Jolly Ranchers Make Everything Better

Meet the Teacher Day.

A small, tow-headed boy walks in. He looks like he’s entering second grade, not fourth. His mother, also dimunitive,  has a tough smoker’s voice “He’s been afraid of you. His last teacher was a yeller.” I look into his large blue eyes. “Nice to meet you Jimmy*.  I don’t yell.”  A smile rises from his mouth, into his cheeks and then his eyes. I give him my Welcome to School note, taped with a watermelon Jolly Rancher.  Mother tousles his hair, “See? Your teacher is nice.” Both seem relieved.

More kids and parents/guardians come in. They scan the desks for name tags. They sign in at the table, grab information packets regarding our schedules, supply list. A squat woman approaches me. Everything about her is short and wide: the hips, the nose, the voice.  She is someone’s grandma.

“Hi. I have to tell you, (her voice lowers) Marcus* has trouble with attention. Marcus!” She calls him to us. He is a little darker than her, but also squat. “Marcus! Say hello to your teacher.”

Marcus speaks in a soft voice, “Nice to meet you.”  I am pleasantly surprised by his respectful demeanor. “Nice to meet you, Marcus.” We shake hands. His body stays, but his eyes roam the room. Grandma whispers, but Marcus and I can hear her. “Marcus is easily distracted and lazy.”  [By the end of the two hours, I will hear this from fifteen adults:  “My child has problems with attention. He/She needs to sit in the front.” Is there some kind of epidemic? Something in the water]?

“Oh, Marcus looks like a very focused, hard working boy to me,” I look at him and he smiles at me.

“No, no, no. He’s not. He’s lazy and unfocused.”

I try to make eye contact with grandma, but her beady eyes are laser focused on Marcus. Stop it. Stop saying that!

“Oh, I see a hard worker, totally focused and ready to learn!” I trump her.

She vigorously shakes her head, no, no, no. “He’s definitely not smart.” Marcus’s shoulders slump, his eyes go slack.

But he is.  Eighteen days of school have passed and Marcus is clearly one of my brightest students. My intuition was correct, he IS a hard worker.  His third grade teacher told me that he will cry and throw a temper tantrum when something goes wrong.  He did, indeed, wail at the top of his lungs when I gave the first assessment, a timed math fact test. “IT’S TOO HARD! I CAN’T DO IT!”  Tears streamed down his face. I calmly responded, “Stop crying.” The class looked at him (it was hard to ignore) but they quickly resumed their work.  I meet every tantrum (sometimes he has two or three in a day) with a calm rebuttal, “Stop that. There is no need for that. Take a deep breath and focus.” He has not had a tantrum now for a week.  The last time he got frustrated over a math problem, I offered to give him an easier one. He shook his head, no. He wiped his tears and regained his composure, all on his own.

We practice yoga poses and deep breathing exercises for stretch time. As I get to know my students, I see that many have personal challenges at home: a sick parent, divorce (a couple are going through not the first, but a second one), unemployment, etc. The stresses our children experience these days are enormous and the kids tell me that their parents tell them to “Go watch TV or play your X-Box.” And they wonder why their kids are distracted and unfocused. When we’ve been working hard at a math lesson, someone will inevitably ask, “Can we take a yoga break?” In just a month, I’ve noticed more focus, better balance and a bit more self-control all around.

One thought on “Jolly Ranchers Make Everything Better

  1. I love that story about Marcus. These kids have so many headwinds to fight. They are lucky to have you behind them giving them a slow and steady push!


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