbally and physically, he was abused, his mother was in jail and no word on the father, relatives were taking care of him. Like a lot of kids nowadays, I believe that in a way, he was raising himself.
When his classmates didn’t do what he wanted, he would hit them. The other students were afraid of him and naturally, they didn’t like him. It was like he had been caged all his life and didn’t know how to react around other humans. It was a somber situation for him and the rest of the children. I could tell the neglect was there because, in the winter, he would come to school without a jacket. He wouldn’t complain at all, but I knew he was freezing. We would get one jacket from the Head Start Office and he would lose it the next day.
One day, he started fighting with other kids. He was getting real mean and I had to isolate him to be able to control him. He wanted to hurt someone real bad. Even though he was only four years old, he was stronger than the others, but I managed to grab him by his arms and corner him. My assistant went to get help from the administration.
He was yelling at me saying: “I’m going to kill you!” “I’m going to get my father’s gun and kill you!” “I have a knife that is very, very sharp and I’m going to cut your head!” Those are pretty strong words for a four-year-old. I just replied: “No matter if you kill me, I still love you!” I don’t even know why I said those words, it’s not like me to say that, but they came from nowhere. He just kept saying: “I hate you, I hate you” and then they took him away, called the family, the usual policy routine. It was the weekend, and he went home. The story took place a long time ago, but I still remember his cute face, his big rounded black eyes, and black wavy hair. He was such a handsome little boy. I always wondered why he was so angry. We investigated through our counselor about his past and got some answers.
Some of the techniques I used to make him feel loved and keep him away from trouble are the following:
- I made him my assistant. I decided to give him all the positive attention I could
- I focused on the positive actions as opposed to the negatives
- I wanted him to know that I was on his side and that I loved him
- I work one-on-one with him
- I promoted positive steps to get rewarded. Every reward he had was on a short period of time
- He was the line leader and always sat close to me (I had more control)
- We would work on getting rewards for good behavior
- He was in charge of his classmates at recess time
- He would lose all these rewards if he hit or push anyone
At the end of the year, he was a different child. A joy to be around, very smart, he was everybody’s friend and loved coming to school and learning. He was a great helper and a great kiddo. But his mom was released from jail and came and got him. She decided to move to a bigger town and we couldn’t convince her to stay so that he could finish the year with us. It was very sad to see him go.
Almost at the end of the school year, I was called to the office. I was wondering “what did I do now?” As I was getting close to the office, he saw me and started running towards me. Mrs. Doerr, Mrs. Doerr, he said. I just couldn’t believe it, he was back. His mom said he wanted to see me so bad she had to come to our school to say hello. He and I got to be together for about 10 minutes, and we enjoyed it very much. He hugged me and said how much he missed the school, his teacher (me), and his classmates. I had tears in my eyes, I was so happy.