Here is another story from my teaching days.
Having Jorge in my kindergarten ESL class was simply exhausting. Just walking from his regular classroom to mine was a challenge. If he wasn’t walking backward, Jorge was pushing the kid in front of him, or stopping and running to catch up. Staying in line was out of the question. All the while he would be calling out to me in his high, piping voice, “Ms. Ellis! I hungry!” “Ms. Ellis! Look! Spiderman!”
Jorge seemed to come from a household where no limits were put on his behavior. In school, he was “all over the place” as his harried teacher, Mrs. R., put it. He appeared deaf to directions, and if I made the mistake of trying to take his hand to guide him back into line, he became a rigid, unmovable statue. Given consequences, Jorge showed no remorse.
When the group was finally seated on the rug in my room, Jorge rolled around or talked to his cousin. Mrs. R and I were exasperated, seeing little progress in English acquisition or any other basic kindergarten knowledge. We asked our Spanish-speaking teacher to call Jorge’s mother and discuss his behavior. Our principal rode the bus and reported that Jorge’s behavior to and from school was just as lawless.
To keep Jorge’s hands occupied, I tried one of my cleverest teacher tricks: I gave him something to carry when we walked in the hall. It worked for a short time until Jorge began using the book or papers as weapons.
And then one day in January I was teaching a lesson on rhyming word pairs using picture cards. Jorge was not only paying attention, he was practically in my lap, eyes fixed on the pocket chart. His voice was the first and loudest, naming each pair as we sang the rhyming song. I was astounded.
We walked back to the classroom with Jorge doing his usual antics, but at Mrs. R’s door, I took Jorge aside. “You did such a good job in class today, I want you to have this special sticker,” I told him. I gave him a shiny dinosaur sticker. Jorge put it in the center of his navy blue and dark green striped shirt, right over his heart.
Mrs. R was absent that Monday, so I couldn’t tell her about the change in Jorge’s behavior. On Tuesday she was absent as well. I noticed that Jorge was wearing the same shirt with the dinosaur sticker. On Wednesday, Mrs. R was back in school, and Jorge was back with the same shirt. By now the dinosaur sticker was a little ragged and curling at the edges.
Before we left for the ESL classroom, I brought Jorge over to Mrs. R and told her about Jorge’s great day.
“OK, Jorge, Mrs. R knows what a good job you did,” I said. “Now you can let your mom wash your shirt.”