“Shut up!” “No!” and “I’m not happy with you”

Author: Essaka Joshua

We worked on photo booklets documenting a recent field trip the class took together. During crafts, I had to be separated from Mo, who touches strangers too often. He would sit a little too closely and repeat phrases, unthreateningly, but close to my face. I must say that I felt relieved to be away from him so I could interact with other pupils, but I never felt to be in any true danger. I wonder if his is another situation in which home life deeply affects his classroom demeanour. He repeats “Shut up!” “No!” and “I’m not happy with you” as soon as anyone opens their mouths to speak. Is he venting what he hears most often himself?

Along with last week’s theme of community comes that of intuition. James is the largest boy in the class and was introduced to me as being “particularly volatile” on my first day. If he ever were to begin a tantrum, I was instructed to grab one or two of the girls in the class and run to the hallway. Mark, a TA, is in the classroom solely to look after James. They appear to have a father/son relationship, often arm in arm or playfully wrestling. I have never heard James talk but Mark is extremely keen on his emotional state. At one point James put his head down on the desk and within seconds, Mark realized that an episode may be approaching. He grabbed James by the hand and took him for a quick and calming walk outside. The afternoon proceeded without incident. I highly admire the attention that Mark is able to devote every minute of the school day to James. Many routine jobs easily accommodate mental and physical breaks – Mark’s is not a routine job.

Intuition extends to the pupils as well. Though they have been in school just three weeks now, students are deeply aware of their classmates’ quirks and habits. At one point, Archie was slamming his hand down on the table in front of him with such force that I was worried he would break either his hand or the table. Without turning his head to examine the situation, Adam said from my right, “Don’t worry, M’lady; he does this but it will be over soon;” Adam only refers to me as “M’lady” in his dignified British accent.

On the train home, I reviewed the day with a fellow ND student, Tracy, who is working at Riverside with nine-year-olds. We were told during orientation that it is the sad reality that one or two Riverside pupils die every year, and Tracy was worrying about a student in her class. “They told me she was having a bad day – she had been feeling sick last night and had a seizure this morning.” It strikes me that the average “bad day” for a nine-year-old was a far cry from the struggles of the Riverside pupils.