When Does Empathy Become Enabling?

A Four Year Old in High School?

There was a little girl running up and down the aisles in my summer-school Algebra class. Actually it wasn’t my class. I had taken it over as part of my duties as a utility, summer-school, substitute teacher. That summer, I did everything from security in the halls to attendance phone calls in the office. And when a teacher was absent or running late, I took over their classroom. That’s how I wound up teaching Mr. Smith’s summer-school, 9th grade Algebra class with a little girl running up and down the aisles.

I was the new guy in town so the next time the little girl ran past my desk I introduced myself and asked her her name. She told me her name was Sally and she was four years old. By this time another, somewhat older girl had walked up to my desk and introduced herself. The older girl said her name was Amy and that Sally was her daughter. She said that Mr. Smith allowed her to bring her daughter to school because she, Amy, had no one to look after her daughter. If she couldn’t bring her daughter to school she would have to drop out. I told Amy that if it was okay with Mr. Smith, it was okay with me. Amy returned to her desk and Sally continued to wander around.

The truth is, I wasn’t okay with it.

I didn’t take it out on Amy though. The student’s ID number, which is their birthday and a few other numbers, is on the attendance roster. I looked up Amy’s birthday and found out that she was only 16 years old. That meant that she was impregnated as young as 11 years old and had Sally when she was 12!

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The Heartache of the Impossible Child

9.22.14 Screaming Child iStock_000008551025SmallThe reality and heartache of the impossible child.

Most of my kids were really great. They just needed the right opportunity to get their acts together. We adults provided those opportunities and we all got along. But, let’s face reality, I have to admit that I did encounter some kids who seemed impossible to reach. At least, that’s how it seemed.

One day early in the semester in which I began my sojourn at our CDS school a student walked into class and said, “Oh man! I should have stayed in.” So I asked him, “In where?” He replied, “In jail!”

I run a tight, goal oriented class but it’s not that hard, yet he preferred jail to school. Obviously there are some serious issues here that go way beyond the scope of this essay. I include it only to show how stubborn a child can be.

I must issue a mea culpa. The following story is about a child so difficult her classmates wanted her suspended from school. It has a sort of positive resolution but I feel I just got lucky in coming up with it. Thank God for Two Choices Technique.

The Student Progress Meeting

In an effort to improve instruction and our relationships with the kids, after each grading period all of us teachers would meet during and after lunch as a group (we were a small school). Then we would call in each student one at a time and review their progress. Some students were given high praise and told to keep up the good work. Most received a mixed bag of praise and questions about the subjects they were having trouble with. “You’re doing fine in Mr. D’s math class. Why do you think you’re failing Language Arts? How can we help you?” That sort of thing.

And then there were the hard cases, those students who could not or would not get with the program. They were unable or unwilling to help us fit the program to their needs. Each was their own version of the impossible child. No offer of compromise, no promise of reward or threat of punishment would get them to cooperate in their own success. Nadine was the most impossible of the bunch.

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