Tuesday, August 30, 2005

A Scene

Monday we all--Robbie, Eli, and I--go over to the kids' class at the dojang. They're not enthusiastic, but they are OK with it. We get there late, and Eli skitters through the dojang to have me tie his belt.

There doesn't seem to be a teacher around and some of the children are leading warm ups. It's tedious. We can barely hear the instructions, and during basic moves, we stand endlessly in our stances as the young black belts wander around looking for mistakes.

On this day, the anniversary of my 20th year as a teacher, I am once again reminded that not everyone who is competent in a field can teach. I wish the school would give some instruction in "how to lead a class" to the blackbelts, even the children.

Master Hughes finally arrives and makes it clear how different it is to be lead by an excellent teacher--to some of us, anyway . . .

During all of this, the boys are having trouble concentrating. Eli has gone back to his goofing around stage, just like he did when he began TKD last fall. He jumps around, makes faces, and chatters away. Robbie is not too much better.

I decide to stay out of it once Master Hughes is there.

We begin combination kicking, and Eli is teamed up with a boy he knows, a yellow belt. Eli jumps around making faces, and Master Hughes comes over.

"You're the senior student here, and you're acting like the yellow belt," says Master H. "Maybe you two should switch belts."

Of course, this is a friendly reminder to Eli to stop goofing off, but he doesn't get it.

"I don't care," he answers back. I cringe.

"Well, if you don't care, maybe you should just take that belt off," says Master H.

"I don't care," says Eli again.

Master Hughes takes off Eli's belt and puts it on the stage. I turn back to my combination kicking--Master H. pairs me up with the younger children so I can help them out.

Later, we line up for TKD tag, everyone's favorite. But I notice that Eli is crying. Robbie talks to him, and so does Master Hughes, but Eli shouts something unintelligible, flings out his arm at Master Hughes, and runs out.

For some kids, it would be easy just to say "OK. Cut it out. You need to straighten up and stop screwing around. Now get back to work." But making orders does not work with Eli. Never has. I am not sure why. Also: teasing, kidding around, and using physical contact to get him to cooperate do not work, either, and these are some of Master Hughes's teaching techniques (they work with most children!).

I wish there were something I could do to make this sort of situation work for Eli. I wish I could make him into a child who could take criticism, take instruction, snap out of it when ordered to.

I wait for a while, then go to find Eli, who is sniffling in a corner.

"You look mad," I say.

"I hate Master Hughes!" shouts Eli.

"He likes you, and he wants you to behave," I tell him.

Eli launches off into unintelligible shouting/crying. His arms fling about uncontrollably. It's an old-fashioned temper tantrum.

"I think you need to be here by yourself and calm down," I tell him during a quiet moment. "But I don't want to leave until you talk to Master Hughes. You can't leave like this. You need to apologize and talk to him."

More tantrum, but I can't do anything about that, I've learned from experience. I leave.

At the end of class, I apologize to Master Hughes, who is entirely gracious about the whole scene. Then I notice Eli behind me. The tantrum has stopped.

"I'm sorry," says Eli.

Master Hughes squats down to Eli's level.

"I know, buddy. It's just part of growing up. I don't hate you, I want to teach you. But you have to be willing."

Eli sniffles.

"I don't like Tae Kwon Do," he says.

When we return, I realize I am exhausted. It puts a Mom through a wringer to watch a child go through that. I tell Bruce the story while the children play on the computer after supper.

"I don't know what I should do. I would like him to keep going because it's such a great activity. You can see yourself improving very quickly, and it's great exercise. I just wish he knew how to take instruction."

Bruce reminds me that Eli's had trouble like this before.

"Remember swimming lessons this summer?"

I do. I'd finally gotten Eli enrolled in some swimming lessons, and he "hated" the first day. He clung to the wall, climbed up on it, and then crept out on the deck. Whenever the teacher asked him to do something, he'd shake his head, "No. No. No."

He cried and cried about going back the next day, but I insisted. "I just want you to do two things. Stay in the water and when the teacher asks you to try something, say 'I'll try.'"

Something about those "two things" worked for Eli. He stayed in the lessons, and learned how to float and swim underwater. "Tell me two things to do today," Eli would tell me before swim lessons.

Maybe that's what he needs at TKD. Two things. Say "yes, sir" to the teacher and do what he asks you to do.

But not tomorrow. I think I need to recover from Monday first.

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