I Teach Therefore I Am?


On one of my last days at work, I walked in to find a beautiful bouquet of flowers on my table. A precious beginner reader who I have worked with this summer gave me flowers! His mom believed he worked best with me and requested I work solely with her son. That made me feel special or something. Sadly, mom and student were disheartened to discover I was leaving to return to school. The little boy looked at me one day and said, “Miss Suzanne, I’m going to miss you.” Ahhh! So sweet. I never expected a student to like me that much or to give me flowers! These are the moments I am glad I teach.

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I have a beginner reading student learning his letters. As requested by the ISD, we are working on his name, capital letters, basic grammar, directional skills, and basic phonemes so he enter kindergarten on grade level. We intensified his alphabet skills and letter recognition, but sweet, precious student has a bit of a name. It is definitely of Eastern European origin. He struggles with it, so to give him a break and to practice other letters, I had him write my name. He scrunched up his nose and said, “Your name is long.” I agreed, but he still wrote it. Here is proof. It is just cute!

Working with children challenges my compulsive cleanliness habits. Children are messy. I assume any reader that is a parent is now laughing at me, but for some reason I never realized how “earthy” children are. As a teacher, I encounter a variety of children, but none quite like Delphi. She is a creative child that appears in numerous stories primarily because she is a handful. She is also the ultimate “earthy” child.

Earthy…let me explain. One several occasions, I had to reprimand Delphi for picking her nose while working. She whined that she had a boo boo in/on her nose and it hurt. This transpired for several weeks, so I assume it was sinus drainage drying and she just picked at it. But she did not just pick. She scratched and dug and twisted all hour, wiping her mucus covered fingers on her trousers, shirt, paper or table. I would give her tissues or ask her to go to the washroom to use tissue, but she usually laughed and said she did not need to go.

Anther earthy encounter occurred when I had Delphi in the main teaching area and she slumped down in her chair, hiking her leg and foot close to her face. Contorted she began picking at her toenails, completely ignoring her reading assignment. I swiveled around to encourage her to focus. With an impish grin and sparkle in her eye, she flicked her toenail peelings at me, giggling at my horror and twitching eye.

In addition to the mucus and toenails, Delphi frequently passes gas. In our large teaching area, there is plenty of ventilation and little notice is taken when an unpleasant odor drifts past. However, most of Delphi’s teaching occurs in a small room off the main teaching floor. This contains Delphi’s noise and keeps her focused, not to mention allowing the other student’s to work in relative peace. The small room unfortunately does not have substantial airflow and Delphi’s passing gas lead to several toxic evenings. Leaving the door open disturbed other students, air freshener worked for a short time, and asking Delphi is she needed to go to the bathroom lead to awkward conversations.

Act One Scene One:

Teacher smells the pungent bile tinged aroma in room.

“Delphi, do you need to go to the bathroom?”
“No? Why?”
“Did you pass gas?”
“What”
“Did you fart?”
“Oh, did I make skunk gas? [Laughs] That is what we call it at home. [Laughs] Yes. [Laughs]”
“It is not polite to pass skunk gas in public or at school. If you need to, please go to the bathroom. Okay?”
“But I can’t help it. It just slips out!”
“I know, but you are a big girl and big girls don’t do that around others. Please go to the bathroom next time.”

Nothing really stopped the passing of gas. Delphi continued, despite my continual objections and queries. Most of the other teachers understood and would sympathetically look up and make eye contact through the window and one evening the teacher’s aid walked through spraying Lysol. Breaks between hours became mandatory evacuation and toxin elimination time. But it continued sporadically, silent but deadly.

So, in my opinion, children are earthy. Perhaps Delphi is an extremely earthy child and my perspective is skewed from teaching her. But I have learned a great deal from working with her and have grown as a person and teacher through dealing with her antics. Boogers, toenails, and gas…what could stretch a person more?

Entering the crazy. You could speculate that this statement pertains to my future scholarly endeavors, my general view of living life, or how I engage with specific individuals who are legitimately crazy, delusional, or random. All of these would be correct at one point or another. However, when it comes to my job, the last illustration fits the bill.

Through my time teaching, I discovered creative techniques to reach certain students. In the past months, I constructed a rhyme to help a student remember the letter Mm (Moose make Mondays marvelous mostly in the month of May!), switched topics frequently to keep a six-year-old’s attention span in tact, or personify letters of the alphabet. However, these actions are not bizarre or odd. By creative, I mean genuinely ridiculous actions that my closest friends describe as “entering the crazy.”

Three particular events float to my mind that typify entering the crazy to reach a student. The student is Delphi, an energetic eight-year-old with several undiagnosed learning disabilities. No matter the root cause, any student struggling with school work needs loads of patience and inventive teaching and learning techniques. For Delphi, I entered her crazy to get her to attempt her assignments, remember the material, or listen to me. Here are my stories:

1) One evening, Delphi arrived for tutoring. As I arranged her books, white board, and manipulatives, she began growling at me in a friendly but feline tone. Pursing my lips, I looked up and she translated, “I speak Tiger. Roaw, grrrr, purr.” Amused and unsure what to do or how to get her to desist, I thought for a minute then said, “Delphi, I only speak English. I don’t speak Tiger. I’ll need your help. Can you translate for me?” She nodded promptly growled a bit more, but continued the English translation for me for the hour.

2) Disciplining Delphi is frustrating. She frequently misbehaves or refuses to work and on one occasion she threw a market at me and the other student at the table. Her outbursts are rooted in frustration and embarrassment due to her self-awareness of her age and reading level. But asking her questions, saying “I need you to do ___,” or taking away her tokens does not always correct her behavior. Out of sheer desperation, I tried the mom count. One…Two…Three…. I had no idea what I would do when I arrived at three, but by the time I uttered the final number, she began to work. I realized the mom count worked! Future counting had consequences such as removing tokens or talking to her mother, but for now counting sets a boundary with how far I will acquiesce her crazy.

3) Another particular situation arose in which Delphi would sit at the table and cover her ears, declaring that she cannot hear what I was saying. I raised my eyebrows and began mouthing words with full facial expression and hand gestures. I mouthed something along the lines of “The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain.” She cocked her head, removed her hands and said, “I can’t hear you.” I shook my head and replied, “Well, that is because your ears were covered.” She covered her ears several more times, and I continued to mouth words. Questioningly, she put her hands down and I asked, “Can you hear me now?” “Yes.” she complied. “Good,” I said, “Now let’s get to work.”

**Delphi is currently under going testing for her learning disabilities.

Before a morning hour began this summer, Ariana was pulling books and looked up at Praia and me and commented, “Yesterday, I tested the most interesting student I have ever had. I really hope she comes here, because she is so funny!”

Praia and I were hooked. “What did she do?” We inquired.

“Well, she is in fourth grade and corrected the subject/verb agreement on the interest inventory sheet from ‘My pet is a ____ and its name is_____’ to ‘My pets are cats. Their names are Max, Princess, Orphine, Bob.’  After she did this, she remarked that she corrects people’s grammar and it annoys them, but she still does it.”

She continued, “On the inventory, she wrote that someday she would like to be  ‘a dirt fairy artist.’ I asked her what that is and she looked up at me and said, ‘I have a website. You can look on the website to learn about dirt fairies.’ Oh, and she has a lisp, so it all comes out with an extra ‘th’ attached to the word. But the best part was that she said that I may call her ‘Nightingale’ because she loves to sing and then she burst into song. It was great.”

Praia and I were laughing hysterically as Ariana acted out this little girls theatrics.

Shaking her head, Ariana said that the girl scored a superior on her vocabulary and reading comprehension, the highest we give. She also thinks the student is at an eighth or ninth grade reading level because her vocabulary and diction were impeccable.

Praia smirked and said, “Looks like a GT kid.”

I wondered what in the world is the little girl reading and that she might be my clone.

Before our students came in, Ariana finished her description with their farewell scene. The student turned, nodded, and said to Ariana, “I think we shall be friends outside of tutoring.”

Never in my life have I ever wanted a student to come and for me to have them. It would be ridiculous!! She is signed up for math, so perhaps I will interact with our Sylvan songbird sometime this summer.

During the summer, a six-year-old student began attending tutoring. Cayes is a chatty child that struggles with reading. Even after completing kindergarten, he cannot identify letters with sounds or names with letters. In his case, he was left behind in the Texas education system. He is also a willfully obstinate child who refuses to work at times, pushing back from the table, crossing his little arms, cocking his head, and glaring at me. I choose one of several methods to work with him:

1) I give him options. “One, you can do your work and get tokens so you can get a cool prize or two, you can sit there,  not work, and loose a token for each minute you do not work.” I also give him the option of finishing this assignment then or finishing later in the hour.

2) I use the “I need you to (fill in any assignment or action).” This avoids imperatives and presents a need.

3) I ignore his constant questions or I give a quick nod and move onto the next thing.

My methods of teaching him sort of work. I am learning how to teach younger children and try to laugh at the moments I fail. But there was one particular day I had no response on what to do. As Cayes sat in front of me working on an independent practice, he began to sing to himself. Nothing is particularly shocking about young children singing while they work, but the tune caught my ear. It was a popular song I hear on the radio from an annoying entertainer named Ke$ha (yes there is a dollar sign in her name). I usually hear the first bit and change the station. This is completely my opinion, but songs like “Blah Blah Blah,” “Tik Tok,” or “Your Love is My Drug” are grammatically abysmal, musically inept, and lyrically irritating. As I said, my opinion. But little Cayes sat in front of me singing the chorus to “Your Love is My Drug” in perfect beat without missing a word.

“What you got boy is hard to find. I think about it all the time. I’m all strung out, my heart is fried. I just can’t get you off my mind. Because your love your love your love is my drug.”

He repeated it perfectly.

What do you do as a teacher with a child singing something like this? I asked him to work quietly and finish his assignment instead of going on a rant about comma usage and age appropriate music. Honestly, I do not mind if people enjoy Ke$ha and purchase her music, but I draw the line when a six-year-old is singing her lyrics. Please, save the children from poor spelling and bad music!

For the entire time I have worked as a tutor, I have taught an older, home-schooled student named Conakry. He was seventeen and a junior in high school when I met him and coming to our center for reading and writing. His manners were impeccable and he worked diligently, easily becoming a favorite among the teachers.

However, Conakry’s rigorous tutorial schedule encroached upon his social life. Apparently, his girlfriend of a year and a half was far more interesting than dangling participles, thesis sentences, and objective pronouns. Conakry attended roughly fifty percent of his scheduled times, sometimes coming twenty or thirty minutes late, leaving early, or coming for one hour and leaving for the second hour. One day, he attended his first hour, told me he had to change vehicles with his dad quickly and would return in ten minutes for his second hour. He never returned. Conakry became a bit of an amusement among the teachers. We would look at the schedules, raise an eyebrow and muse if Conakry would attend today. Normally a teacher from a corner of the room would pipe up that he was here yesterday, or he did not show up last night.

Interestingly enough, when students do not attend their scheduled hour, they are still charged for the hour. If a student or parent calls and reschedules the day of the appointed tutorial or even within fifteen minutes of the hour beginning, they do not lose their money and can easily reschedule a time. With private tutoring being a bit pricy, our musing intensified when Conakry did not show up, no call came, and hours upon hours of money were lost. We wondered, “Did his parents know of his absences?”

After six months of speculation, Ariana popped into the teaching floor during a break exclaiming, “Oh, I forgot to tell you! You will appreciate this!”

Won Ju and I looked up with expectant smiles.

“I had a parent conference with Conakry’s mom yesterday.” She said beaming. “As Mom talked, she mentioned that Conakry was there (waving her hand in the direction of the teaching room). Then stopped and asked if he was there.”

Ariana related, “I peaked out of my office, shrugged, and admitted that he was not there. Mom glared at me and retorted that he left the house that morning at 8:15 to come up here. I nodded and said, ‘Well, he is not here.’”

Laughing, Ariana continued saying Conakry grudgingly appeared at the center at 3pm that day. She questioned if she should have told Conakry’s mother he had cancelled all ten of his hours that week, but she thought he was in enough trouble and his parents might be more diligent about their son’s education from now on.

The mystery of Conakry’s absences was solved. Now the question remains if he will studiously attend his tutorials for the rest of the summer and finish out his program hours. We will see.

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