Friday, May 29, 2009

Four-leaf clovers

I don't often write about my students thinking that it might be an invasion of privacy or could be counted as gossip, but I wanted to put down some thoughts about one of my students. I'll call him Y-kun. (Kun is an affectionate title for little boys.)

Y-kun has been coming for English for a little over a year. Another student's mother asked me if I was starting a first grade class because her neighbor wanted her son to join. I happened to have three other boys who wanted to start English so I told the mother to pass along the message. She hesitated a bit and then blurted out that he was quite a handful and much more "lively" than other children. That's okay. More often than not it is the bright and cheerful and slightly hyper children who do better in English. They are not afraid of making mistakes, they are willing to try anything.

When Y-kun came with his mother I got a glimpse of what "lively" meant. I had to hang on to him! Literally! If I didn't hold on to his wrist he was opening cupboards and playing with the telephone and jumping on the sofa and chasing cats! Hyper is putting it mildly. I also perceived that the mother was at a breaking point and consulting her would just result in verbal abuse (yes, I know that is a strong word) for Y-kun.

Y-kun lives in another area and goes to a different elementary school. Even so, most of the children in ALL my classes know him or know of him. I hear about the problems the swim school teacher is having with him. I hear about what went on when he was in kindergarten. Teachers, including me, are constantly scolding, threatening and sometimes yelling at him. Children do not like him. He is brash and annoys all the other children with either his boasting or his complaints. He can't follow rules or instructions. He cheats, he pushes, he grabs, his normal voice is a high scream. I have heard that he has been diagnosed with emotional problems (well good, I'm glad it's not just me that thinks something is off!) but he still struggles through life with little or no professional help. I have no training and as I said, if I ask the mother to remove him from my class, he will just be labled a troublemaker again.

I wonder how fair it is to the other three boys. We waste a lot of time trying to get Y-kun to play fair or take his turn or stop yelling. I know it is not the Japanese way, but I have said to the other boys that Y-kun is different and so they should make allowances for his mistakes and try to help him when he gets frustrated. (For awhile I had the other three boys complaining that I was playing favorites because I always let Y-kun go first or overlooked some of his cheating.) The three other boys try but sometimes things escalate to yelling matches...

So why am I writing this all down?

Y-kun has a generous heart. Sometimes the fights with the other boys start because he wants to lend them his eraser or his pencil or his book. And the other boys don't want it, or don't need it and Y-kun gets upset because he wants to give something to them. Almost every single week Y-kun brings me a present. A rock he found along the street. A moldy potato from his garden. A crumbled cookie that he's brought from home. He brings me bugs and flowers and things he's made with Scotch tape and weeds. Often his grandparents will send him to English with vegetables or flowers or rice that they've grown. He has learned from them to be generous and loving. A couple of weeks ago Y-kun brought me a wilted wildflower complete with dirt-covered roots (sprinkling dirt all over the floor and table and everyone's books when he pulled it out of his bag). I exclaimed that Tetsu just loved this flower and was thinking of going to buy some seeds.

"Plant it! I'll plant it for you!"

and I had to catch him before he headed out towards Choco's kennel area. He directed from the window and I planted the flower. Each week since then Y-kun checks to see if his flower is growing and assures me that I can harvest the seeds from it later and plant those all over my garden next year. He really is a clever little boy.

Yesterday's present was a stalk of seeds from a wildflower at his grandparent's farm.

"You can plant these and then next year you can eat the sprouts and be healthy!"

He also brought 5 wilted four-leaf clovers, one for each of the other boys and for Tetsu and me.

"Because four-leaf clovers make you happy."


Callie said...

Wow! I admire you, Tanya. After reading your post this TED talk came to mind. I love the little girl who seems to be very smart and very active perhaps a little like Y-kun. Perhaps if he could "learn not to eat the marshmallow" he would be better able to control his own behavior? He is a loving little boy. I can see why you are drawn to helping him. He is very lucky to have you in his life. Kudos!

Allie said...

I had a little boy like this in my Sunday school class. I was the assistant teacher, and the teacher frequently made him go sit in the hall. I would go with him, to keep an eye on him and talk to him. He had the sweetest heart, but absolutely could not control himself. I've never forgotten him. I've since learned that it could've been a food allergy that made him so uncontrollable, and wish I was still in touch with the family.
You know what tears my heart out about kids like this? They KNOW people don't like them. And they treasure, more than you realize, the ones who still love them in spite of their actions. God bless you for loving the unlovable, Tanya.

Mimi said...

Tanya, As I've said before, you are so sweet. You're an angel here on Earth.

Thanks for your warms my heart.

And thank you for being you.


Quiltin' LibraryLady said...

Y-Kun sounds like such a good-hearted little boy. It's too bad that his energy & focus is so uncontrolled. If he was in the US he'd probably be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder & put on medication which isn't always all it's cracked up to be either.

quiltmom said...

You are doing a good thing for Y- KUN. He needs someone to love him unconditionally and to believe in him. He needs that attachment to progress- his little gifts tell that he values your relationship.
He will learn much from you because he cares enough about what you think.
He may need some different strategies to manage in your small group. Your other boys are learning some important lessons too- how to help someone who has more difficulties than themselves and that fair does not mean equal.
Y- Kun does care about what your other boys think - just by bringing in those small things too.
Most of all, thanks for seeing beyond this boy's busyness to help him know what it is to be nurtured as well as taught. It is a special gift that you have given him.
He is a lucky boy !!
Warmest regards,

Mary said...

Kind hearted people are rare - how nice that you can see past the difficult behavior to appreciate the kindness in him.

My youngest son was always different (although not difficult)and he's always been a really kind person too.

anne bebbington said...

I'm a firm believer that all children have worth of one kind or another, even the slowest or brashest. In a society where results are everything this is often overlooked. A friend of mine has a daughter who is now around 19. As a 10 year old her mother worried constantly because the child wasn't coping well with anything academic and unfortunately the school wouldn't recognise the problem and didn't give her as much help and support as they should. Her mum had been a low achiever at school and obviously didn't want history to repeat itself. I'll never forget the look of gratitude in her face the day I complimented her daughter on how wonderful she was with little children like my two younger ones who were toddlers at the time. I don't think anyone had ever actually spoken of the girl in glowing terms about anything. Fortunately the story has a happy ending, the girl went on to a carefully chosen secondary school who saw beyond her difficulties and built up her confidence to bring out a wonderful talent in performing arts but she could just as easily have been failed by the results driven system

BrendaLou said...

God bless you Tanya for your kindnesses in the face of difficulty. I *hope* I would do the same thing, but I'm not sure I'd be able to keep it up week after week. You truly are an angel to Ykun

scottishlass said...

I can imagine that in a society where uniformness is an essential key, those kids like Y-kun have it even more difficult than in a Western society. It sounds like he has ADHD and you might want to talk to his mom. Unlike in the US where those kids are treated drugs, here in Europe kids with ADHD are nowadays treated with a raffinated sugar-free/gluten-free diet and their attention to school, work etc has increased. They are still very imaginative, creative kids but their attention span has increased and their overall life has improved.

The Calico Quilter said...

You said that Y-kun was diagnosed with emotional problems; does he have a therapist or doctor treating him? Sounds like everyone but you, including his mom, is just standing around mortified or yelling at the poor kid. You seem to be one of the few bright spots in his life. Bless your kind heart.

That being said, he needs help. Do you know his mother well enough to give her a hand in finding a therapist? She's probably so overwhelmed she might like to talk to someone too. Is Japanese culture accepting of mental health treatment?

Lori in South Dakota said...

he sounds like a kid with a big heart! Hug him for me.

Timi said...

I'm sure Y-kun feels your love for him, and appreciates it very much!!
I liked the post, you wrote about him :o)