Suraj was a fifth –grader, but his behaviour was so aggressive they placed him in our special- education class. The first day of school, suraj arrived in an agitated and angry state .he hit every child in the class, screaming, ‘get out of my way ’. he then turned his wrath on me with a quick, “I hate you!” even though this was our first meeting. Suraj flopped into his seat and began to disrupt the class by cussing and fussing .this behaviour went on for the entire week.
At first, I suspected it was a reaction to being placed in the special –education class. Most kids would rather be labelled class clown or bully by peers than labelled stupid. After careful observation, I suspected there was more to the story .every teacher who had previously taught suraj told me he was a handful. I heard, ‘it’s a good thing you have no sense of smell because suraj literally stinks. The other children complain about sitting next to suraj so he has his own cubicle. Almost every child calls him stinky suraj.’
Knowing that the first experience of the day is the most significant, I decided to observe what suraj experienced each day as he came to school. As the buses arrived, I heard the bus driver screaming at suraj before he got off the bus. Then the two teachers on bus duty yelled, ‘slow down, suraj. Walk, young man!’
Next, suraj raced to the lunchroom for his ‘free’ breakfast .as suraj went down the line, he gobbled up everything in his path. The lunchroom staff hollered at him, don’t eat like path. The lunchroom staff hollered at him, don’t eat like little pig: wait until you sit down!’Suraj had the breakfast gone he sat down and started begging the other kids for their leftovers.
Suraj had three more unpleasant encounters with administrators and teachers before he finally arrived in our wing. As if on cue, all the children began to taunt him. ‘She comes stinky suraj!’ ‘I smell something: it must be stinky suraj.”
From all my observations, I concluded suraj anger was a way to lash out because of the treatment he received every day at school. College psychology 101 explained that children cannot learn when they are hungry, smelly or teased. I figured the reason for Suraj School problems were his parents, of course. If they only fed him and sent him to school clean, he wouldn’t be tormented. I further concluded that his parents obviously did not care about him, and I should enlighten them immediately.
In the faculty lounge, I told other teachers of my concerns and asked how to contact his parents. ‘Good luck. They’ve never once come to school even though they’ve had eight children go here. We have sent note after note, and they will not come in “. It seemed my only recourse was to make a ‘home visit ‘. The other teachers exclaimed,’ are you crazy? You can’t do that. Let the social- services people take care of the problem.’ nothing could dissuade me from going. Suraj needed help, and his parents seemed to be the problem.
In class, I informed suraj I would be out to visit his family that afternoon. Because they had no phone, I asked if he would please tell his father I was coming. Suraj said, ‘you come out to my house, rajesh, and our dogs will eat your chicken legs with me.’
Suraj lived in very rural part of town. After many wrong turns, I was finally instructed to keep going until I heard the dogs. When I spotted surajs house, my mouth fell open. It was neither running water nor bathroom facilities. Yet there stood suraj and all his siblings lined up on the porch, quiet and well- behaved. A grandmotherly woman was standing in the doorway, and surajs father stood at the bottom of the stairs waiting for me.
Instantly, I was humbled. I had come ready to do battle with surajs family, yet somehow I knew this man was trying to do the best he could. Immediately, I changed my attitude and asked permission to bring my chicken legs on his property. The speech I had prepared for this man suddenly didn’t seem to fit. I quickly revised my words and blurted out, sir, I would like to tell you about your son suraj. I believe your son is very smart, but it seems he is receiving very poor customer’s service at our school. I would like to help him if I may.”
“. Rajesh.” said the father, ‘you do anything you want to help my suraj no teacher ever come out to tell me they wanted to help. They send me these papers, but I don’t read so well. I tries, as best I can. I don’t have any help “kept my mother, and she aunt doing” too good herself.”
“Sir, I understand you do not have running water. We do at the school. Would it be all right if l let yours son suraj take a shower every day?”
Yes, ma’am, that be okay.”
“We have a washing machine at school. Would it be all right if I tell suraj wash his clothes every day?”
Yes, ma’am, that be okay. Whatever you want to do with my suraj, you do”
“Sir, I am proud and honoured you took the time out of your us schedule to talk to me today. I hope I did not keep you from your work. I will do everything I can to help your child.”
“Nobody ever been that kind. My son suraj is a super kid. With little help from you, I knows he can be a superstar!”
That meeting change my life. A man with a third –grade education seemed to have more insight than all of us supposedly educated teachers. Suraj had been in the school for five years, and not one person had ever dared to find out about him. He was passed from teacher to teacher and class to class like a bad rumour. No one ever got close enough to see the superstar under all the dirt, except his father, who I foolishly thought didn’t care.
The next day, suraj bypassed the teachers at the bus. He even bypassed the free breakfast, which he so loved, and bypassed the children who taunted him. He watch out or Ms. Rajesh will find your house. Shell find your house and tell your daddy you is a superstar. I ain’t stinky no more. I am a superstar!”
From that moment on, suraj was a different child, and I became a different teacher. I taught him how to take a shower, wash his clothes and take care of his personal cleansing. Neat, I taught the school staff to see suraj as a superstar. I went to the lunchroom and asked them to send home extra food for the children and to change the way they addressed him and the rest of my class. “From now on, when my students come to the cafeteria, I would like you to say, ‘here come the superstars!” they agreed.
In a faculty meeting, I instructed the other staff members to please help me increase the self –esteem of my students by addressing them as superstars for one solid month. They balked at first, but I promised if they would help me, the behaviour of my students would change dramatically in a positive way. Since they had noticed the change in suraj, they agreed to help.
Surajs father taught me to see all the parents as superstars, too. He was doing the best he could with the tools and skills he possessed. When I stopped blaming and started partnering to find solutions, everyone won –children, parents and teachers.