I have a student named Lucas whom I help with executive functioning and homework help. Lucas has the biggest eyes I’ve ever seen: always brimming with questions and often full of tears.
One day I arrived for tutoring at the apartment and couldn’t find Lucas; the family and I looked all over. We eventually found him hiding under a couch as only a flexible ten-year-old can. His mother and grandmother were furious. His grandfather picked him up and marched him to his room, sat him down, and asked him how he could be so rude to a guest. Grandfather left; Lucas burst into tears. How on earth was I to get any work done with this boy in such a state?
“What are you feeling?” I asked.
“Sad,” he said.
“Can you be more specific? What kind of sad?”
“Did I make you mad?”
“No,” I said. “I’m not mad. I just want to know how you’re feeling.”
“I’m worried you’re mad. And I’m scared Grandpa will be mad later.”
“I worry about what people are thinking too,” I said. “So today I’m going to teach you something that I only teach people who really need it.”
His eyes grew a size.
“Put your feet flat on the floor. Feel gravity in your feet. Let yourself sit up straight like a pole, but no need to clench your spine. Keep your neck soft like a stretchy band. Breathe.”
He did, eyes wide.
“Remember that anything that lets you breathe more freely is a good idea; holding your body in a way that makes it harder to breathe is not a good idea. Now, you said you were feeling worried and scared?”
“Where do you feel those feelings in your body?”
“In my stomach and my neck.”
“Ok. So can you tell your stomach and your neck that you’re going to be ok? That they don’t need to worry or tighten? You can let them relax, or just see if they can drop two notches of tightness.”
He visibly relaxes.
“Now you’ve named the emotion and you felt it in your body. Now… what can we learn from this emotion?”
“That I’m scared of my grandpa?”
“Maybe. I think that when he picks you up and is stern with you, your neck tightens and your tummy contracts. Is that true?”
“Now that you know that that happens, you can be more in control of your body if he is stern with you again. You can make sure that you don’t tighten your neck or clench your stomach, and I think you’ll feel much better. Now after you named an emotion, felt the emotion, and imagined what you will do next time that emotion comes, you might want to take some action now that you’re calmer. Tell someone how it makes you feel when you’re in those circumstances. If you want, we can talk to your family later and let them know how that makes you feel. Does that sound ok?”
“Yeah I guess so. This isn’t math though.”
“No it’s not. But I told you I have many important things to teach you that aren’t in a book, right? For example, how about you show me the strategy I taught you playing checkers last week.”
If the lessons we teach students come exclusively from books, then we as educators are not using the full expression of our skills and experience.
-Nathaniel D., Test Prep & Subject Tutoring Academic Coach in NYC and Westchester