So there I was at my tuition school today, a pretty average day really except I had fewer students to supervise than usual. I am relishing this formative experience of teaching children and today I had a bit of an experience which almost took me out.
So one of my students is happily working on his computer program, dutily (and vocally) sounding out his words as he was progressing through the spelling activities. He had knocked down some toughies such as 'knee' and 'cough' before coming to 'I'. He commented something like, "I? Pfft, that's too easy!" I agreed, before he reasoned, "There is 2 different I's isn't there?", referring to eye and I. Then he abruptly says, "I have cancer." In the space of maybe 2 seconds I went from curiosity, through to horror and then finally to tentative understanding as I got reacquainted with his slightly irregular right eye.
"Well, I HAD cancer." Best I could offer was "Oh no, did you?" rejecting my initial instinct to say "Oh! How horrible!" "But they cut it out and I am blind in one eye." At this point my heart was sliced in two and I was terrified at what to do next. "Well, you've had to be very brave haven't you? I sure am glad that you are here with us today having fun learning spelling!"That last bit, I think I could have done better and I continue to do a "mind-groan" everytime I replay it. However, the child, whom appeared so mature and calm about telling me the story, did not resist and jumped straight back into the spelling activity.
It was all so out of the blue and trying to read the child and work out why they would tell me this after only knowing me for 2 lessons is really difficult. Children obviously don't censor themselves like adults do and they are learning social mechanics at a much higher rate, which naturally comes with experimentation of how to act and what can, should and shouldn't be said in varying situations. One thing that stuck out in the interchange was the tone of his voice and the way he was scanning me with his one working eye. I am so sure that he threw it out there to see how an adult reacts to the situation in order for him to gauge how bad it is in an adult's mind, and from this, add it to the numerous other reactions and judgements that he has come across, to steadily construct how bad the impact of this ailment really is on his life.
I still don't understand kids very well, but what I do know is that kids are built pretty damn mature these days.