i have a student in my second grade class, mohammad. he is from pakistan and has been living both here and there for the last few years, being pulled out of school here to go live there for several months. he left last may and came back in november.
mohammad did not come to class on time, and refused to come into the classroom of his own volition. instead, he would have an entire posse of school psychologists, counsellors, parent volunteers, teachers, the security guard all clucking around him and encouraging him into the classroom. he would squat down on the floor outside the classroom and put his head in his arms. it would take around 45 minutes to get him to come into the room and sit at his table. then he would sit with his head on his desk and not do any work. but, after lunch, he would come to life and return to the classroom and do his work with no problem, raising his hand to answer questions and working independently and in groups. he's very clever and never lost any of his english skills while away in pakistan.
after a few days i asked him why he had such a hard time in the mornings. he told me that he misses his mom and dad (who are at work while he's in school) and he's so sad he can't work. he then told me that when he does start working, he doesn't think about them and doesn't miss them so much. i told him that it stands to reason that the sooner he gets to work, the less he'll think about his mother. i also told him that when i'm sad about something, i let myself feel good and sorry for myself for three days. i really wallow in it. and even if i want to stop after a couple of days, i still give myself that third day to really sit in my sorrow and pity. then, i move on and work with what i have. i told him he could have three days to feel sorry for himself and not come into the classroom until he was ready and he didn't have to work, he could sit at his table. but then after that three days, he had to get to work.
i also told the teachers and counsellors that had been bringing him to the classroom that i wanted to try having him brought to the doorway of the classroom, and then left on his own to enter when he was ready. the next day, a parent volunteer brought him to the entrance to the classroom, i told them to leave. i told mohammad i simply needed him to stand in the doorway so i could see him, and he could come into the room whenever he was ready. i also made sure that the rest of the class was doing something fun at that time so mohammad would both get bored out there on his own and be really curious about what everyone was doing in the classroom.
by the third day, he was coming in immediately on entering the school (still late). i told him how proud i was of this and after a few days i told him that i felt he was ready to come to the rug with his books when he entered the classroom, and do the work that everyone else was doing. i promised him stickers galore if he could do that.
once we got that down for a few days, i told him that now he was ready to come to the auditorium at the beginning of the day and come to the classroom with everyone else. he's just started doing that this week.
the first day he came into the classroom with everyone else, he then sat down at his table and refused to come to the rug and work. he put his head down and wouldn't respond to me or anyone. the first day that happened, i said that i could not teach until the whole class was on the rug. i said we would sit in silence until everyone was on the rug. it's not class 2cr3 and then mohammad, it's all of us together. we sat for 20 minutes in silence. it was excruciating.
the next day he did it again. i knew we couldn't sit there in silence again, i needed to come up with something else. i sent up a quick "S.O.S.!" prayer to god, asking for divine inspiration and i mean now! the expression, "if mohamed will not come to the mountain, the mountain will come to mohamed." popped into my head. i taught the children that epxression and then told them to stand up. i moved my white board easel (no one uses a blackboard by the way) across the room so it was in front of mohammad. i had all the children sit at desks or on the floor so they could see the board. i told mohammad to take out his notebook and a pencil and start copying what i was writing on the board. he looked completely shocked, but did it. the kids copied some notes, we talked about some ideas, and then i told mohammad that for the next part of the lesson i really needed everyone on the rug and was he ready? he said yes and off we went!
by spending time with nuns over the last few years i have learned to be comfortable in silence and i have learned patience. i also know that i have real gifts in working with children. i see christ's presence in each and every one of these children. i'm so grateful to be working in one of my two vocations and i really hope to continue working with children as a religious. there don't seem to be many teaching orders in the anglican tradition these days, but i am looking at orders in africa that work with aids orphans.
keep mohammad in your prayers ... and me too!