Friday, October 18, 2013

Breaking Down the Box

I have a cool story to share from my week working at the elementary school.

A few days ago, I was out at recess monitoring some kids from the 3rd and 4th grade classes.  Overall, the children were mostly behaving - and that was enjoyable for me!  As I was scanning the playground, a young, worried looking boy ran up to me and said, "Ms. Crystal, my friend is making fun of you!"  I asked him, "Why is that?"  He replied, "He's making fun of you because of your birthmark!"  

Woah!!...What??  How much courage did it take for that young boy to tell me that his own friend was making fun of me?  Again - this is a boy in the 3rd or 4th grade!  I can't even begin to explain how impressed I was by his courage and maturity.

Not really sure how to handle the situation - especially since I didn't hear his friend making fun of me myself - I just asked the boy the name of his friend, their room number, and teacher's name.

Thankfully, it was a teacher that I have known for a few years now and have seen on and off during my campus visits before being hired as an NTA (noontime assistant).  It made it easier for me to talk comfortably with her about the issue, since I didn't know how that kind of situation should be handled.  

When I spoke with her, I told her about the boy who talked to me at recess.  She apparently was already made aware of the situation by some of her other students.  But, I told her, "I don't really know how to handle this, but as the boy's teacher, I wanted you to be aware that it was said.  I'm not upset - I didn't even hear what was said...And I know that kids do this kind of thing.  Kids will be kids!  But, if you ever want me to come to your classroom to share about it and to let them ask any questions they may have - just let me know!  I'd be happy to do so."  She made sure to let me know that she would talk with the child and make sure it was handled on her end.

Usually at recess, kids are asking me questions almost everyday.  Because of the many questions I receive, knowing I'm going to have another laser treatment in November (which  really encourages more questions), and now knowing that there was an issue of a child making fun of me, I sent the principal of the school (who is actually my former 4th grade teacher) a message.

I basically said the same to her as I told the teacher just moments earlier, but in a little more detail, "Hey! I meant to talk to you today but you seemed busy and I had to run to class. However, I was made aware today by one of the students that one of his friend was making fun of me because of my birthmark. No worries - I'm not upset or anything by it, I didn't even hear what was said. That's what kids do and I talked to his teacher about it.  But I just wanted to say - if any of the teachers want or need me to, I am always more then willing to go to their classrooms to teach the kids about it and to let them ask all their questions.  I'd rather help them understand it as curious children than to let them grow up to be rude adults. So, if the teachers ever want me to visit their classrooms for a few minutes - I can always come in early before my shift or on certain days I can visit after my shift is over. I'm more than willing, so they can just let me know."

She told me she would email all the teacher's about my offer.  About three hours later, she messaged me back saying she had 9 responses from teachers telling her that they would love for me to come share with their classes.  As of right now, I don't know the current count of all the teachers who want me to come in, but I was really amazed at at least 9 said yes.  It was unexpected for me - but it makes me happy and excited to have a chance to talk and share with the children.  I'm not really sure how much I am of "teacher material" - but to have the chance to try to impact children for just 10 or 20 minutes (or however long the teachers have me share and probably depending on how many questions I receive)...Wow.  What a cool opportunity!   

Today I had a few teachers tell me that they've emailed me to find out when I'm available to come and speak with their students.  (Teacher's I've never met even told me "hello" today by name...and I don't even wear a name badge, as I'm still waiting to get one.)  From the looks of it, I'll have the chance to share with children as young as 4-years-old to children in the 6th grade.  

In the last day, this whole thing had me wondering...Why doesn't the school system have a set up for people who are "different" from societies "normal"...Those who don't quite fit into that very stupid, small, and specific box that society wants people to fit into, come to speak to children?  You know...Those like me, with birthmarks on their faces...Or even those who are Deaf, blind, in wheel chairs, or amputees.  I can promise you that I'm not the only one who deal with issues from strangers...And I'm certainly not the only one willing to help teach others the beauty in being who I am, and to educate them about why I am the way I am.

In my personal experiences, I deal with a many rude adults...sometimes just once a week, but sometimes on a daily basis.  Between staring, stupid questions***, and rude comments...I have to deal with this a lot!

If we talk to people while they are still children, we can give them an easy way to teach them to be curious in a kind manner.  We can teach them appropriate ways to ask questions, and tell them it's not kind to stare.  More importantly, maybe we could tear down any possible future stereotypes that people have for those who physically look different, are in a wheel chair, are blind, or Deaf.

Here is an example of my own idea:  Yesterday evening, for a class assignment, I was able to interview a super sweet lady who happens to be Deaf.  One question that a friend and I asked her was, "What is one of your pet peeves of hearing people?"  Part of her reply was something along the lines of, "Hearing people often assume that because I'm Deaf, that means I am dumb and stupid.  I'm not."

Using this portion of the interview I had with the lady, let's say that later on, a child (let's call her Mary) hears their friend say something rude about a Deaf person, by calling them "dumb" or "stupid".  What if, instead of easily being able to laugh along at another person's expense because of influences of others who do the same, or accept the negative stereotypes and look down upon others for being Deaf, or someone else "different" in any other way...What if, when Mary hears their friends making fun of someone and can think, "Well, that's not true.  I remember when I was 8-years-old, and a Deaf man came into my classroom and shared with us about his life being Deaf...and he was far from being stupid!!  He's even a teacher at a university, is married, and has 3 or 4 children."

And then what if, from there, Mary can correct and influence her friend to think differently about others??

Maybe my idea is wrong.  Maybe it's right.  Either way, it's my two cents from a life time of 22-years of experiences.

Really, overall, I think people say and do things because they feel uncomfortable by situations and things that they aren't use to being around or seeing.  What if we made the children of today aware of other people and their really cool lives and unique experiences?   What if we taught them while they are young, how to act and treat others properly - regardless of they way they look, act, their race, if they can hear or not, if they can walk or use a wheel chair for assistance, or if they can see or can't see??  

Whether the person be blind, an amputee, in a wheel chair, Deaf, or has a birthmark on their face...Let's teach children that these aren't people to look down on and treat like they are any less than themselves, but these are incredibly beautiful people we can look up to for inspiration and as great role models.

Let's break down that box that the world has made for all of us to fit into.  We're all unique and special people, and we definitely weren't put on this earth to be put into a box - no matter of who we are, or even for who we aren't. 

The Travelin' Chick,

***When I referred to an adult's questions being stupid, really, I don't think that any question is stupid.  People are curious and that's a natural part of being human, whether you're a child, teen, young adult, or older person.  I just feel as though the way adults usually handle seeing my birthmark for the first time handle it in a stupid manner.  They can ask about it, I'd love to help them learn about it!  But sadly, instead of maturely and kindly asking about my birthmark, they either stare, or usually ask about it in the weirdest or in a rude way...And that?  That's what I find to be stupid.  When kids ask me crazy questions?  Well, they're kids.  I've never viewed their ways of asking as stupid, as they are genuinely curious and really have the sweetest intentions as they learn how to properly ask questions.  They are, after all, children. ***

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