my first year at my current school a kindergarten teacher looked at my class list and smiled, "you have my darling prince" she exclaimed, "he is so sweet, you are going to love him." and she left it at that.
the minute he walked in my classroom door and smiled i was in love. he was such a caring little first grader, but also creative. when we baked cupcakes for our writing celebration at the end of august he made himself a chef hat.
of course, he was also impulsive- more impulsive than most six year old boys. he would occasionally physically lash out at his friends instead of using his words, he never raised his hand, he always touched what i told him not to.
at the end of the first month the kindergarten teacher returned. "hows the prince?" she asked. and then she went on to tell me the full story about him- how much he drove her crazy, how much he needed reminders to stay in line, raise his hand, keep his hands to himself.
i was so glad she waited a month to tell me about this other side. she let me get to know him and see past his impulsive behavior at the great little person underneath.
we worked hard, me and the prince. we had special behavior plans, we worked on self-monitoring our behavior, we learned to read, write and do math. i continued to adore him, but will not lie that his behavior had the ability to drive me insane. still, i could see the sweetness within him.
the special education teacher approached me one day. she'd been watching him in the hallway and thought he may have fetal alcohol syndrome. i could understand where she was coming from- and could understand what she was thinking. but i was a young teacher so i didn't put him up for child study or anything like that. we just kept working hard. perhaps i should have done the paperwork- i just didn't know any better.
and there was improvement. he grew out of some of his impulsive behavior. through responsive classroom discussions he reflected on how he was making other people feel. we still had a few violent episodes, but they became few and far between.
at the end of the year i passed him on to an incredibly sweet, soft spoken teacher. i followed the kindergarten teacher's footsteps and only told her how much i adored him. after a month i went in and gave her the other tips i'd learned from working with him. like i had, she'd already fallen in love and could see the wonderful little boy behind the behavior.
by the end of second grade he was a model student. the impulsively was almost gone. he thought about his actions, and when he was impulsive he apologized. he took care of his classmates and cared about their feelings. he loved school and always showed up to my early morning book club with a huge smile on his face.
he left our school at the end of that year. i was heart broken, but i kept the ceramic (somewhat hideous) swan vase on my desk because of everything he represented to me. he showed me
1) the importance of only passing on positive information each year
2) why responsive classroom works- instead of yelling at this boy and sending the message that he could not be successful in school- we built him up- showed him WHY he was wrong, and helped him work through how he could do better
3) children grow and change. by the end of second grade he was not the impulsive child he'd been a year before. he had three years of extreme responsive classroom, developmentally appropriate experiences. although he'd entered kindergarten as a little boy "on the spin cycle" he'd slowly learned to master his impulsively without growing to hate school.
last year my prince returned to our school. he was a model fifth grader, showing thoughtfulness rare for fifth grade boys. in some ways i wasn't surprised, but if i looked back at those first grade moments of kicking and pushing i couldn't believe the growth.
this year his little sister is in kindergarten. since middle school hasn't started yet i watch him take her to school every day and kiss her on the cheek, and tell her to be good. i watch him pick her up, ask how her day was, and- if she "had to turn her card" (got in trouble) he talks to her about what she could do better next time. his home life is rough, i know. yet here he is, giving his little sister what he never had.
i wonder if he would be the same today if his kindergarten teacher had warned me of him from day one that he would drive me to drink. i wonder if he hadn't had three nurturing responsive classroom teachers if he would have given up on school. i wonder if his impulsive six year old ways could have driven a wedge in our relationship, leaving both of us frustrated.
i do not think i'll ever be able to take the ceramic swan off my desk. i remember the day he gave it to me, for my birthday. he'd bought it from the dollar store and proudly handed me the bag it came in, explaining he'd bought it himself with the ice cream money he had saved. he picked me flowers to put in it at recess, and when another child went to touch it at the end of the day he punched them, hard, in the stomach. the memory of the happiness mixed with the impulsive behavior is such a reminder of the diamond in the rough that clearly grew to shine on his own.