Before I became a mom, while I was still a high school English teacher, just after I finished my reading specialist graduate work, I was offered a six week summer camp position teaching first grade reading remediation. There were only four students in the class, not many resources or supplies in the room (the teacher had meticulously packed everything away), and no curriculum. It needs to be said that it was my first time teaching at the primary level. I knew if I was to ever be a well-rounded reading specialist, I would have to teach younger students.
Two of the girls in the class struggled to get along. One was a socially savvy girl who had wonderful comprehension, but struggled with decoding. The other was incredibly awkward; in retrospect, she could have had Asperger’s. She was hyperlexic, but struggled with comprehension. She would always say, “I don’t get it.” The other girl would audibly sigh. They were like oil and water.
Once, during center time, the strong decoder shouted out, “She (the social student) is being a bully to me.”
I immediately turned to the second girl and asked, “What did you say to her?”
She replied flatly, “It’s none of your business.”
With my I-teach-16-year-olds-brain, I was physically taken aback that a 7-year old would talk to an adult in that manner. I summoned all of my patience and strength and replied, “I’m the teacher of this class. You don’t get to tell me that what goes on in this class is not my business…” the tirade continued. Eventually, I re-asked, “What did you say to her?”
Trembling, the young girl replied, “I said to her, ‘It’s none of your business.’”
I immediately shrunk down to the size of a mouse. I had completely misread the situation. I had acted the part of a bully as much as this young girl. My role was worse though: I was the adult – the teacher.
I learned an invaluable lesson from that 7-year old that day: not to judge situations against my default-schema. Every student was not going to try to test me/challenge me. Young children should be taken at their word. Life is not filled with sarcasm.
I make sure to let that young girl know that I was completely wrong. I apologized and thanked her for telling me the truth in the first place. I asked for her forgiveness.
That lesson has taught me very well to adjust my approach and interpretations as I have worked more consistently with K-5th grade students in reading and with their teachers as well.