I LOVE the hard kids who piss teachers off. The ones who really have problems. The ones who yell things and throw things or just look at you sullenly and shrug, no matter what you say.
I used to be jealous of City Year people or tutors, because they gain the kids’ trust so quickly and get to know them so well. I thought they were lucky because they don’t have to be forcers or enforcers; they don’t have to get kids to do anything they don’t want to do. But I’ve realized that it takes much more trust to be real with an authority figure than it does to be real with a friend or a mentor. The cost is higher, but I’ve come to value that instead of resenting it. You’re more likely to push up against who a kid really is if you’re trying to squeeze something out of them. Easy-going hangout times don’t often strike a chord.
And “strike” is the right word. Somehow saying the right thing is like the toll of a bell. Face suddenly softens. Voice lowers and speech slows. Body relaxes. And then you’re in—and once inside, you get to see the real, raw kid in them for as long as they’ll have you, until you ask too much or go to far or forget something crucial and you’re out again for who knows how long.
It’s why I love my Brat and Toothpik so much—they’re my most puzzling cases. It’s why I’m quickly falling in love with my Shouting Stutterer and my Packer.
It was actually my morning with my Packer that made me realize all of this. He was in my seventh period last year until he brought a gun to school, but apparently in Texas being expelled can only last a year, so he came back. Since he got back two weeks ago, this is the first time he’s been to a full period (he likes to disappear halfway through).
The kid is pretty unbelievable—unable to go more than thirty seconds without blurting something out to get a rise out of someone. The Math department isn’t allowed to close our classroom doors, so every time someone walked by he’d seize the opportunity to interrupt class with, “Hey what that fatass name?” or “Oooohoho, Dja see that bitch Kiara just go by? Who she talkin to now?” If no one was walking by, he was picking at one of the kids across the room—if nothing was coming out of his mouth, he was actively searching around for something to comment on (no really. Looking everywhere but at the board or at me, he’d spy someone’s purple pen and ask the whole class why anyone would write with that “purple-ass pen,” or see someone’s head down and ask the class whether he’d had a rough night). When I asked where his pencil/paper was, he put on his most contorted incredulous face and “Miss, I’m not here to LEARN no fuckin shit…. I’m here to… get in trouble!” When I told him to stop swearing, he said “I wasn’t swearing!!” and when I argued that yes, he was swearing, he said “No, I wasn’t! I wasn’t cussing nobody out!” Every time I turned around, he was out of his seat and down the hallway, disrupting other classrooms. Any time I told him to get to work, he said, “Do you KNOW where I’ve been? Alternative school!” as if that were explanation enough.
Finally, about the fourth time I’d pulled him back in, he said “Miss, I was at alternative school! We just did word searches all day! How do you expect me to know this stuff?”
I told him I know must feel really behind after being gone, and told him that’s exactly why I needed him to work with me. “In my class, though, I need to you do two things: one, you really need to stop using that language. Two, you need to stay in your seat.” And for some reason, he was super responsive all of a sudden, and there was that bell—with the face and the voice and the changed body language. He was still his crazy self, but I could tell he was honestly trying. He would complete one problem, then he’d get stuck on the next one and pop up and go mess with someone. I’d get him to his seat and start him on the next problem, and as soon as he ran into another roadblock, he was gone again. But every time he swore he’d apologize, and every time he left his seat, he’d come back to do another problem.
Seeing his face totally open up and literally watching his body loosen as I was talking made me really, REALLY want to get this kid. He also made a comment toward the end of class, something like “Yeesh, miss! You really sweatin me!”
… it all kind of makes me want to teach Special Education. Or go into some kind of behavior therapy or something. (Funny thing: With all of my Parenthood-watching, I’ve also become really interested in Max’s “Behaviorist” who helps deal with his defiance and autism and stubbornness. Dream job?)