Teaching second grade is always a challenge. Each student arrives at school with his own needs and difficulties. One particular year a student I'll call Billy challenged me with his behavior as well as his academic requirements. He struggled daily with his overpowering emotions and often became angry--sometimes even violent. I knew that in order to make academic progress, his emotional outbursts needed to be controlled.
One way I tried to help Billy was to have him come directly into the classroom when he arrived at school, rather than playing on the playground. Billy liked the extra attention before school, and I could make sure his school day started out on a positive note. I also found that when Billy came to the classroom early, he avoided the usual playground fights and arguments caused by his volatile temper.
Oftentimes Billy's mom would call me to alert me to a particularly emotional morning at home. On those mornings, I would focus on defusing his anger and calming him down before the other students arrived. Billy's mother loved him and wanted desperately for him to improve and do well. As the weeks passed, home communication, firm boundaries, and love and care were helping Billy make big strides in controlling his own behavior, yet he still lapsed now and then.
One week our class was studying pets. I thought one way to bring hands-on learning into the classroom was to bring my dog Rocky to school for the day. Rocky is a two-year-old shih tzu. A perky, friendly creature, Rocky loves people--especially children. He was raised with my own children, so he is used to being petted, played with and snuggled. I was confident that the class would adore him, and I knew that Rocky would love all the attention from twenty eager, excited seven-year-olds.
The morning of Rocky's big day at school began as normal. Arriving at school early, I prepared activities focused on dog themes. Our math for the day was to measure Rocky in as many ways as we could think of. We were going to measure the length of his ears and body, his weight, and even how much water he drank. The read-aloud story I planned for the day was about a dog. I was looking forward to a fun day.
A few minutes before I expected Billy to arrive, the phone rang. It was Billy's mom. She was calling to tell me that he had a rough morning at home and I might need to spend some time getting him settled. As I was talking to his mom, Billy stormed into the classroom. To Billy's surprise, Rocky immediately ran up to his new "friend," wagging his tail. Billy knelt and Rocky licked Billy's face, slathering him with doggy affection. Billy couldn't resist Rocky's charm. The little boy began giggling and laughing as his anger melted away. The happy sound of his laughter traveled through the phone line to his mother's ears. In a quavering voice she asked me, "Is that Billy?"
"Yes," I replied. "I brought my dog to school today, and Billy and he are getting acquainted."
"It sounds like Billy will be just fine," she said, her voice filled with relief.
I couldn't have chosen a better day to have Rocky at the door.
Throughout the day, Billy showed his caring and loving nature. He never left Rocky's side and took responsibility for Rocky by feeding him, being gentle with him and even shushing the other students when Rocky took a snooze.
Billy was known for doing anything he could to avoid reading. But on this day he found a good dog story, "Clifford's Puppy Days," and read it to Rocky. Rocky was a good listener and never minded if Billy missed a word. I marveled at the sight of Billy reading happily. My little dog was able to transform Billy's day from one of anger and frustration, to one of joy, laughter, gentleness and unconditional love.
That day Rocky did more than just help me with teaching; he helped to change the life.