How I Tried to Teach a tiny Kid to Shake Hands like a Man

“Look at that moon. Potato weather for sure.”
Thornton Wilder, Our Town

A grace potato moon

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about redemption the past few weeks.

No, really.

These are the kinds of topics that keep me awake at night and interfere with my ability to remember that my husband sent me to the store for milk and not a new dishwasher. When I say I’ve been thinking a lot about redemption- I mean, like, well,

                                                           pretty darn frequently.

I am thankful for some time to relax, because it has been several weeks now since some tricky things happened on the playground at work. They weren’t funny happenings, and they got my attention. Funny things happened as well, don’t get me wrong! Yet. Now that I am on break and am responsible for hardly any brain work, my mind can wander and contemplate all it wants.

So, for now, redemptive cogitation and the family rodeo it is…

My school and job for 2012-2014 was a most wonderful and wearysome one. I was a para educator in a school located in our downtown. There were several things going on last year that made it a very tough building to go into every day. I’ll just mention a couple. Maybe you can relate.

One thing that was happening was that tragedy had struck the previous spring and impacted the school community as a whole. A shocking accuasation had been made against the previous principal and the legal and practical fall out was ugly. It was a situation that didn’t impact just one child or family or school staff member, it involved everyone. Who was hurt the most by it? I’m still not sure. There were some paces that the students had to go through that I’d be willing to bet was boring, frustrating and annoying to them in their spring 2013 year. I’m guessing that the kids were rewarded with some extra recess time and other than the impact of parents not keeping adult conversation among themselves, the Mighty Mustangs had a fine summer break last year anyway.

So, what made the job difficult? Was it just because I was newcomer amongst some really plucky and fun little kids? Not so much.

In the very beginning it was a very angry, sad and tense work environment. The students were fine! But, with a new principal to deal with, the local media still buzzing with legal proceedings, and a vast amount of educational outcomes to catch up on – the joint was jumping when I was hired a few weeks into the school year. Overall, my coworkers were welcoming and friendly and amazingly resilient. The teachers were top notch professionals and the students were excited for new routines and comforted by old traditions.

Either wasted energy on catty banter was not common place or I was deaf to whatever was going on behind the scenes in the parent parking lot or elsewhere.

Well, I did fall into one cat fight in the making right after starting my position, but skeedadled out of the situation it quickly with just a teeny scratch.

“Yes, now you know. Now you know!

That’s what it was to be alive.

To move about in a cloud of ignorance;

to go up and down trampling on the feelings of those…of those about you.

To spend and waste time as though you had a million years.

To be always at the mercy of one self-centered passion, or another. Now you know — that’s the happy existence you wanted to go back to.

Ignorance and blindness.”
Thornton Wilder, Our Town

Thankfully, with the impossibly generous support of the new administration and a minute or two of fun banter while meeting various teachers as I helped them corral the Mustangs into their seats, it wasn’t long before I was having a great time indeed. What made leaving my comfy home and cute dogs every morning difficult was the heartbreaking realities of the majority of the families that attend our school.

I’m not a talented enough writer to try and describe some of what was going on for these children and families. I can’t do it without breaking confidentiality. To tell the story of one kid, or one family, I would want to tell you the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The truth of MY experience of trying to distract a kid who is struggling to read away from hunger, or anger, or frustration, or the shame that had been piled on him or her in a short few years. I really would like to post a photo of this one little, long and grouchy face. Or YouTube a voice recording of his ear piercing tantrums when life built up and he felt picked on or didn’t want to cooperate with carpet time rules.

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I’d like to describe in detail how incredibly guilty I felt the morning that I found out he had been waiting in the hallway to say good morning to me and practice “How to Have a Firm Handshake Like Mr. Cooper and His his Sons.” He had to get to class because the last morning bell rang. Rules are rules.

The whole story on that day isn’t just about a cute kid or moment.

Since the very short time since I moved from Ohio to Iowa, school work (public, private and home school) has changed drastically.

That missed chance for a handshake was one event of many that added to my already bigger than it should be sense of guilt. I was becoming grouchier as a coworker and educator by the day because of the ending school year. As a staff we were trying to do our best to do what the boss ordered which was to keep them reading and in routine until the final bell of the year.

Thankfully boxes of coffee and trays of fruit and home baked goodies kept popping up in the teacher lounge as the final 2013-2014 count down continued for everyone.

For many of the little kiddos I met at this school, routines and structure at home are frequently lost to the fight to put food on the table and a safe roof overhead.

This creates an interesting, challenging and resilient atmosphere.

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I can’t tell you my affection for the kid that I mentioned above about without telling you his whole story, and trust me, I know very, very little. My few classes in counseling not only taught me that it is not wise to ask too many questions, but it’s usually against the law. I just know that there were days that he hung on my promise that developing a firm handshake like a man could help him rule the world. I explained to this tiny person that Mr. C wears a suit and has a very important job, at a very big school. I confided to him that that sometimes grown men want to cry and scream at school too, but they aren’t allowed to either. (My husband is a college administrator). I tried to encourage that with some hard work he and Mr. Cooper could handle their job to learn and teach just a few hours longer until it was time to go home and play.

“We all know that something is eternal.

And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars . . .

everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings.

All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it.

There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.

-Stage manager, in the play OUR TOWN”

If anyone has any additional cool ideas on how to get a kid, or a teacher or an administrator through a school year on ANY educational campus since the events of Sandy Hook (I added an interesting link that maps some of the recent trends that administrators are working to prepare us for), do tell me.

All I’ve got in my tool kit at this point is to take a knee and let the funny things crack me up.

Thank God funny seemed to happen all of the time last year, and I trust that future years will offer the same. I hope that those who are getting a bit of summer break are getting some rest, or at least enjoying the view.

peace, Kate

 

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