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  • The little girl would not stop weeping. She just sat there, with tears streaming down her face, sobbing like the apocalypse was upon us. It was painful to witness.

    This was the first day of school for both of us. She was a six-year-old Peruvian girl, just beginning her elementary studies. I was a thirty-year-old Canadian English "teacher" who had never actually taught a lesson in his life. We were experiencing similar emotions – anxiety, confusion, trepidation – so perhaps her reaction was appropriate. In fact, on some level, I also wanted to cry. But instead, my approach was to overcompensate, to be overly animated and joyful. My best efforts were failing, however, and her sobs grew louder.

    What could be done? I scanned the mustard-colored classroom for my fellow volunteers, Lucy and Vanessa. Perhaps they would be able to apply a calming, feminine touch to the situation. But they were already addressing small disasters in their own sections: Vanessa was breaking up a wrestling match, and Lucy was deeply involved in assuring a student that he did indeed have a first name. I could sense that they also felt overwhelmed, and saving me from Miss Waterworks was more than they could personally handle.

    Crouching beside the crying girl’s desk, I put on my friendliest, most empathetic expression in hopes that she might see me as a human instead of an alien. She paused momentarily, scanning my face, deciding what to do next. And then she released a bloodcurdling scream. Chernobyl would be deemed graceful compared to this meltdown.

    The regular classroom teacher had abandoned us, probably in search of coffee or horse tranquillizers. And I didn’t know what to do with the girl.

    So I let her cry.
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