What if they don't want to be saved?
I was working in my room the other day during a prep period when I overheard raised voices down the hall. One of my colleagues, Mr. Spector*, was debating with a kid from his classroom. It was obvious the kid was lipping off to Mr. Spector and basically refusing to do anything but sleep in Mr. Spector's class. When Mr. Spector insisted he remain upright, the kid took exception.
Mr. Spector is a fifty-ish second-careerist who is caring, funny, and an ultraconservative. (I forgive him and I love him anyway.) The man can squeeze a quarter so hard that snot comes out of George Washington's nose. He tries every day to do right by his students and expects them to learn something, and that's what matters to me.
So, I hovered out of sight for a few minutes to see if the kid was going to cross the line or if Mr. Spector might need me to escort young Mr. 'Tude to the office. After trying to reason with the kid for about three minutes, he took him over to a colleague's room so that the kid wouldn't wander around the hallway for the rest of class. I walked up right after he had deposited the little blister in the other room.
I asked him if he was okay as he walked back to his room. He turned to me, and there was such an intense look of pain and frustration in his face. He said, "I have done everything I can for that kid. I have worked with him individually. I have called home. I have tried patience. I have tried pushing. I have tried the School Health Intervention Team Referral." (otherwise known as SHIT referrals) "Then he turns on me like this and basically tells me to fuck myself. He's been accepted at an alternative program for next year, so he's decided he's done. Right now I am so mad at that little SOB that I could punch a hole in something!" Mr. Spector was shaking, and tears were almost swimming in his eyes.
I tried to comfort Mr. Spector as best I could, and encouraged him to take a deep breath. I told him that everyone expects teachers to care about their students, but then not let their feelings show when kids are hurtful or hateful or spiteful, and that's really hard. I offered to watch his class while he got a diet Coke or a cup of coffee but he turned me down, and he thanked me and went back into his room where there were other students, waiting.
One of the hardest things to learn about as a teacher is to understand that a few kids really don't want to be helped, and to tread that knife's edge between giving them room to make bad choices and giving up on them completely. The hardest thing in the world is to have someone throw your concern back in your face. We are not supposed to take this personally. Mr. Spector does care, because he is a good teacher. He just hasn't acquired the veneer of distance that would enable him to not take this kid's sneering, calculated indifference as a wound. And of course, this kid was trying to wound. We are not supposed to take this personally, but every teacher has days in which we ache over the hopelessness of some students and their intansigience.
Teachers believe every kid can learn. But some kids see our attempts to teach them as a power struggle. As was beautifully depicted in the poem written by graycie here at Today's Homework, we can't MAKE them do anything. We just have to practice a form of what meditation teacher Tara Brach calls radical acceptance, to have compassion on these lost kids-- can't call them students, and they're certainly not young adults-- while accepting that right now they are not willing to accept what is being offered to them. In doing this, we also have compassion on ourselves, and enable ourselves to go to school tomorrow morning and try to help others who may be more open to what we offer.
*-so named because he loves do-wop music and girl groups