There are times when I wish I could publish images of all of the children I work with and their names but I am cognizant of the world we live in. I am continually awed by the strength of spirit and hopefulness I see in our youth, no matter what corner of the world I find myself working with them. Unlike so many, who bemoan the degradation of character among our children, I don’t see it that way. Maybe my work gives me a gift of sight that others are not privy to or, maybe, I am living in a “glass half-full” illusion. Either way, my consciousness is my reality.
About a week ago, I walked into one of my classrooms in one of the many schools I work with throughout the year. The students were, quite literally, bouncing off of the walls. Their regular teacher wasn’t present. In his place was an older woman in her late 60’s or early 70’s. She was their substitute teacher.
When I walked in the door, there were students up out of their seats roaming the classroom, some were talking loudly, and others had cell phones out flagrantly texting. It was pandemonium.
The substitute teacher was yelling at the top of her lungs at one of the students. Her focus was “entirely” on this one child. She didn’t even notice me enter until it got quiet really fast. The substitute was exasperated, frustrated and I could tell. She was waving her hands in the air above her head yelling at her focal point.
The transition of the room from chaotic to almost immediate silence caught her off guard. She turned to see me standing behind her and was startled. By now, all of the students were seated and quiet. They had all scurried to their desk and were now seated, appearing as “perfect” young scholars awaiting their next instruction. I explained to her who I was and that I had an hour-long session with the students that needed to start now. She looked so disheveled that all I could do was feel sorry for her. I asked her if it would be all right for me to take over the class. She consented and I told her that she could relax and just have a seat.
What followed was something so familiar to me. Just as my children did when they were young, the students began tripping over one another trying to explain their behavior before I could get a word out. I call this the “adolescent preemptive strike.” I got them quiet but I could see that they were bursting at the seams with explanations that they desperately wanted to get out.
Preceding my lesson, I needed to address what I had seen upon entering the room. As I started to speak, a few of them interrupted me by blurting out the reasons for their behavior. Before I could have a chance to reprimand them, a young girl, let’s just call her “K,” stood up, turned to the disrupters and shouted, in the most forceful voice I’ve ever heard come out of a little girl, “BE QUIET! DON’T SAY NOTHING! BABA IS SPEAKING AND YOU GUYS ARE GOING TO RESPECT BABA!”
Early on I recognized “K” as the alpha personality of the class. She is a born leader and has qualities of character possessed only by soldiers. K’s only problem is that she has never been offered a channel to direct these energies. In my time with the class, actually with every class I work with, I try to find forums for each child’s personality flourish.
After K’s admonition to her peers they, quickly, got quiet. She slowly, and with a bit of trepidation, began sitting back down. I could tell that her action to defend me had been reflexive, catching even her by surprise.
As she was descending into her chair, she looked in my direction, casting her eyes down and said, in an almost shy, sheepish tone, “sorry Baba.”
I wanted to yell out, “That’s my girl right there! That’s my girl!”
This is my typical impromptu response when one of my daughters does something that makes me proud. I get loud. It may not make sense but, hey… I’m a dad before anything else and we dads don’t always do things that make sense.
Yes… I wanted to yell out what I was feeling but I had a classroom of thirty students to get in order.
I cast an involuntary smile in K’s direction. She smiled back at me and sat up straight in her chair, ready to listen.
I proceeded to admonish the class on the issue of respecting adults, any and all adults who come to take charge of their class. They remained exceedingly quiet and attentive to my words.
As I spoke at the front of the room, I watched the substitute teacher seated at the back exhale a huge sigh of relief.
I continued with my lesson but that feeling of pride I experienced at being defended by that little girl sat deeply with me.
I, a six foot two man of about 220 pounds had my honor defended by a scrawny five foot 95 pound kid and I couldn’t feel more proud of her each time I recall the moment.