Sometimes It Takes A Child To Teach a Teacher

Mondays always tend to be the worst day of the week for me where my job is concerned. Not because I’m coming off a weekend and want another day to relax. On Mondays, we must have our billing logs and time sheets turned in by noon. I’ve always been able to get mine turned in on time. The problem is that every week I get a text from my supervisor asking me to come in after work and fix my billing logs.  I have worked for this company for almost three years now, and at least twice a month, I make errors that require me to sit down and re-do them all over again.  My agency bills the state for each student that receives Medicaid benefits for services.  We are required to bill every 15 minutes which comes out to being 1 unit. Then there are two, three, or four different services students receive, and they each have a different billing log.  It becomes very confusing and requires employees to convert the hours into units and record it in decimal form on our time sheets.

Now math has never been my strong point. Back when I was in high school, we were not required to take algebra to graduate.  In college, I chose to take a foreign language rather than a year of college algebra after many attempts of trying to learn. One of my reasons for wanting to be a special education teacher was to avoid higher math skills that I never really had the patience or the comprehension skills for being successful.   For the past three or four months now, I have had a call every Monday morning. Today, it was from the owner of the company herself, and she does not mince words. She does not care what excuse you may have; it’s the employee’s responsibility to figure it out and do it right. This morning she said, ” I don’t know what to tell you, Karen. You’ve been here about three years now, and this has become a weekly issue.”  I tried to explain that I honestly didn’t know why I continuously mess up, that the conversion of the hours,  the unit hour conversion to the decimal thing is just challenging for me. She offered no sympathy, just a condescending tone saying, “Well, you need to figure this out because it takes time out of my day to have to continuously correct you.  It’s basic math;  it’s not that difficult!”  Tears were about to spill over the brim of my eyes.   I had to make a quick escape before she saw me crying.

I took a few minutes in the restroom to let it out, wash my face and get back to my student.  This young lady is new to our school this year.  She is a sixth grader and falls under the category of developmentally disabled.  She has a lot of behavioral issues as well as academic challenges.  She tends to whine and complain about how difficult the work is; she constantly refers to me to validate her answers because she doesn’t want to get them wrong.  I have found her behavior and learned helplessness extremely frustrating and annoying.  We’ve gone over the same concepts every day since September.  I’m never sure if she just wants attention or if she truly doesn’t understand.   Do you see where this is going?

As I sat down next to her, she quietly said, “Ms. Karen,  I tried to do these problems while you were gone, but I got them all wrong.  I just don’t get it. What’s wrong with me?”  I kid you not; I felt the presence of the Lord and heard the small voice ask me, “Do you ‘get it’ yet?”    Sometimes it takes a student to teach the teacher something you can’t learn in graduate school — empathy, compassion, and patience.  How many times had I used a condescending tone with this student that expressed my frustration?  Many times I found myself saying to her, “It’s simple math.  It’s not difficult.  If you have five and someone takes one away, how many do you have left? You shouldn’t have to use your fingers.”

I looked up and whispered, “I get it, Lord. Thank you.”  I hugged my student and stated, “There is nothing wrong with you.  You are wonderfully made.  Math is hard for me too.  I understand how frustrated you must be to do the same problem over and over and not understand why you keep getting it wrong.  I’m truly sorry that I sound mad sometimes. ”  She gave me a quick smile and said, “I just don’t like getting things wrong because it makes me feel stupid and I want you to be proud of me.”  The tears came streaming down my cheeks, and I reaffirmed, “I am proud of you.  You have come a long way since you started in September.  Now let’s take a look at the question and see if I can help you figure out the solution.”

Sometimes the problems seem small, but so is the child.  What I learned here is that we can’t assume just because you have gone over something a thousand times with your child, student,  or an aging parent doesn’t mean they understand.  My students that have autism have taught me that much over the years.  We are all wired differently and what may seem simple to me may be quite challenging for someone else.

I have a comprehension problem with my billing logs each week.  My supervisor made it very apparent that she was frustrated and fed up with my carelessness. It was hurtful and unforgiving, and I left feeling stupid and incompetent in doing what I’m expected to do.    The lesson I hope we all can learn from this story is compassion for others.  The bible has many references regarding compassion.   I am so glad we have a God that is a compassionate God.

 “But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” ~Psalm 86:15




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