School was not one of the best periods in my life. I have become a teacher in hope of making a different in the lives of the many children like I was who are not very good in their studies, have few or no friends and struggle.
It is hard for people to imagine this, but for some kids, school is a big struggle for survival. This struggle is carried with them for years to come, even when those kids become parents themselves. When I talk to my clients about the negative beliefs they have about themselves, I discover that many of them were formed in school, when other kids said nasty things that they had no way of overcoming. I understand this very well, because I was the same. It took me a long time get over it and what really helped me was moving from primary school to middle school.
In 1st Grade, I was not a very popular girl. If there was a hierarchy in class, I was at the bottom of it, with 2 other kids that had their own problems. I loved going to school, because my teacher was the angel for me. She was soft and understanding and always treated me nicely, but the other kids never wanted to play with me.
When I did not come to school, it was very hard for my teacher to get one of the kids to come over and give me the homework (although some kids lived in my neighborhood). In the morning, when we had to stand in pairs in front of the classroom door, I was always left at the end and the child that had to give me his hand did this it in disgust. Although my teacher was very kind to me, I was always alone. Every year, until the end of primary school, when the end of year came and my class gave a performance, I stood at the back, holding a sign or something, by myself.
Was I maybe just not a friendly girl?
Actually, I loved being with other kids, but they did not want to be with me. I could lie to you and say that I did not know why they did not want to be with me, but I did know, because the other kids, being kids, simply said it out loud.
When I was in 1st Grade, the skin on my hands, knees and elbows became very dry. When I say dry, I mean it looked like my skin was peeling off or looked like a dry land with cracks. My parents did not understand anything about food and health and we ate any junk that was in the supermarket back then. Much like other parents who have to deal with physical problems, they took me to the doctor an he gave them creams to put on my skin.
Unfortunately, that did not work and they gave me much stronger medication I had to put on day and night in hope the dryness would disappear. Meanwhile at school, other kids did not want to hold my hand, because it looked scary. When they did have to hold my hand, the feeling of it was so rough, they used to say “yucky” and “disgusting” as if it was a plague. I had this plague for about 6 years of my schooling and there was nothing I could do about it.
I remember times when I slept with plastic bags over my skin for months, after putting on a special cream, but nothing worked. My parents were so frustrated, losing days of work and being afraid for their daughters’ potential in finding a husband (you need to remember that both my parents were from Iran and in their mentality, the most important thing in a girl’s life was to prepare her for a good marriage, so every physical problem might sabotage this). When I was sick and tired of those creams and refused to put them on anymore, they used to say, “With these hands, no one will marry you. Who wants to touch hands like these?” It was their awkward way of motivating me to use the creams. Hearing my parents’ words, my siblings used it to tease me as well when we had fights and arguments.
I was untouchable.
I was rejected so many times I tried to avoid activities that involved holding hands. When the teacher asked us to make a circle, I asked to go to the toilet. When the teacher asked us to pair up in front of the classroom door, I used to hide and come just a second after everyone had gone in, risking being considered late. In some activities and playground games, I used to keep my hands in my pockets. I remember washing my hands many times to make them look wet and normal just for the couple of seconds, but water only made my skin look worse.
For most of my teachers, I was just another unfriendly child.
When I started going to middle school, I was in a class where most of the students did not know me. They never made fun of me or said anything about my hands. At that age, we did not touch each other in fear of “boy germs” and “girl germs”. I played soccer and had bruises and cuts on my knees, so the other kids did not notice my dry skin. All I had to do was avoid holding hands and letting others see my hands. I sat at the back of the class and avoided doing arts and crafts, even though I loved them, because I did not want them to say, “I am not touching this glue after Ronit’s touched it with these hands”.
At the end of 8th Grade, my skin improved by itself, but until then, it was just horrible.
Think about it – simple things, like holding hands in a circle, working in pairs and doing activities like arts and crafts that supposed to be a happy part of our life could be the most disturbing memories of a child’s life.
What parents can do
Pay attention to your kids’ complaints. If they have a physical problem and other kids make fun of them for it, do your best to help them. Talk to the teacher and ask for the teachers’ help. Kids can be very cruel. They do not mean to be, they just say what is on their mind.
Motivating kids through fear is the most damaging thing you can do. If you cannot convince them to do what you believe they should do, and you use threats or fear as a motivator, your kids will remember it as cruelty when they grow up.
When your child has a physical problem, try thinking about the impact it has on the child, rather than thinking about how it affects you or about what people might say about you. If it is hard on you, just imagine how hard it must be for your child.
Doctors are not gods. In fact, they often experiment. If a treatment is not working, try doing something different. Some kids’ physical problems can be solved by healthy eating and others by reducing stress and being happy. Try alternative ways.
Back then, we did not have information at the tip of our fingers and doctors were the only knowledgeable people on the way our body worked. Today, things are different in a good way. It does not matter what physical condition your child has, you can quickly learn about it and become familiar with treatment options. If you have Internet, there is no excuse for your child to suffer. If not, go to your friends, the public library and even your child’s school.
Whatever you do, think of the social consequences for your children. Be sensitive to their needs. At my early childhood center, a 2½-year-old boy had to wear glasses. His parents, my sister (who was also my partner) and I were very sensitive to how this may affect his social situation, so to prevent kids from making fun of him and calling him names, we bought fake glasses for the kids to wear. We brought magnifying glasses for the kids to see what his glasses did. We talked about the teachers wearing glasses (both of us wore glasses, which helped) and some days, we drew glasses on the kids’ faces with eyeliner. We had such fun for a week that no one ever said anything bad about the glasses to the little boy, although he was the only child who wore glasses at the center.
There is always a way to deal with how things affect a child socially.
What teachers can do
If a child has no friends, it does not mean they are not friendly. There may be another reason.
Listen to the kids. When they are not kind to someone, they usually say why. None of my teachers could say they did not know why. In 6 years, most of the negative comments I heard were inside the classroom. If you really want to know, ask the other kids, “Why don’t you want to play with him/her?” They will tell you.
Some kids are different and your students need to learn to live with diversity. More important than teaching them literacy and numeracy is to teach them compassion, understanding, respect and acceptance. You will not be remembered for teaching them how to do their Times table, but will be remembered for teaching them values.
Talk to the parents, try to learn more about the problem and ask, “What can I do to help?” Parents are often afraid of sharing their problems with figures of authority, so help them feel this is OK. If you can, help children with their problems so it is not too hard for them to be exposed.
Do not allow harassment in your class. When a child with a physical problem is teased, make a big fuss out of it, so kids know that you are serious about it and the child feels safe.
In some circumstances, you will be the only friend they have. Be their friend.
Kids should want to come to school, not be afraid of it. School life needs to be a happy period, not a horror.
Let’s give our kids some happy schooling,