Wednesday, December 21, 2011


There are certain moments that still touch you, no matter how many times you have seen them.

I have a boy in my class who is searching for trouble. He shows up every day, wanders the halls until someone yells at him, comes to class and does a little work before growing bored or distracted, and searching for an excuse to leave again. He does stupid, reckless things. He smokes pot in the building, leading to an arrest. He sexually harasses a teacher. He finds themselves in any number of questionable situations.

He is the type of boy who a teacher doesn’t give up on, because beneath his aggravating behavior, there’s a glimmer of hope. He is still showing up at all, which means that he is still hoping to get something from us. And where some kids abandon class altogether, and defy any authority who approaches them, he reluctantly listens, becoming aggressive only on very rare occasions.

There is a transparency to this boy - it’s almost pathetic how clear his motivation for misbehaving is. If someone doesn’t understand, he will all but tell them.

Kevin is seeking attention. His father moved away a couple of years ago, and started a new family, and, as it seems happens quite often with boys his age, the absence has begun to wear on him. He has started to feel the anger and resentment toward this abandonment that is probably long overdue. His mother’s frustration with him manifests itself in complaints and long sighs, and lots of sadness. He doesn’t feel the love.

He writes papers about almost any topic, and finds a way to weave into the essay a story of a child doing wrong, hoping to get noticed. When you stop being annoyed for long enough to talk to him, he reveals the depth of his loneliness. He asks questions that haunt me - what if a parent stops wanting you? What if no parent wants you? Why do some parents just not love their kids?

Outwardly, he is arrogant and reckless. He is proud of his behaviors, speaks openly about his love for a girl in the class, his boxing triumphs, and his weekend jaunts. He dwells on his drug use (marijuana), wanting attention for it - be it good or bad.

When he was handcuffed this week, and put into an ambulance, everyone assumed that it was because he was in trouble again. He had smoked, or violated his probation. Nobody knew that he had threatened to take his own life. None of his friends suspected that his pain was so real - when theirs was just adolescent angst.

Watching him lose control, when he realized that he would be taken to the hospital, was a clarifying moment. Earlier in the day I had reached my wits end with him for the thousandth time. My co-teacher and I had talked to him about his actions and his feelings, felt we had a moment of breakthrough, and then been disappointed when he walked out in the middle of math just a short while after.

I was sick of it. Tired of this boy being allowed to do as he pleased with no apparent consequences. Frustrated after four months of the same.

But he transformed on the steps of the school into the vulnerable, broken child that he is beneath the tough thug boots and black hoody that he wears each day. There were consequences, I realized, much bigger than any that I or the school could provide.

It wasn’t the first time that I saw something like that. It wasn’t the first time that my heart clenched and my throat closed, watching a child who I rarely admitted to liking be subjected to something so unfair. No matter how terrible a student can make your days, how far they can push you, how stymied you feel in your progress with them - there are always those moments that grab you, and remind you that they exist beyond your classroom. Moments that remind you of your own limitations, and the enormity of all that you can’t touch.