perspective matters when kids act out

The kids were working in groups on their regions of the United States project this afternoon in between shows. Changes in routine are never good for my crew but they were doing fairly well. They sang all their rainforest-themed songs for the kindergarten audience in the morning and returned to class eager to work on their projects. I was checking in with a team who had let every sparkling light distract them from the task at hand when I noticed Lucy sitting apart from her team, folding wads of paper. Fiddling with paper is one of Lucy’s “tells” – something was up. I wrapped up with my unfocused duo and made my way across the room. I started with her team. It’s usually best to let Lucy overhear a possible solution than to try to work out things directly.

The team had been working for two days on a rap of the states of their region and while it was a terrible rap, it was a great example of teamwork. But then, as they were practicing, another student mentioned that they had put in a few too many “yeah”s. One teammate agreed and Lucy lost it.

I know what you’re thinking. If you are not a teacher you are thinking this kid needs to toughen up. If she’s going to let a minor critique derail her, she’ll never get anywhere and coddling her is only making it worse. But, if you teach in an inner city school, you’re probably wondering what sort of trauma Lucy has lived through or if she is safe at home, you may be wondering if she has a diagnosis that allows her to have special support or has an undiagnosed disability.

Lucy’s a kid with issues, issues we are still trying to figure out. But most days she’s the most sought after basketball team mate in the fourth grade, a go-to Math helper, and a much-admired singer.

And, she’s a kid who has a hard time recovering from frustration. Lucy can stubbornly refuse to tell you what’s wrong for hours. She just won’t talk, won’t work, and sometimes won’t move. Often, all we can do is wait for the storm to pass and hope she can talk afterwards.

Once I got the story about what was happening, I went to sit by Lucy. I saw she had broken a half a dozen possible sticks and had them scattered all over the chair and floor. I mentioned how dangerous it looked, all those jagged edges and made a show of brushing the one’s off the chairs in a way to avoid “getting slivers.” I talked to her a while, well, talked at her knowing she wasn’t ready to talk back, and once I saw that she was calm enough to at least not knock anything over, I left her to work with some other kids. When I looked over I saw her collecting the rest of the broken popsicle sticks using the same safe method I had used to avoid slivers. A few minutes after that she asked if she could take a walk. And when she got back, she just went straight to work.

Today was the 170th day of school. It must have been Lucy’s 70th “episode”. And it was the first time I have ever seen her recover herself.

She has made some progress after all.

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