The story of Jerome…
It was the first day of school when everyone was excited. I noticed this very uneasy child who belongs to my first year class. He stands taller than his classmates probably because he’s old enough to be a freshman. And I was right. His records show that he should have been a senior student by then had it not been he spent a year for his every grade while he’s in elementary. His permanent record revealed that he entered grade two twice and thrice for grade five. His name was Jerome.
For more than a week or two, I observed in my class that he’s not a very ordinary student. Whenever he walks around inside or even outside my classroom many of his classmates seemed to ward off as if he was lava.
I observed that he has only one close friend. I was not sure either whether he treats him as a friend for there was an instance that I saw Jerome beating him with his fist just because the latter failed to lend him his ball pen at an instant. This friend of him carries inside his bag all of his school stuff, too.
As a student, Jerome performs just all right. He was compliant whenever we had writing activity for he managed to write obediently…only that the pen’s cap was still on. Yes, he participated in the class activities. When there were group activities, he was the first person to disarrange the chairs in a very disorderly manner. In one of his classes, I observed that he enjoyed his role-playing session for he happily whipped a wooden stick on the air without minding whether it would hit his group mates. . I vividly recall how he courageously answered me with a mocking ‘inda man sa imo’ (I don’t care about you) when I called his attention after he tirelessly echoed his classmates oral responses to my questions in our Araling Panlipunan (Social Studies) class.
He was very versatile. He knows how to mimic the sounds of almost all animals (and even insects) he was familiar of. I heard him sounding like ‘tuko’ [gecko] while most of his classmates were hooked on an article they were told to silently read. He did it recurrently and obviously he liked what he was doing.
When he was prodded to read a paragraph on a page of his textbook, I noticed two things. First, he hardly knew where to find page 32; his seatmate needed to guide him just to turn to the right leaf. Secondly, his ‘reading’ gave me the impression that he was extraterrestrial. I thought I was hearing an alien for I did not understand a word. He found it very difficult to figure out how the words are supposed to be read even syllabically. But I was thankful for his effort to recite after he impolitely grabbed the textbook from his classmate and for the mumbling sound he managed to share.
As a child, he was very playful and had a lot of surprises. One time I’ve heard one of our teachers screaming and literally out galloping from her classroom after Jerome presented her a snake he just killed. He loved centipedes, too and he loved to hand it as a surprise to his classmates.
Honestly, I was not feeling comfortable to have Jerome in my classroom. I knew I was not in a proper authority to assess him but I believed he was abnormal – to be politically correct, I should have said he was ‘intellectually challenged’. He was behaviorally perverted. And I also thought that he deserved no space in my class of heterogeneous regular students.
We tried inquiring about Jerome in a more personal level. We dared talking to his parents and were dismayed to know that one of the main reasons why he was in school. His parents believed Jerome would be more obedient to us, his teachers, because behaviorally speaking; he was such a handful to them. I also heard one of his neighbors commenting, ‘mas marhay ng nasa eskwelahan an kaysa sa magpasaway digdi saindo’ (it’s better he misbehaves in school than [he bullies] here).
But I knew he was not entirely useless at home. When passing by while we were on our way to school, we saw him helping his father sort out fish. As one of the youngest brood, he did most of the errand.
I could not blame myself for feeling differently against this child though I wanted to try helping him out. For whenever he bullied his classmates and heard him talking back, I was beginning to think he was as an eye-sore. I wished he’s not enrolled in my class. I even prayed he quit schooling.
After a month and a week, my prayer was answered. It was such a relief to see no presence or even shadow of Jerome within the four walls of my classroom.
But I must admit… I miss Jerome’s frolics and bullying!
Jerome and I – Our Pictures
I almost forgot Jerome because he dropped a year ago until Dr. Manuel V. Estera, our speaker in inclusive education, reminded us of this cliché: ‘Our students are reflections of us, teachers’ and my co-teacher and cousin – close friend asked me this line, ‘Are you a reflection of Jerome?’
I almost fell of my seat when I boisterously say “No, I am not Jerome’s reflection!”
Am I really Jerome’s reflection? This question might mean a point but it’s just trivial than to ask, ‘What did I do to help Jerome?’
Jerome was in school because he was not just forced by his parents. Neither had he loved bullying a lot. He could have easily pretended that he’s up to schooling and chose to watch or even do cockfighting or even opted to pluck ripe guavas in the woods nearby instead.
His coming into school implies his willingness to learn. It’s the very initial step in the learning process – the willingness to learn. Perhaps, he recognized the very essential fact that education is important to one’s life – to his own life. For sure he, himself, knew that he lacks and needs knowledge.
Willingness might have been evident to Jerome but I had reservations on his readiness.
Was Jerome prepared to be a freshman [despite his age]? What stopping him from gulping even simple knowledge? Was he normal, behaviorally and mentally speaking? Can learning take place in him?
Then, Dr. Estera engaged into his very illuminating talk. His candid gestures uncover his characters as an experienced professional and as a very able mentor in the field. His ideas are brilliant though he admits ‘he is not a very conceptual individual’ and his unassuming nature is indeed remarkable.
I learned from his talk the types of learning difficulties and developmental delay. He identified five on his handout. I note the terms dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysphasia, dysgraphia, and the nonverbal learning disorder. To my awe and disappointment, it is likely that Jerome has all these learning difficulties!
Had I known what these learning dilemmas are before, I could have understood Jerome better. I could have welcomed him more openly in my class.
But was I really prepared for Jerome or a bunch of his kind? Can I confidently say that I can smoothly facilitate effective learning with him? I must admit again, the answer is a resounding ‘NO!’ And as a teacher, I’m not proud of myself of this realization.
Jerome needs special kind of attention. He deserves to have a more inclusive mode of responsive teaching-learning environment.
And in my poor case, I lack trainings on dealing with this kind of learners. My college curriculum prepared me to handle regular classes but never with students who are supposed to be in special or inclusive education. On the sad note, I could hardly cater Jerome’s special needs.
Jerome is just a picture of thousands or millions of Filipino learners in the country and students around the globe. There are many of his kind in our schools in their lenient and worst cases.
I am also but a picture of a typical educator who lacks proper orientation on managing learners with learning difficulty and developmental delay. Teaching experiences including institutionalized trainings do not expose me on how to handle special cases like that of Jerome’s. I need to muster appropriate knowledge, skills and attitudes in order for me to finally say to Jerome that ‘I CAN help you.’
The school year commences next week. Hopefully, with the lecture we had with Dr. Manny and the personal reflections I have had, I become more inspired to respond to the challenges of my profession…
‘No one should be left out in education’ emphasized Dr. Estera. This time, I hope to welcome, understand, and teach not only regular students but learners like Jerome, too.