In my “former” life (see “why i started this blog” page,) I worked with kids at a before and after school program. I worked with kids of all ages, but I think my favorite kids to work with were the kindergarteners. Of everything and everybody that I left behind when I moved home, it is them that I miss most often.

They taught me a LOT. This is just one story.

It was the beginning of the school year, which is often the most challenging time for kindergarten-age teachers (as well as the end of the year when they have no patience left!!) Many of the children have no experience in a group setting. Some of them don’t know how to really sit in chairs or eat at a table. Some of them have no respect for adults. Some of them are very, very smart and test their limits to see what the teacher will put up with. Some of them just aren’t used to being away from their parents or homes for very long.

There was this boy who I’ll call Jackson. He was four years old, and he was VERY challenging to both me and the other teachers. I would arrive for my shift daily and hear about all the problems he had caused so far that day. Mainly he had a problem listening and remembering.

One day, still early in the school year, I saw Jackson do something he wasn’t supposed to do. I don’t remember what it was, but I remember that it was something I knew that he knew he shouldn’t be doing. I also knew that he had already had a rough day.

I called him over so that there weren’t any other kids around, and I very sternly started asking him why he did what he had done. I gave him a firm scolding. In fact, I think I was starting to really lose my cool. I wanted him to succeed, and the fact that he wasn’t was really frustrating me.

As I was going on my rant, Jackson started tearing up. His little lip started quivering. Now, in my day, I have made many children cry. In all honesty, in some cases when a kid cries it’s almost a relief because you feel that you’ve gotten through to them. Other times you know their tears are fake and only for pity.

In Jackson’s case, I knew that he was crying because he was frustrated with himself. I paused for a moment and thought of all the times I had seen other teachers being stern with him, scolding him, giving him consequences.

All of the sudden it became very clear to me that Jackson really was listening. I then wondered how much encouragement he had gotten… ever? I stopped my rant and told Jackson that I knew he could do better. “You’re a great kid, do you know that?” A smile on his face.

From then on, I gave Jackson encouragement every time I could. When he did make mistakes, I was gentle with him (while still making sure he understood what he did wrong.) Not only did I quickly become Jackson’s favorite teacher, but he also behaved far better when I was there.

I took grief for it sometimes. Other teachers thought he must be my favorite or that I let kids walk all over me. I didn’t really care what they thought, because both Jackson and I were happier. The truth is, different kids need different types of disciplining, different types of love. Out of the hundreds of kids I’ve worked with, Jackson will always stick out in my memory.

Sometimes things just aren’t quite as they seem. Sometime with a little re-examination, you can come to a whole different conclusion.

Have you learned any interesting lessons from seemingly unlikely places?