August 1st, when we had 18 kids in the pre-school, I wrote:
"M" is four and already can express the body language of a strutting gang banger. I hope his talent turns out to be mimicry instead of violence.
Unfortunately, his talent is proving to be both.
He's been a kid to watch for some time, skirting the edges, expert like a con in the yard with shoves and bumps that send a message to the other kids without being seen by the teachers.
Early this morning, I stepped into a dispute between "M" and "D." M caught D's pigtail in his teeth and pulled, so D swung at M. Often you don't see what precipitated these battles, and the kids' accounts are unreliable, so you separate them, remind them how to work out their differences peacefully and then watch for flare-ups.
It didn't take long before D was mad at M for something else. I suspect M had taken a Matchbox car from him. D snatched the car back, and it was M's turn to be mad. I squatted down and put an arm in front of each boy. I told M to use his words if he was upset and to tell me what happened.
Instead, from three feet away, he flung the other metal car he held at D's head, hitting him just above the eye. The blow didn't break the skin, but impact an inch lower could have been serious.
M got a time out. When it was over he acted better for a while, but then started pushing the envelope. I won't bore you with the different little incidents. None were serious by themselves, but a troubling pattern was developing.
Later in the morning, M had two plastic microscope slides from the science kit. One he pretended was a lighter, and he used it to light pretend candles on a pretend birthday cake, then sang happy birthday to no one in particular.
Cute four-year-old stuff, right? Then he put the other slide in his mouth and, pinching it like a dooby, lit it and puffed out his cheeks like he was holding in the smoke.
(Another four-year-old who has already been on a behavior plan was sent home yesterday. Among her infractions: pulling down her pants and telling a boy to "lick my stuff.")
Working in a homeless center preschool, I don't see a normal classroom of kids — it's a class cauldron and education crucible. A place where somedays I'm hopeful, but every day I see how challenges in our schools arise out of a complex set of circumstances that aren't addressed by simplistic "solutions" and analysis like this.
M started his time on the playground sitting on the bench because of earlier infractions. When a teacher released him, he asked me if I'd give him a shoulder ride, as I'd been doing for the other kids.
Okay, I said, but first, let's talk. I want you to do a better job of listening to your teachers. I want you to stop pushing and hitting other kids. (I could already see his eyes wandering.) Can you do that? Will you try to make better choices in class this afternoon?
After some work, I got him to repeat what I had asked and secured a promise that he would do better the rest of the day.
Within five minutes after his shoulder ride, M slugged me hard in the crotch. I'm not even sure I can say why.