Lost and Found
Each day in my classroom, I observe this boy dragging himself to his desk.
It looks like someone has literally pushed him out of bed, shoved the toothbrush into his mouth, ordered him to bathe and eventually dropped him outside the school gate. There is nothing too attractive about him except the fact that he sits in complete isolation. If you stand beside my desk, you will notice that he is a part of the bunch of kids around him, but if you go nearer, you will sense the void he is carrying every day. He gets extremely conscious as you walk towards him, wondering if he has again made some mistake. The moment he looks up in my eye, he seems lost! Not willing to understand his problem, I try to avoid and rather focus on other kids who are done with their work.
A day later, I saw him peeping into his partner’s notebook. I rushed fuming to his desk and questioned him, rather humiliated him, ‘Can you not do it on your own? Is it that difficult for you?’ In a hushed tone he said, ‘No, ma’am. I cannot do it. I tried a lot of times, but I could not.’ I felt embarrassed and upset at the same time. I was embarrassed that I only judged him so far and upset that it took me so long to realise I was wrong.
It got me thinking what I must have missed out on. Was there anything I could do to make it a happier, learning experience for him? I went back home and like a professional researcher, I started reading about several concerns kids must be dealing with while in school. I sat infront of the screen for hours hoping for a quick fix. Soon I realised I was going in the wrong direction. ‘What am I looking for?’ I asked myself. My mind was blank! A teacher looking for an answer without even knowing the question. Strange! I shut my laptop and sat with myself for a few minutes. And there I had a plan for my next day at school.
After months I had experienced this excitement to get ready and hurry to school. It felt as if I cracked an unsolved, awaiting mystery. Dressed in my yellow saree, with a big smile on my face, I was eagerly waiting for him to step into the classroom. Meanwhile I had completed all the clerical work – date on the board, present day, time table for the day and other important details. I desperately waited for him to walk into the classroom. I felt restless with each passing minute. And finally, he was there! He stood at the door and very gently asked, ‘May I come in, ma’am?’ With a big smile on my face now, I said, ‘Yes’. As he walked towards his seat, I wished him good morning. He looked at me in awe. For the first time he felt acknowledged. His eyes were wet, reflecting so much hope. He did not utter a word and sat on his seat. How much I cursed myself for not noticing him before. As the bell rang and the first period began, I instructed students and wrote the class work on the board. As a typical situation is, all of them started copying the work to finish first and get rewarded.
I strolled between the rows, curious to see his work. I tried hard not to make it awkward for him. I was certainly excited, but I cannot make it an uncomfortable situation for him. My steps got bigger as I was getting closer to his desk. I stood beside him and could sense his nervousness. I whispered, ‘Have you finished your work?’ He replied, ‘No, I have not’. I requested if I could have a look, hesitatingly he slid to the edge of his desk. I flipped through the pages and on the last one I saw some drawings. In great astonishment I said, ‘Not in the mood to write today?’ He expressed his misery for the first time and said, ‘Ma’am, I do not understand all that you write on the board. It is all so confusing. The amount of time I take to write one sentence is equivalent to the time others take to copy all of it.’ ‘Why didn’t you ever tell me this?’ I asked. To my surprise he said, ‘Because you only love and hug those who finish their work first. I do not want to disappoint you.’ Filled with embarrassment, I dared to ask him further, ‘What about the work? Who does that?’ ‘My mom’, he said. ‘Mom told me not to tell anyone that I struggle with reading as others might make fun of me.’
No, he did not have dyslexia. Just like you, I got worried too. I blamed myself. I blamed myself a zillion time. My idea of teaching had gone through enough editing in six years of my practice. From being a dedicated teacher, I had turned into someone who focussed only on work and results. Yes, I too became a part of the rat race. Nowadays it is a rat, dog, cow all sorts of races. Competition has impacted everybody.
I called for a meeting with his parents and decided on different strategies we could apply to help him improve. He felt important. He felt rescued. His parents got a great sense of relief. They were dreading he might need professional help and that might burn a hole in their pocket. Unfortunately, the battle got stretched for him. A simple concern got ignored because of lack of knowledge and no one willing to put in the ‘extra’ effort.
There is no major rocket science he required to overcome his fears. All he needed was a little support from the school and his peers.
I made sure I would pay extra attention to him. I gave him more time and even more opportunities to participate in class. I encouraged him to actively perform in the activities he liked and avoided judging him. My focus had shifted from result to respite.
Initially the class laughed at him wherever and whenever he fumbled and each time he would look at me for encouragement. This time to help all my children, I planned circle time with my class. I sat down with them and talked about respecting others. This sensitizing activity worked as a booster for all of us.
It certainly did not show results in one day, but as days went by and bonds got stronger, I saw my class more united and connected. With regular connect time with my students and giving them the space to express, I realised the amount of change it can bring to their personalities. A year well spent!
Mitashi Pawar, MA in Applied Psychology, PG Diploma in Counselling and Family Therapy is at present working as a School Counsellor with The Shri Ram School, Aravali. She has done her schooling from DPS Vasant Kunj. Her expertise lies in working with kids, parents and teachers. Over the years, she has worked for several schools such as DPS Ambala, DPS Panipat, Apeejay School Kolkata, Bal Bharti School to name a few. She is passionate about creating awareness about mental health and help people understand the benefits of counselling. Her interest also lies in doing workshops for students and adults.