Friday, May 17, 2019

Names have been changed to protect identity

A day in 2019

Jacob and Michael - two friends

Mr “O”, a 50 year old finance entrepreneur and investor who has always loved kids and who believes he has a special connection with them decides to take a sabbatical from his normal business to work with kids as a substitute teacher.  He enters a kindergarten class of an all inclusion classroom that has kids with behavior issues, special needs and mainstream kids. Two boys in the class, Jacob and Michael are both 5 years old and pegged as troubled kids with behavioral issues.  They don’t like to sit still and the co-teachers are having a hard time dealing with them. The boys are physically restrained by the teachers when they do not want to sit still. One of the teachers holds Jacob down physically so that he will sit still in one place and listen to the lesson.  Another male teacher holds Michael by the arms during lunchtime so firmly that Michael was crying while trying to get loose. Jacob fights with the teacher and screams. Mr O, that's me, asks if I can work with Jacob and Michael. Jacob and Michael are friends.

I hadn’t noticed much misbehavior in either of them in previous days, but I did notice that Jacob said out loud one time to another kid and so all others could hear him, “The Easter Bunny isn’t real!”  And I spoke with Jacob softly one on one about what it means to the other kids when he says that and that its not his job to say that, but his the parents job to decide when. I said to Jacob, “How would you like it if someone told you Santa Claus wasn’t real?”  And Jacob replied, “But Santa Claus ISN’T real.” Jacob seemed to listen to me and converse about this in a reasonable way. So, I ask one of the teachers, Ms. Chapman, if she would allow me to work with Jacob and Michael for an hour or two. Anyway, they were taking so much time away from the other kids in the class.  She reluctantly allowed me and said, “I guess it can’t hurt at this point, right?” Also the teachers were talking about how bad those two were in front of the other kids. They were speaking out loud about whether it was “chemical” and if they thought the boys needed to be medicated.

So, I sat with both of them and told them to take out pencil and paper.  They both did and seemed eager to see what was next. I told them we were going to play a game.  They were excited. It was a mystery thing or person that they had to guess and as soon as one of them knew the answer they should raise their hand.  I chose Lebron James, thinking that they might have heard about who this basketball player is from their parents or uncles, etc. I told them I would say a letter and they needed to write it down.  They were eager and excited to begin. Both have fine handwriting and know their letters well at 5 years old. I wasn’t sure where I was going with this - I just wanted to be with them, play and see if I could sprinkle in some learning along the way.  I proceeded L-E-B-R-O-... as they easily wrote down the letters… “do you know who it is yet?”, I asked, “no” they both replied, pencil in hand, peeking up at me in anticipation. “..N….” and I said, “Lebron?….. Do you know?” “No,” they both said. We continued, “J-A-M-E-S” as they wrote down the letters.  We tried to sound it out together. I said, “Lebron James. Do you know him?” “No…” .and then Jacob exclaimed, “WAIT! Basketball!” “That’s right.” I said, “he’s a great basketball player and many believe he’s the best in the world.. Even better than Michael Jordan. Do you know him?” “No,” they said. “Would you like to see Lebron James slam dunk the basketball?”  “YEAH!!!” They said in unison. “Please Mr. O, show us. Show us!!” They said.

I noticed the teachers looking over at us, and I wasn’t sure what they were thinking.  “Ok, but let’s draw a picture of Lebron James under his name first and you can color it and then we’ll watch him play on my phone.  We can bring up some videos on Youtube… do you know what Youtube is?” “Yes,” they both said, as they continued to draw their pictures.  “Do you know who owns Youtube?” “What do you mean?” they said. Well, youtube is a company that is owned by another company...Google… do you know what google is?”  “no,” they both replied. While we were talking, they both were drawing a picture of Lebron James. “What color is his hair, Mr. O.?” Michael asked. “Its brown and he has a beard and he’s REALLY tall.” I said.  Michael proceeded to draw Lebron james with a shorter person and another person. I said, “is that you with him?” “Yes, its me and this guy is you, Mr. O!” Michael said excitedly. “That’s VERY nice that you decided to include me in your drawing, Michael.”  I said, “how about if you draw the basketball and the basketball hoop, also.” Jacob said, “Mr. O, Mr. O., can I see a picture of a basketball hoop on your phone?” “That’s a great idea, Jacob.” I said. “What is, Mr. O?” Michael asked. “Michael, Jacob wants to see a picture of a basketball hoop to know how to draw it?”  “Me too,” Michael said. So, I found several pictures on Google Images on my phone. “Which one do you want to use to look at to draw?” They chose one that had a red rim and a grey backboard. “What color is the rim of the basketball hoop?” I asked. “Its grey,” Jacob said. “Let’s look closer at it… the backboard is grey.  The backboard is the square thing on the end. The rim is red. The rim is the circle part that holds the net.” Michael was already trying to draw the backboard while I was talking to Jacob. “Mr. O, can you help me to draw the net?” Michael asked. “Of course,” I said, “we are going to make hatch marks like this.” I was thinking to myself, ‘are these bad kids?! They’re 5 years old and seem very smart’  And Michael copied the net perfectly. They seemed to really love to draw and color, sharing crayons with each other along the way. They proceeded to color and when finished, I found some videos of Lebron James which the three of us watched enthusiastically. When done, I said, “You guys drew beautiful pictures - hey guys, have you ever been in your gym that has basketball hoops? I saw it yesterday. Its really beautiful.”  “no”. “Have you ever dribbled a basketball?” “no”. This activity lasted about 45 minutes and they sat the entire time with the exception of getting up to get crayons of different colors. They interacted nicely and with manners, taking turns with me.

At this time, the rest of the class came to where we were sitting so we moved to the other side of the room.  The teachers had given us a Bingo game to play, so I decided to take it out to play with them. “You both did such a nice job with the Lebron James game and pictures, let’s play the bingo game.”  They were really excited. So, we took the game out and I let them each choose a game card that had pictures on it. “Mr. O, will you play with us also?” Jacob asked. “Sure, I’d love to, thank you for asking me.”   “I’m going first!” Jacob said. “Jacob, what if Michael wants to go first.” “But I called it.” Jacob said. “how do you think that Michael and I feel about that?” He became silent. “I don’t know.” And, Michael waited and watched also.  “Well, what do you think?” I asked. “Bad?” Jacob said. “What’s another way we can decide who goes first, guys?” I asked. They were quiet. “How about if we play rock, paper, scissors, to decide.” I suggested. “Yes!” they cheered. And we played, as I thought to myself, ‘these kids are amazing!’  Maybe they are just bored, acting out and need a different way to learn. To me, they seemed like the smartest kids in the class.

These boys, these friends, seemed genuinely pleased to learn and be with me.
They interacted nicely and seemed to be intelligent and eager for information, and used
manners when prompted.  I’ve since learned that the methods being used to restrain the boys
is an acceptable way to train kids to sit still. Even with the crying and fighting, it is commonly
used in schools with kids who have trouble sitting still.  And I noticed in subsequent days, and
unlike other Kindergarten classes at the school, there was a lot of time that the kids had nothing
to do and there was no teaching going on. I also noticed when the kids were writing in their
journals, several of the kids had no blank paper and I needed to find new journal books for them.   
Was I making an impact on them? Did they appreciate the “attention” they were getting?
The teachers had told me that they are “attention seekers”. And they certainly are, because
likely they had been very bored.

Three days later, something truly amazing happened that I will count as one of the most
remarkable moments of my life.  I returned to the school but worked in a different classroom
that day.  When school was being dismissed, and the classes were lining up outside their classrooms,
I decided to go find Jacob and Michael. They were standing next to each other in line.
 I approached them and said, “Hi guys!” …They looked back at me, ”Mr O, Mr O. Look!” And
to my surprise Michael pulled out a disheveled piece of paper out of his pocket. He had folded
it up to fit it inside his pocket.  Now, unfolding it slowly, he held it up so I could see the picture
and smiled his big toothless smile. It was the picture that he colored from our Lebron James game.
He was carrying it around with him for the past three days. I smiled back and wanted to give him a hug.
 But, I had learned that I wasn’t allowed to touch the kids. I then bent down to Jacob and smiled to
him, “I REALLY enjoyed playing with you two the other day. You are both REALLY smart. “ And
then, Jacob, as if he wanted to share something with me too to show his appreciation, but didn’t
know what or how to say it was moving his head back and forth trying to get it out.  I said, “Its ok
Jacob, what do you want to tell me?” And he said softly, “Mr. O, U KNOW WHAT?” “What Jacob.”
I replied. “I really do eat my vegetables..” I believe he wanted to tell me that he wasn’t a bad boy.

This experience, with these two 5 year old boys, was a mind-blowing one for me, and something I
will NEVER forget.

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