You'd think that a list of good things about someone would make them happy. Not so for the two students that I helped make these lists. One was this child, who really truly hated himself. The other was the student at the end of this post who says he's going to kill his father if he ever gets out of jail. This child, "Fred," was something special.
Fred was so angry that it almost gave him superhuman strength. He was a small second grader when he was terrorizing fifth graders. I had him in first and third grades and apparently I did something right because he would seek me out when he was angry. He would clench his fists, turn bright red, breath hard, and say "You've got to calm me down. You're the only one who can calm me down." He would lose control of his body and flail around. He usually didn't care who got in his way, but there was one instance that scared him. He was flailing his body like usual and he knocked me into a wall. I was fine - he was a small kid - but he froze and looked terrified. I had never seen him have that reaction before and I sort of think it might have been fear that he lost the one person he could trust.
This child's mother was being abused by her boyfriend - the father of Fred's brother and sister - and often showed up with bruises on her face. Another teacher told me that they were having a conference for the younger brother and the mom tried to speak up and her boyfriend just raised the back of his hand at her, like he was going to backhand her across the face. She shut up. She could be mean herself. She was fiercely protective and vacillated between "my child can do no wrong" and "Help me; I don't know what to do with him." Most of the time she knew I was on their side but sometimes she'd yell at me too.
One day, when Fred was in my third grade class, he threw a fit. I have no idea what it was about but this was turned more on himself than usual, a lot of "I hate myself," "I'm no good," etc. He flailed on the floor, yelled, crumpled paper, knocked things over. It was after school, so I let him do that for a while. Finally, I said, "Fred, we're going to make a list of things that are good about you." He froze. I got on the computer and started typing.
I had no help from Fred at all. He alternately flailed and screamed on the floor (and this wasn't just a temper tantrum; it was obvious that he was in really serious emotional pain) and got curious enough to come look at what I was writing. I have no memory at all of what I wrote. Things like "He is a great reader" and "He always respects me," probably. (He never respected anyone else but he did respect me). I finished and told Fred that I was printing two copies, one for me and one for him, so that we could each remember some good things about him. I told him that these weren't all the good things about him, because that would take way too long. These were only ten and there were way more.
I printed Fred's copy and he said "I don't want your stupid list." He crumpled it up and threw it. I told him that was fine, he could do whatever he wanted with it. I said that I was keeping mine to remind me of some of the great things about him. He kept repeating that he didn't want "no stupid list." I think he really wanted me to react angrily for some reason, but I just kept saying that it was his and he could do whatever he wanted with it.
Finally, Fred left. I turned around and kept working on the computer. I heard the door open again and footsteps. When I turned around, he was disappearing through the door and the list was in his hand.
I just heard that Fred got kicked out of high school for "being bad." I don't know where he is or what he's doing but I really hope he remembers that there are way more good things about him than fit on that list.
Three years ago: The Education President
Four years ago: Teacher, I Brung My Homework!