Here’s a journal entry from a few weeks back that never saw the light of day. It’s still completely relevant as school wraps up these next few days:
“The boys desperately need someone who will listen to them.”
With just those few words, it hit me. The boys don’t need to be listening to us; we need to be listening to the boys.
Since the moment I set foot on the orphanage grounds in August, I’ve been pushed and pulled from every direction to put my foot down, to yell, to put boys in their place. I was told that if I gave any of the five to sixteen-year-olds an inch, they’d take a mile. I was told to be firm right away or they’d see me as their playmate and not an authority figure. I hate the idea of yelling—it just isn’t my style. But, nonetheless, I did my best over the first few months to develop my place in the ranks of the orphanage. Then, a simple e-mail landed in my inbox and it hit me: We’ve been doing this all wrong.
Each day is a struggle between teachers and students at Bosco Academy to find balance. The boys want attention, the teachers want control. Someone wants harmony; it’s just hard to tell whom sometimes. It’s tough to watch the teachers try to maintain control each day. And tough is a weak way of describing the experience I witness each day. I maintain relative control of my class each day, and together, my boys and I witness the misbehavior of the kids around us in each grade and, worse, watch and listen on as the teachers attempt to uphold control by yelling and beating the boys with rulers and rods. In a sense, I’m on the inside, but I feel separate from the rest of the organism (that is the staff) at the same time. This is, I think, right where I want to be. I’m not perpetuating the problem (in fact, I’m keeping four of the boys out of the madness, keeping them from being beaten for thirty hours of the week) but I’m not blind to it either. I know what is going on. That being said, it really made sense to me when a former volunteer sent me an e-mail simply stating how important it is that the boys have someone who will listen to them.
The boys need someone to listen to them. This goes against so much of what I’ve been taught from the beginning. But, at the same time, what I was taught at the beginning of the year doesn’t seem to be working. The teachers are still screaming and the boys are still misbehaving. The teachers desperately want the boys to listen to them. They think if the boys will just sit down and learn, open their ears and let the information pour in, things will be better. They aren’t wrong. But the way we get to that point is by giving the boys an opportunity to talk. We, the adults, have to listen to them. We have to really listen. What are they trying to say to us? What are they attempting to convey? What do they not know how to say?
So, let’s do it. Let’s turn down the scream machine and start listening to the boys. Then, in time, maybe they’ll start listening to us. Let’s throw so much respect their way that they have no other choice other than to respect us, too. I sit down with my kids every morning and ask them about their night and morning. Sometimes, it feels like an interrogation, but other times, it’s a free flowing conversation. When the day begins this way, the boys don’t get nearly as frustrated as when they need to dive right into schoolwork. Hopefully, they pick up on the fact that me asking about their weekends or evenings means that I care about them on a personal level, too. It’s nice when they do well on tests and everything, but I care about them as people as well. I mostly just care about them as people.