I sit here pondering what to do. I struggle to run a functional program. I have had an epiphany. Education and personal life need to be separate entities. One can not personalize classroom experiences nor allow personal stress to color reactions with in the classroom. However, personal lives do intertwine into ones life as an educator in a positive way. We learn in the classroom via trial and error. If we attempt to connect with the children in a way that does not work, we go back to the drawing board and seek alternate plans. Far from bias, drawing on ones personal experience can assist in assimilating a struggling child into the classroom successfully.
My younger son struggled with undiagnosed learning disabilities for years. He was labeled as lazy, non-compliant, and received many other negative labels along the way. Those labels have carried all the way into his college experience. He struggles with negative self efficacy and anxiety. In retrospect, my personal experience with my son has provided me with a nonjudgmental persona of my young charges in my classroom. I personally have experienced the pain of feeling incompetent as a parent due to people who were quick to label my son and family. A result of this experience is my ability to not label other children. What I child displays on the surface usually hides a precipitant which hides right below the skin.
As an educator, my job is to find out what the precipitant is. I have a kindergarten child in my class who constantly has urine and bowel accidents. The mother is devastated as the child never did this in the past. Other teachers have said the child is “babyfied” by her family and needs to be reprimanded more. In dealing with the family, I find quite the opposite is true. The family wants to eradicate the problem. I assured the family that the child is quite bright and capable. She was enrolled in the private kindergarten at my facility because she missed the cut off date for public school. The little girl is the youngest five years old in the class. I reassure the parents that the little girl is still extremely young.
Rather that chastise the family, I remind them of the reality of the situation. Kindergarten is quite a transition for children. My belief is that transition has been extremely difficult for this child. In preschool, children are reminded to use the bathroom. In kindergarten, they are expected to do so independently. In pre school children are expected to attend to academics in much shorter time chunks. Kindergarten presents new academic challenges such as sitting at a table developing reading and math skills. We need to respect each child for the individual they are. They reach developmental mile stones at different speed. When the child is ready, the milestones occur.
I have observed, processed, and attempted to trouble shoot in the situation. Rather than punish, I reward. Rather than embarrass the child, I developed a system that keeps her peers oblivious to her dilemma. Every hour or so I privately go over to the child and say “You know what you need to do right”? The child nods her head and goes to the bathroom. This takes minimal effort on my side to give reminders. It saves the child embarrassment from peers. Accidents have dissipated. If the child has no accidents I find little tasks to reward her for her compliance. I allow her to be a helper, line leader, or another role that she might covet. I remind her that these are big girl roles that are only doled out for responsible behavior.
Some of the behavior modification techniques were learned in school. Others were learned from going to counseling with my son during his developmental years. Thus the writer hopes a parallel has been made towards what one learns in life having the ability to teach us just as much as we learn in the classroom.
Mari Nosal M.Ed., CECE