about payment and reward as a teacher
Yesterday in my lunch duty at the school where I volunteer I seemed to be out to get untied shoelaces; and they seemed to be testing me as well. When I approach students older than Kindergarteners, I usually ask them: “Can you tie your shoelaces or would you like me to tie them for you?” Children usually prefer to do it themselves, as I have noticed.
This one boy, however, told me: “I am fine”, to which I replied: “You are not safe. Would you like me to tie for you?” “Fine” , he responded. Then, as I tied his shoes he leaned over and whispered: “I am so embarrassed. I don’t know how to tie my shoes. Please don’t tell anyone.”
I was really surprised with his revelation to me, after all I am a volunteer who is there only during his lunch, and only twice a week. Nevertheless, I assured him I would not tell anyone, and I offered: “If you ever want to learn, we can go to a quiet area here in the school and I can teach you.” “Meanwhile, if it gets untied again you can tuck the lace on the side of your foot just so you don’t trip on it”. He smiled as he walked to recess “Thank you”. It was not clear to me whether he was thanking me for tieing his shoes, for keeping his secret, or for offering to teach him.
Today I saw him arrive at the cafeteria, and one of his shoes was untied. I walked over to him and disguised as well as I could: “Hey, I am trying this new way of tieing shoes, but I do not have laces today. Can I practice on your sneakers?” He said “sure”, and so I tied. I couldn’t help but notice that one of the sides of his lace was tucked into the shoe. That made me smile and remember the offer I had made.
As I watched lunch, I spoke with my Principal and explained to her what had happened and my intention to help that boy. She told me he could not go on being embarrassed, and that the one thing to do was to learn. She walked to him and quietly spoke with him. He looked a little self conscious as he held his cheeks for a few minutes after she left him. His classmate kept talking to him, so he went back to being one of the boys having lunch.
When he was done, the Principal walked him to me and said: “You two can go now. This is very special”. And she opened a room where we would not be bothered.
We worked on tieing his shoes over and over again, he experimented different ways of doing it. First I demonstrated and ‘narrated’ each step, then we did it at the same time, each one of us with one of his shoes, then I held his shoe in front of him while he tried several times, until he finally did it without my intervention or even my guidance. He did it all by himself. His eyes smiled, and he looked at me. I felt tears in my eyes, and I tried hard to hold them back, but I told him I was really moved about his achievement, and that I was very happy for the independence he would have from that moment on. He thanked me again, and then he untied one of his shoes. As he walked out to recess he said: “I will tie it out there”.
Moments like this reinforce my engrained idea that the paycheck to me, however necessary for living, feels like a bonus.