Learning Empathy

April 4th, 2013

During the time that I have spent at Dibert thus far, I have found my self in a state of self-reflection as a reaction to working with these middle-schoolers. I have experienced both recollections from when I was about their age and also further defined who I am working to become as someone who intends to make a career of working with kids. I was a difficult child: not intentionally, but I struggled to really communicate effectively, and this frustration led me to act out. I distinctly remember the shame I felt especially was under the impression that  a teacher, mentor, or simply one I admired, was giving up on me, so I try to use this memory to be patient with the kids who face similar challenges. I know this patience is crucial. I also know I have yet to reach the level of patience that I desire. There is one boy in particular in our group whose actions beg for attention. While generally I am sympathetic to this emotion, when he is distracting the other kids during a lesson, I see it as transparent disrespect. My last job was teaching science classes for mostly over-privileged White kids. When they exhibited similar behavior, it was often an attempt at manipulation, so I learned to essentially ignore it. I would find other ways to give them attention when “earned” through positive reinforcement. I face a new challenge with the boy in my service learning class, for there is ever-so-rarely an opportunity for praise. Despite the fact that he has adopted this identity of being the “bad kid,” I know he has good intentions. So I am experimenting- trying different ways to encourage him to be respectful of whomevers speaking while also communicating that we are aware of his presence. I’ve found that sometimes when I ask him questions during less-structured time or share pieces of my life, he is more likely to exhibit good behavior when necessary. I’ve always stood by the idea that each child has something new to teach to whomever will listen, and I’m hope to become better at being that listener.

By Addie Altholz