When I first started at Sky Elementary, Ani looked like he was glaring at me all the time. But by the end the first week, he'd started getting used to me. One day he came up to me and stomped his feet, to show me that he'd gotten new boots. Another day he showed me a large, silver thumb ring with skulls and crossbones engraved in it. "Mine," he said, before he hid it away in his backpack.
Today when Ani got off the bus, I asked him to sit down with the rest of the kids, in the hallway where they wait for all of the bussers to arrive. Ani shook his head.
I don't know the kids well enough to be too firm... I'm still a guest in their classroom... so I tried to make him smile. "You won't sit down? What will you do instead?" I asked. "Will you stand on your head? Will you do jumping jacks? Will you swing from the ceiling like a monkey?" Ani almost smiled at that! But then he caught himself and looked away, rolling his eyes.
Ani is three.
"Why is Ani so angry at life?" I asked Mrs. Wing, during a brief moment when the kids were out of earshot.
"He has a very messed up home life," she replied. She didn't elaborate, and I didn't want to seem nosey by asking more, but I just can't help wondering.
The three year olds I've known throughout the years are emotional rollercoasters. They're laughing and being silly one minute, screaming and throwing a tantrum the next minute, and planting sloppy kisses on your cheek and declaring their undying love for you the next. Even the preschoolers I worked with who were in foster care and had Reactive Attachment Disorder were no exception. If anything, they were just bigger rollercoasters, with more violent lows and more joyous highs. But Ani is just... there. What happens to make a three year old withdraw like that?
A lot of the kids in the class have questionable home lives. The other day I asked you guys if you know what makes a child qualify as being at risk. Today I found the answer in an online manual for the state's at-risk preschool program. Basically, when screened, children are given numbers of points for different factors that put them at risk. For factors that involve their biological and physical needs, such as being on the federal free lunch program, living in subsidized housing, being homeless, having a chronic illness, having been exposed to lead , being malnourished, having a teenaged mother, having low birth weight, having been exposed to drugs or alcohol as a fetus, etc, they would get four points for each, because these factors are considered the most pressing. Safety needs... having parents with poor behavior management skills, an unstable family structure, having been abused or neglected, being in foster care or under DCFS supervision, having an incarcerated parent, etc... would score them three points each. Factors that are considered "belongingness and love needs," such as speech issues (I'm not sure why thats grouped in with belongingness and love, unless they rule out that the child has an actual speech delay and decide that his speech issues have to do with his home life,) lack of self control, lack of self esteem, having been through a trauma or serious loss, etc... score two points each. (Having a non-English primary home language is also listed in this category, inexplicably!) Finally, "esteem needs," such as a short attention span or poor gross motor skills (???!!!) score one point each. So whoever is screening the child eventually adds all of these points up. Then, the children with the most total points get spots in the preschool program. If there was a program with one hundred spaces, the one hundred worst-off children screened would get them.
So basically, in order for a child to be in the program, a lot has to have gone wrong for them in their short three or four years of life!
This is another reason why I feel like, if (hopefully when) I am a teacher, I want to make school as safe and happy a place as possible. I don't want to complain about the preschool program I'm at, because Mrs. Wing is great and the school is great and everything... but I just feel like something is missing. The joy is missing.
I feel like a child like Ani should be able to come to school and have it be a shining spot in his day, a magical place where he feels safe and loved and has chances to try new things, to succeed at things, to be proud of himself. But here it just seems like its all about teaching them what they need to do... teaching them to sit quietly and raise their hands, to walk in a single file line, to clean up the toys and hold their pencils correctly and learn beginning academic skills... and not at all about their emotional needs.
Its frustrating for me because I'm only there for five weeks, and I cannot make a difference there. I mean, even if I reach out to kids like Ani, in five weeks I'll be gone.
I love student teaching in the preschool! But sometimes it also makes me so sad.