A quick story that happened on Friday:
We have this behavior management system at school called PBS (Positive Behavior Support) that centers around recognizing students who are doing the right thing rather than focusing on the students who are misbehaving. I am not completely bought into it, but it seems to work for most of my kids. Part of the system is that we reward students with “Cubs Cash” that they can trade in for prizes, special privileges, etc. On Friday’s I have a Cub’s Cash store that students can “buy” from with Cub’s Cash. Well one of my students, A, had apparently been saving his Cubs Cash (80 tickets!) and wanted to buy two toy dinosaurs.
To give you a little background on A, he is one of my sweetest, most eager, yet academically lowest students. He is a refugee from Thailand. His mom left A’s older brother and dad in Thailand to bring A and his little brother here. They came here with absolutely nothing. Mom understands no English and now that their transition aid is running out, it is clear that they are barely making ends meet. To make matters worse, I recently learned that A had Malaria when he was about 5 years old. The medical care they had in Thailand through the clinic was very poor and he had it on and off for a year. Mom told us that she had to completely re-train A to eat, walk, go to the restroom, everything. We suspect that he has some developmental delays and language acquisition issues as a result of his Malaria left untreated for so long.
Anyway, I told him that he could only buy one thing, which has always been the store rule. Instead of buying one of the dinosaurs he just kind of walked away with his head down. I wasn’t really paying attention, but when I caught up with what had happened I asked him why he didn’t just buy one dinosaur. He told me (in a lot less words…he has very little English) that he was saving so he and his little brother could play together. I am not even kidding you; it took everything that I had not to burst into tears. (And yes, I let him buy both dinosaurs).
Most kids his age would never have even considered buying something for a sibling. To make the story even more special, I had a few students in the room who witnessed it. Another student, S, asked me why I let him get two things. When I explained to her and the students that were there what it meant to be a refugee, and that A doesn't have toys at home like most kids; they just nodded their heads and moved on.
Times like these are the reason that I really like working with my population of students. They have so much more empathy and understanding of each other’s challenges than other kids their age (I am sure more than I did myself). It is hard to explain, but they really just “get it.” There are some things you can try to teach, but I don’t think I could ever teach the type of empathy, support, and compassion that my students have for each other. It truly is amazing.