Troublemakers in grade school might turn out OK one day

Teachers learn more than students.

Over my three years of tutoring for America Reads/America Counts, I have found this to be true.

Two years ago, I wrote a column outlining a few of the lessons my first graders at Robeson Elementary School taught me: Live free, always ask why and never apologize for being different.

But this year brings something new. Oftentimes, teachers ask me to focus on the kids who too frequently fall out of line. The kid who wants to stand rather than sit at his desk, the kid who simply cannot keep his mouth closed, the little rascal focused on everything in the classroom beside the lesson. My job is to get these kids back on task.

While working Wednesday, I realized how hypocritical I am. As a little tyke, I too gave teachers a hard time. I got bored easily, struggled to find a way to bottle up my endless energy and often found my own tangents to be more interesting than the points my teacher stressed.

I often imagine what I would do if I found my younger self in one of the classrooms I assist. The kids in the 5th grade class I visit hold the same type of disposition I held in middle school: full of attitude, defiance and curiosity.

I try to fleetingly avail to instill wisdom and perspective in these developing boys and girls.

I see now the strain and discomfort I am sure I once evoked in the good souls who dealt with me. Many times I fear these kids are screwed for life; will they ever figure out how to handle their emotions and angst?

But that is simply me being old. My sister and I often look back on our days in middle school and laugh in disbelief at how rebellious and atavistic we were. We half-jokingly call those three years our “time in the zoo.”

Life is nothing without failure, want and mistakes. The scars I’ve developed in life are the reminders that I have been through wild times and remind me of the morals of my ongoing story. I am not proud of how I acquired all of them but would not return the lessons earned.

Personal reflection is a must for successful teaching; self-actualization a must for great teaching. One must be fully aware of their own faults and missteps to properly guide and develop the young. It is easy to watch in disbelief as a student hits another student or shouts out something unrepeatable, but hey, I’ve been there too.

My job is to tell them exactly that. We all make mistakes. The sages who guided me through my outlandish acts undoubtedly saw some of themselves in me the way I now recognize myself in my “naughty boys and girls.”

If I am to atone for my own past mistakes, part of the process is directing children through their crack at them.

When I see a child sent out of class, I remember myself in that position. I ask the student what they did wrong, have them admit to their mistake and always give them the same command: Go back into class, walk up to your teacher, tell her you are sorry and it will not happen again, go to your desk, do what you are told and be a fine young lady (or gentleman).

That last line is something my father always told me. I guess I am getting old.

_Phil is a senior in Media._