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She Finally Has The Words

, , , , , | Learning | March 8, 2023

I’m a teacher who works at a school in a very diverse neighborhood. We have a beautiful little girl in our third-grade class whose mother is from Pakistan, but her father grew up ten minutes down the road in the next suburb. I had the pleasure of teaching this young lady in kindergarten, and again last year in second grade. Up until this point, her dad had come along with her mum to every parent-teacher interview or school event. Her parents were both lovely people, and their daughter was so bright and well-behaved that we’d never had much cause for extra interaction.

School started up last week and we are having the initial round of meetings with parents to talk about what will be covered this year and if they have any questions or concerns. My student arrives with just her mother in tow.

Student’s Mother: “Sorry, my husband has been caught up at work and can’t make it today.”

Me: “No worries! Just us girls today, eh [Student]?”

My student laughs and proceeds to get into the Legos I set out for the kids to entertain themselves with while I talk to the parents. I start talking and handing over various forms/printouts to her mother – who is a very intelligent woman, but she seems panicked the more pieces of paper I hand over to her.

When she begins staring at a form in dismay, I think she might be concerned about the price of the school excursion later in the year. I drop my voice so my student can’t hear us.

Me: “If you’re having any problems with finances for the excursion, we have a fund here at the school to help with that and I can get you the information if you’d like.”

Student’s Mother: “Oh, it’s nothing like that, we can afford it and she is so excited! It’s just…”

She looks like she might start crying at any moment.

Student’s Mother: “I’m sorry, usually my husband comes to handle this sort of thing, but I actually can’t read English. I can barely read my own language.”

I was gobsmacked. This woman has always been very smart and engaged, has volunteered countless times to help with school events and last year personally hand-made almost a thousand ribbon flowers for a fundraiser we put on.

Student’s Mother: “I can speak it just fine; my parents taught me English as a child, but even in my own language and any language we learned in school, the words all seem to jumble up and swim on the page when I try to read them. When I was little my parents thought maybe I couldn’t see and got me glasses, but it never helped. I can write, and spell any word you ask me to, but anything more than ten or so words on a page…”

This poor woman seemed so humiliated to be admitting this to me. I scrambled in my drawer for a moment and handed her a new page.

Me: “Does this seem better?”

Student’s Mother: “Oh, wow!”

She stumbled over a couple of words but happily read out the entire paragraph that was written on the page. She looked at me with entirely different tears in her eyes.

Student’s Mother: “How is this possible?”

Me: “This is a special font we use for people with dyslexia. It’s a little bigger than usual and has extra shadows and spaces to help differentiate between the letters. You can read this?”

Student’s Mother: “I can! [Student], look! Mama can read this!”

Student: *Looking over at the page.* “Wow mama! That’s so many words! I don’t even know all those words.”

Student’s Mother: *Very quietly crying.* “I’m not just stupid…”

Me: “I never thought you were for a second.”

I sent her home with a tonne of resources I’d accumulated for people with dyslexia over the years, including a few chapter books printed in dyslexic-friendly fonts. She’s back tomorrow to help out with our swimming carnival, and I am SO excited to hear how she’s going! Her husband came to me at school pickup and told me he’d managed to set up her iPad so it used one of the fonts and he can barely get her to look up from it the past few days. He said this all with the proudest grin on his face I’ve ever seen.

Small But Mighty!

, , , , , | Learning | February 13, 2023

I am an American teaching English in China. We are winding down after the last classes on a Friday evening. I’m in the back with our boss and one of the two head teachers when we hear a crash coming from the front room accompanied by the sound of lots of scattering little pieces.

Boss: “Sounds like someone dropped the Lego box.”

Me: “That sounded pretty loud. I’ll check it out.”

I jog out of the teachers’ office and around to the front room. I pass by the Lego building area and nothing is amiss there. I head to the entrance and, to my shock, I find one of the double glass entrance doors completely shattered on the ground! Two of our local Chinese workers are talking with an elderly woman and a younger woman, and there is a crying five-year-old boy with a bloody cut on his head. I run back to the teachers’ office.

Me: “It was our door! A kid broke the front door!”

Boss: “A kid broke our door?!”

Me: “There’s glass everywhere and a child is bleeding. You need to come out here and deal with this.”

The three of us returned to the scene of the incident. The head foreign and head local employees were talking with the mother. I didn’t understand much of what was going on because the discussion was almost entirely in Chinese. However, at one point, the elderly woman (who had been mostly silent during this event) objected to something the younger woman said. The old woman punched the younger woman in the shoulder and said some angry words to her.

I later learned that the elderly woman was the younger woman’s mother and the child’s grandmother. The younger woman was trying to put the blame on us, but her mother was having none of it and making her take responsibility for her son’s actions.

We had to close down the area for safety concerns and direct everyone out of an alternate egress point. A guard was hired to stand watch all night since we could no longer secure the main entrance. The door was boarded up and eventually replaced — with another double glass door that honestly looked worse in quality.

The security camera footage showed the boy running into the door and pushing it all the way open. He kept pushing it after it had reached its limit. Since he was small, he was putting all his force against the lower part of the door, causing it to flex. Tempered glass is under pressure and does not react well to being bent, so it shattered and collapsed. The top 20% of shattered glass stayed in one chunk until it landed on top of the boy, which is what caused the head wound. He received a few stitches in a hospital but was otherwise all right.

The head employees visited him in the hospital. Confronted with the video evidence and Grandma, the mother did not attempt to hold our business responsible, and insurance paid for the replacement door.

I Owe An Apology To That Kid From First Grade

, , , , , , , | Learning | February 6, 2023

My eight-year-old came home from school, and I asked her how the day had gone.

Eight-Year-Old: “A boy in my class had to get picked up early.”

Me: “Why?”

Eight-Year-Old: *Matter-of-factly* “He didn’t make it to the bathroom in time, so his mom took him home to change. It was near the end of the day, so he just stayed home.”

Me: “Oh, no. That must have been awful for him. You didn’t make fun of him, I hope?”

She looked at me like I had three heads.

Eight-Year-Old: “Make fun of him? Why? It was just an accident.”

Me: “Did anyone make fun of him?”

Eight-Year-Old: *Still incredulous* “Of course not! We would never do that!”

There’s hope for the future!

Take Her To The Zoo Yourself, You Animal!

, , , , , , | Learning | January 29, 2023

I recently retired from teaching, and this is the story that sticks out the most to me. This story starts in 2018 and ends in 2020. Our school makes a yearly trip with the fifth-grade class to the Honolulu Zoo. Elementary school ends at the fifth year here, so it’s kind of seen as a send-off from elementary to middle school.

In 2018, I receive a call from a parent who has one child in our fifth-grade year and another in our third.

Mother: “Hello. I was wondering how to get my daughter in [Third-Grade Teacher]’s class in on the zoo field trip with her brother?”

Me: “I’m sorry, but the zoo trip is only for the fifth-grade class. We don’t allow any additions aside from chaperoning adults.”

Mother: “No, they are siblings.”

Me: “Yes, but your daughter is in third grade. She’s not eligible for the trip.”

Mother: “But they are siblings.”

Me: “I know, but the class trip is only for fifth-graders.”

Mother: “No, they both have to go.”

Me: “Sorry, but it’s only for the fifth-grade class. Your daughter will be eligible for the trip in two years.”

Mother: “But they are siblings! You have to treat them the same!”

Me: “We will. Your son waited for fifth grade, and your daughter needs to, as well.”

Mother: “No! She is going!”

Me: “No, she is not.”

Mother: “Yes, she is!”

Me: “No, she isn’t.”

Mother: “I am their mother! I decide what happens with them!”

Me: “Not in my classroom.”

Mother: “How dare you?!”

Me: “Would you like to speak with the principal?”

Mother: “YES!”

I transfer the line, and she ends up getting into an hour-long argument with the principal of our school. Her daughter is offered a place on the field trip, but only if the mother comes as a chaperone, which we need. The woman refuses and yells obscenities at the principal. In return, she is told in no uncertain terms that she is free to take her children to the zoo herself, and if she keeps pushing the matter, she will be.

Two years later, in 2020, I am at home and my phone rings at 7:00 pm. 

Me: “Hello?”

Mother: “What the f*** is going on with the zoo trip?!”

Me: “Excuse me? Who is this?”

Mother: “You said my daughter would be allowed to go to the zoo when she got to fifth grade!”

Me: “Ma’am, the zoo is closed.”

Mother: “I don’t f****** care. You said she would be able to go.”

Me: “And now she can’t because of the GLOBAL [HEALTH CRISIS]!”

Mother: “Don’t you dare raise your v—”

Me: “Shut the f*** up.”

Mother: “Exc—”

Me:Shut the f*** up!”

Mother: “…”

Me: “You call me three hours past office hours — on my home phone — and you think you can swear at me and get your way?!”

Mother: “I—” 

Me: “Well, guess what? This isn’t a recorded line, b****, so shut the f*** up and pull your head out of your f****** a**. I can’t control [illness], and I can’t control the zoo. If you are stupid enough not to understand that, then we should be enrolling you in your daughter’s class.”

Mother: “I… I… I—”

I slammed the phone down so hard that I cracked the body of the receiver. 

This was at the end of the school year for 2020, and I was one week from retiring. 

I didn’t mention a word of this to anyone. I felt bad about it when it happened, but looking back, I would do it again.

Faith In The Future Of Humanity: Restored!

, , , , , , , , , | Friendly | January 25, 2023

Several years ago, I was a referee for a First Lego League (now known as FLL Challenge) competition. This is a competition where middle-schoolers build and program Lego robots to run on a board completing various challenges for points.

This year, one of my teams had some adorable homemade outfits fitting this year’s theme. They also had a large banner that they dragged in and excitedly waved, and in general, they were full of energy and excitement.

I always encourage the kids to cheer as loud as possible when their team name is called by the announcer. That’s part of the general goal of making competitions fun and enjoyable for the kids regardless of how well they do on the table. Despite this, I usually get rather lackluster responses when team names are called. Not [Team], though. I got by far the most enthusiastic full-energy cheer I’d heard in a long time from this team.

They were at my table for their first official match. I’d watched them during their practice round and knew that their robot was decent — a bit better than the average — but was still not going to come close to the score of the best few bots.

After [Team]’s robot successfully completed its first two runs, it came back to the home base so they could swap out parts for another run. The boy starting the robot up apparently ran the wrong program. This resulted in the robot running amok over the board as it tried to run a program designed for a very different section of the board, knocking pieces out of place and losing the team points.

Then came the confusion of the kids trying to decide whether to take the bot back to home base, therefore getting a touch penalty, or leave it as it was. They ended up deciding on the penalty, but they hesitated too long making the decision, meaning they didn’t have time to complete the next run before time ran out. The net result was a rather abysmal score compared to what they should have managed.

Luckily, they would get to do three runs and only the highest score of the three counted, so they still had a chance for a better score, but having your first run go so terribly can be quite discouraging to kids.

But as I listened, rather than hearing frustration or scolding directed at the kid who messed up, I heard more cheering, proclamations that they would do better next time, and multiple teammates encouraging the child who messed up. I couldn’t help but be impressed by their relentless optimism and so resolved to keep an eye on them.

As I watched, I saw not just excitement for their own team, but compliments and cheering for the other teams. At one point, I even saw one girl from [Team] offer her help to another team when their robot wasn’t starting up right. The other team was one of the top teams, and they didn’t really need her help, but still, I was impressed by her trying to aid her greatest competition.

The final score on the tables was only one of the four areas we looked at. Separate groups of judges assessed their Robot Design, their Projects, and their Core Values. Since I usually judged, I knew all three categories well.

Core Values included inspiration (team spirit), teamwork, and “gracious professionalism”, which basically means being professional and a good sport to the other teams. I deemed [Team] to have demonstrated all three of those areas far in excess of the average team.

Not able to give up on my inner judge, I couldn’t stand the idea of [Team] not getting recognition for living up to these values on the field — and not just when they were being actively judged. Thus, I took a free moment to run down to the Core Values room and let the judges there know what I’d seen.

As it turned out, [Team] had already been ranked the top team for Core Values, even before they got my recognition. However, there were other steps for deciding what trophies to hand out beyond the ranking of the teams, and one of them was picking who got the Champion award for excelling in all four areas — the score on the table plus the three judged categories.

Usually, the Champion award tended to go to one of the teams that had a high score on the table, as they usually also had a high score in Robot Design, giving them high scores in half the areas we measured even before we considered that these teams also tended to put a bit more work into their Projects.

Still, we always stressed that all categories were weighted evenly; if anything, Core Values was usually used as the tiebreaker for otherwise even teams. In this case, they had three teams with high table and Robot Design scores, but those teams either had an abysmal Project score, in one case, or decent but not exceptional Project scores and mediocre Core Values. Competing with these three teams was [Team], with a perfect Core Values score, a good Project score, and decent, if not exceptional, Design and table scores.

The judges were split between multiple potential winners. It was apparently my confirmation that [Team]’s values continued to be demonstrated at the table that pushed them over the edge to win the Champion award.

[Team] was clearly shocked when their name was announced for Champion.

Personally, I think they earned it. I gave it my all applauding for them.