Today was an interesting day at MOMs. It started out normally, with the mentors passing out snacks and talking with the kids. For the first time since I started coming to MOMs, I didn’t hesitate before sitting down at a table and interacting with some of the kids. Ordinarily I would sort of stay back and wait until either Mrs. Rose said something to us directly or one of the kids asked for help, but for some reason today I didn’t feel out of place just taking the initiative. I think I’m becoming more comfortable with this place, getting to know the kids enough to simply start conversations with them. It’s definitely a cool realization. I’m starting to take an ownership of sorts in this program; I’m contributing to it and I know other people who are involved, and I want good things to come of it.
I started out helping Elijah and Ralph focus on their work. They didn’t necessarily need help with understanding how to complete it, they just needed to be nudged in the right direction. Elijah was working on an art project Mrs. Rose had given the class (“pop art”, she called it—drawing and coloring four pictures of pop cans Andy Warhol-style) and Ralph was doing some speed math sheets. After doing that for a while I moved over to help Sam with his times tables. He was timing himself, and was really proud of the fact that he could do the whole test really quickly. Together we worked on improving his time, and he managed to get down to a rate of only three seconds per problem. What I found interesting was how much my reaction fed his. He wasn’t sure if three seconds per problem was good until I reacted with surprise, and then he got really excited. It made me realize just how closely these kids are watching us mentors. He kept calling Mrs. Rose over, telling her how fast he’d been. After he felt confident he could ace his math test the next day, we moved in to spelling words (on a side note, I feel like these fourth- and fifth-graders are learning much more complicated words than I ever did at their age! Geez!). He was having some trouble distinguishing a verb from and adjective from a noun from an adverb. We worked through them a little bit, but then my attention was caught by something that was happening at the other end of the room.
Jalen, who’s known to be generally difficult, was yelling about something. Mrs. Rose was trying to calm him down, but it was obvious that it was just making him angrier. He stormed over in my direction to get away and I asked him what was wrong. He started yelling about something again, but I told him that I needed him to lower his voice before I could understand what he was saying. He got frustrated and went back to his seat. Mrs. Rose had moved on to help another student, and I could tell she wasn’t sure how to deal with Jalen. I hesitated at first, but then I went over to his desk and asked him to tell me what was wrong. What it basically came down to was that he felt no one was listening to him. I consciously had to think about the active listening stuff we’d talked about in class, and how I could make Jalen sure that I was legitimately listening to him. Mrs. Rose saw that we were talking and suggested that we go with another student to the kitchen area. She sensed that he might need to get out of the classroom, and I think she was right. Along the way, I asked him to explain to me why he was feeling the way he was. In all honesty, I don’t think he’s been asked that question many times before, because it caught him off guard a little bit. He kept coming back to how Mrs. Rose was making him mad and he just wanted to go home. We talked for a long time, and I could tell he was glad to get his feelings out in the open, and proud of himself, in a way, for being able to express what he was feeling. I made sure to thank him for being open and honest, and then we talked about the importance of being respectful even when we’re angry. I honestly don’t know if he “got it” or not, but he was slightly (and I mean only very slightly) calmer when we went back to the classroom. We went to Mrs. Rose together and he told her how he was feeling (angry, and that he wanted to go home, and that he thought no one listened to him), but in a calmer voice, which was good. Since Mrs. Rose couldn’t simply let him leave, he was still angry, but I think he understood that she was still trying to help him out, and wasn’t working against him. It was a long day.
I definitely worked on my communication skills today, especially since Jalen’s main complaint was that no one listened to him. It was also good for me to see that conflicts can’t always be resolved all at once, but just chipped away at a little at a time. I think I have a deeper appreciation for what Mrs. Rose has to deal with too, since she’s new and is learning how to interact with all her students. She doesn’t have the time to spend individually with each the way they sometimes need. Volunteers are essential, especially at MOMs. I was glad for the experience, and I’m hoping that Jalen is beginning to understand the importance of communicating with respect. I’m also hoping that he understands that I will listen to him when he needs me to, that I support him and care about him.
Just another day at the office.