Frustration in the Eyes of a Crying Child

This week has been a fairly good week so far. There are a number of reasons for this: the new Avengers movie comes out tomorrow, for which I am extremely excited; we were informed that next week will be a four-day work week, as there is a public holiday next Friday; and Kris and I managed to get our lazy selves out of bed this morning to throw a disc with one of our friends. However, today I faced a nasty version of one of the most dreaded things in teaching – a crying child.

Sure, I have had crying children in my class before – teaching children as young as 5, it is inevitable that they will cry for the most meaningless things, and I generally have a good grip on such situations. The child that cried has cried many times before – she is a very sensitive young girl, and can be set off with the slightest provocation. However, she hadn’t let loose the wet, wimpering dogs of emotional distress in my class like she did today. She simply sat there, inconsolable, wailing. I tried being calm, talking soothingly to her at eye level. I tried moving on with an activity, hoping that she would forget what she was crying about and join in on the task. I tried all that I knew to do. Nothing worked. She eventually had to be removed from the class by my teaching assistant.

In the moments where I was crouched next to her desk, looking in her water-filled eyes, I saw something that I had not expected. Sure, there was emotional pain (for reasons I could not ascertain). And there were genuine tears. But there was also frustration. It felt as if she wanted to tell me what was wrong, but couldn’t. Maybe she didn’t know how to express it in English. Maybe she couldn’t muster the emotional strength. Maybe she was just being oversensitive and she knew it.

It wasn’t only her frustration I saw, it was also my own. For the first time, I was genuinely stumped by a classroom situation. I had no idea why she was crying, or how to make it stop. I didn’t want to call for my assistant to help, because that felt like waving the white flag of failure as an educator. While I felt very sorry for the poor girl, she sat like a bawling bastion to my inadequacy, and it felt awful.

While I know that one crying kid doesn’t make you a bad teacher, in that moment, I simply wanted to pick her up and shake some sense into her. I wanted to tell her that there was no reason to be crying, that she should be stronger. But she’s just a kid. She’ll get there. So I didn’t – I let her go with my assistant, to whom she opened up and returned to the class later, more calm and ready to learn. While I may not have known what to do today, I now know that sometimes the child just needs to go out, and come back when they’re ready. Sometimes, it’s not my job to make everyone feel happy – someone else is better at it. And I must just put my pride and frustration aside and accept that.

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