Last night was a struggle. The entire hour was a struggle working with the young girl at tutoring. By the end of my night, I realized my struggle only lasted an hour. Her struggle will likely last a lifetime.
“Okay Ashley, Miss Kayla will need to focus,” the coordinator said. “She likes to get up and walk around. So maybe do that every 10-15 minutes.”
She was a trip the moment she walked in the door. She had a cell phone, from like 1990, that didn’t work. Her book bag was open and flopping around wildly. She had just taken a shower and her hair was a messy and hardly brushed. (I remember those days!!) But more importantly, she had a big smile on her face, even as she bossed around her older sister. Yes, she was the boss and a year younger.
I had my hands full.
I only majored in Elementary Education for about 3 months, so I never got to learn how to teach children with attention disorders. You have to connect with them on a different level. Your approach needs to be different, and you can never, never act annoyed or mad- because it fuels the fire. I did know these things coming into tutoring, and these facts were confirmed last night.
“Hi, I’m Ashley,” I said smiling at her.
“Kayla!” she screamed in my face. (again, I've changed her name for the sack of privacy).
“So, what kind of homework do you have tonight?” I asked her.
“Math!” she screamed again.
Of course you do, I said in my head. Again, I am horrible at math and just the sound of the word "math" makes me want to curl up and hid under a desk.
Thank the Lord, it was simple math problems.
“Will you read me the instructions, Kayla, so I know what you are doing?” I said.
“No, I can’t read!” she said back.
She started looking around the room. Down the hallway. On the ground. In her book bag. The last thing she wanted to do…. was her homework.
“I’ll bet you can! I’ve heard you are a smart girl. Show me how smart you are and read me these instructions. I believe in you!” I said.
She looked at me. She didn’t smile, but she didn’t frown. Almost a blank stare. It was as if no one had said that in her entire life. No one has ever said those four sweet words, “I believe in you!”
“Write in the missing number,” said read to me quickly and correctly.
“Great job! I knew you could read that, so let’s do the first problem together. What number is that?” I said and pointed to the paper.
I didn’t know if pointing where we were reading would help, but I thought it would help keep your attention. And it surely worked.
But half way through the problems, she started drifting off again. She looked down at her sister. And then at the kids behind her in the cafeteria. Down at her feet. She took off her shoe. Flipped it around. Tilted the chair back.
“How about we stay focused here and you finish these problems and then we will walk around the hallway for a minute. Sound good?” I asked.
“YES!” she screamed back.
She flew through her problems. I guided her by pointing at where we were and asking what the first number was – but she did everything on her own. And got every single question correct. I was proud.
She wasn’t a fan of reading. That was clear from the beginning. But I refused to let her cave and give up. We did it together.
She got some string cheese for a snack and all she could talk about was how she wanted more. I told her she needed to share and make the other kids got their cheese too. But she wanted more. And I actually felt bad for telling her to just wait and see if there was any left. She was probably really hungry. I wondered how many nights or days she went without eating before….
Eventually, I learned more about her life when I asked her what she wanted to do when she grows up.
“I want to be a doctor!” she said.
Before I could respond, she changed her mind. “No, I want to be a cleaner!”
“A cleaner?” I asked. “What kind of cleaner?”
“I want to clean my own room!” she said.
Number one, that broke my heart because she doesn’t have her own room. In fact, the rooms in the shelter are about the size of your closet and have two bunk beds. That’s about it.
“Well, I’m sure that will make your mommy happy!” I said.
She looked at me and with a cold stare she said, “I don’t have a mommy.”
My heart sank and I just stared at her. I truly didn’t know what to say to make this situation right. I’d never had to deal with this and my mind was racing. Everything was suddenly making sense and I knew why she was acting like this and treating me this way…she’s never had a mother, or probably a positive female role model in her life.
One of the older tutors saw my blank expression, even though it lasted for a second, my mind drifted away reflecting through all the years of her life. The woman said, “Well then your daddy will be proud!”
She later told me that her daddy went to jail for hitting her mom. Poor child. She simply has been through more in her 7 years of life than most people go through throughout their entire life. It broke my heart and I want so badly for her to realize her worth. She will clean her own room one day after she gets off her shift at the hospital, being a doctor.
Always appreciate what you have in life. Someone will always have it worse than you, often way worse than you. You might complain about cleaning your house, but at least you have one. You might complain about cooking dinner, but at least you have your own kitchen. To cook your own food. That you bought. With your own money. Also, tell your parents how much you love them, especially if they provided for you in countless ways growing up. Because some kids have never heard their parents tell them “I believe in you” or even the most important of all, “I love you- no matter what.”
I’m serious, call them now and say thank you! Or if they are no longer here with us, send up a thank you prayer or blessing. They’ll get it, I’m sure.
I’ll close with an important quote that I was reminded of after my tutoring session, “Be kinder than necessary for everyone you meet is fighting some sort of battle.”