04 December 2011

Breaking Through

Something incredible happened yesterday. A boy in my Saturday afternoon class had a major breakthrough and I can't begin to describe how ecstatic I am about this. Although I've been here for a little over four months, I've only been teaching this class, as well as my Saturday morning class, for three months, since I spent my first month substituting for other teachers every Saturday. Still, three months is a long time and that is how long it took for this boy to finally participate. Honestly, I wasn't sure that he ever would...

The first time I taught this class, it became abundantly clear that this little boy had serious issues with change. His dad dropped him off and he just stood at the door crying. He refused to look at me and no amount of comforting would get him to stop crying or even move from his spot at the door. That day, I had a substitute Teaching Assistant (TA) working with me, and she wasn't able to get him to stop crying either. Furthermore, the classroom itself was in a different location for him. Therefore, the poor child walked into a classroom where nothing was familiar: new room, new teacher, new TA. Of course, rather than having me substitute every Saturday during the entire month of August, it would have been a good call to let me co-teach with the former teacher at least once, but there's no point in trying to understand. There are a lot of things that I don't understand about my school. Anyway, after about an hour, the TA was able to coax him away from the door, but he refused to sit with the other children during circle time and refused to participate in any activities, despite my attempts to include him. At break time, he ate his snack alone and then during free-play, he sat alone, colouring. When he was finished, he showed his picture to the TA and then to me. I praised him and he gave me a blank stare. That was the extent of his interaction with me.

The following week, I asked my TA Kyung-Yun about him. She told me that he has always been that way. She also told me that the former teacher suspected that he had OCD. Although I majored in Child Studies and have taken courses in child psychology, I am by no means qualified to properly diagnose. If we were in Canada, this child would have probably been diagnosed with something by now, but in all honesty, I think that we have a tendency to over-diagnose in North America. We're obsessed with labels. I refuse to label this child, but it's obvious that his socio-emotional development is far behind that of his peers.

Every subsequent Saturday, I said hello to him, smiled at him, showed him lots of warmth, tried to include him in all games and activities and continued to observe his behaviour. He never answered me, although he did sometimes answer Kyung-Yun. Then, one day, he said something to me in Korean. It was a small step, but I was thrilled that it was something that I actually understood so that I could answer him! I also noticed that he never played with any of the other kids. He would usually spend free-play colouring or sometimes building things, but always on his own. One day, he sat beside one of the little girls who also really enjoys colouring and started speaking animatedly to her in Korean. It was also the first time that I saw him smile.

Eventually, he started joining us at circle time, but he never answered me when I called on him and he has never sung any of the songs we sing, although I have caught him smiling or doing some of the song actions on occasion. He is extremely clever and excels at math. He is usually the first one to finish any math worksheets in class. He does well with both math and English in the unit book that the kids work on at home. I've also figured out that he understands English a lot more than he lets on. He never has trouble following directions; he just refuses to participate in anything other than worksheets (which I try to avoid, to be honest) or arts and crafts. He is meticulous with his crafts. He also has a habit of writing his name on the back of his work ten times, using each of the colours in the crayon box. But, I digress...

Kyung-Yun recently accepted a teaching position at a public elementary school, so last Saturday was her last day. I tried to explain the situation with this little boy to my new TA, but I'm not entirely sure that she understood. That's a whole other situation, which I'm not going to get into. Let's just say that I already miss Kyung-Yun terribly! Anyway, he was crying when he first came in, so I put my arms around him and told him that I had some new colouring pages to show him. He chose one of a Christmas tree and started colouring. He stopped crying. This was the first triumph!

Nonetheless, he didn't want to join us at circle time. I went to get him and led him to the circle. I was certain that he would protest, but to my surprise, he did not. Once again, he refused to sing along and didn't answer me when I asked him how he was doing today. As usual, he didn't participate in calendar time or any of the other usual activities at circle time. Then, we played a memory game using winter vocabulary that I had prepared for this lesson. Normally, when we play games, I spiritedly tell him that it's his turn and he ignores me. The other kids always say, "Pass!" but this time, I insisted. I took his hand and asked him to show me which card he wanted to turn over first. He did it! He played every turn after that, without me having to prompt him. Another triumph!

Later on, I noticed that he was actually playing with one of the other boys during free-play. They were both laughing and it was an absolute joy to see. After break time, we played a math relay and again, when it was his turn, he refused to get up. I went to get him and not only did he get up, but he answered every single question correctly and his team won because of his exceptional math skills! He smiled and actually gave me a high five! A huge triumph!

Finally, at story time, I decided to be really daring and asked him a direct question. For the first time ever, he answered me! Then, when I asked another question, he raised his hand and answered me again! This was the best triumph of all! I looked at the new TA and said, "This has never happened before. I'm so proud of him!" She didn't really have any sort of reaction. That's okay. I got up and did a little dance. The other kids were excited about it too. I'm hoping that this was truly a turning point and that he will continue to show more interest in all classroom activities. I will not give up on this child! I only wish that Kyung-Yun had been there to witness all of this.


Fran said...

Nice story Deena. You're obviously doing something right! :)

Deena said...

Thank you, Fran!

Simone said...

This warms my heart! Good for you for your patience and caring about this boy. What a great way to start my day by reading this!!! Co

Deena said...

Thank you so much, Simone. Why am I just seeing your comment now? I've got to start keeping on top of things!