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In the learning center I used to work at, there was a young boy who used to take five times longer to do his worksheets than other students. He would sit down, have a bit of a wander, sharpen his pencil, swap erasers, make multiple toilet trips, you name it!

Eventually it stopped through the coaxing of the staff members. But although he sat down, it was not just his feet that were immobile. His hands were also motionless! He would stare at the clock until a staff member tapped his worksheet and he listed numbers with amazing speed.

I see myself in this kid. I used to do exactly the same thing, not with homework but with chewing food. I understand why my parents would snap me out of it, because they thought it was unproductive. And it was. Not to mention unhealthy for my teeth.

But back to the more recent past, I figured out that if you bribed this young boy with two stickers instead of the usual one, he would become more time conscious and would know when he achieved the five-minute goal. I always hated bribing kids, but sometimes as a last resort it worked wonders.

After a while he would happily report to me the time it took to do each worksheet. Or not-so-happily when he was slower.

I wish he were a bit more mature so I could tell him that he is worth more than the work he produces. That getting the answers correct in under five minutes was not my measure of his intelligence, it was the center’s. That maths never stopped anyone from bad behavior. That I believed in him regardless of his number-crunching abilities.

That I kind of hated disturbing his daydream, because that’s when I could see him smile in peace.

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