Five months ago the lives in our house changed forever when we adopted a rescued lab-pit mix named Parker. We had been stalking him on facebook for a while and finally decided that he had to live with us. It has been a challenge and blessing. We love his cuddles and his windmill wagging tail. We love taking him to the trails near our home and letting him run in the woods with us. We are challenged by his pulling on leash, his anxiety-aggression with people in our home or on walks, and various other unsavory behaviors. We have recently begun training and have to clarify our human-adult roles so that we can be a strong functional family. We, the parents, need to work on our concrete communication with him. He has already begun to learn new behaviors in just a few short sessions.
What in the world does this have to do with teaching and learning?? A LOT!
Parker has taught me a lot about empathy. Specifically, empathy for kids and parents who struggle with emotional or learning differences. I know I was an obstinate, frustrating, smart, and sometimes bored student in my early years. I provided my parents, my teachers, and my administrators with more challenge than was acceptable and took more than my fair share of time in a class of 28 students. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to be my mom, sitting in many a parent-teacher conference, hearing once again about my behavior in class, my inability to sit still, my incomplete work, my outbursts for attention. What exasperation and, dare I say, embarrassment I must have caused her in my early years.
This leads me to think of the parents of “that kid”. When I say “that kid”, I do not mean it from a derogatory perspective and I see my own child-self in this category. The child who’s needs are not always easily met or understood. The child who struggles in a visible way with social-emotional or academic needs in school (or home). The child who repeatedly takes up unequal amounts of time within faculty meetings. You know this kid too and probably stay awake at night, as I do, trying to solve the mystery that is child X. I have watched the parents of these children from an entirely new perspective in the last few months. How they must struggle with wanting to find solution and healing for the children and yet also feel a sense of helplessness or frustration? I wonder if perhaps they feel a sense of failure or have a desire to place blame on themselves or others. This is purely projection on my part, as I feel helpless when Parker misbehaves at the park or doesn’t come when called. And I realize it may be offensive to some for me to make a corollary between a dog and a child, the emotions are both so very real.
So I grow in my empathy and my desire to seek understanding with parents as I, in a sense, become a parent of a challenging “child”. I am so grateful for this lesson as it has deepened my commitment to growing relationships with families to truly be a support for all children. We all have a bit of “that kid” within us and we must grow to celebrate these differences and empathize with their repercussions rather than place shame or blame.
Thanks for the lesson, Parker. Now sit….stay….good boy.