A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

From the "I am NOT Making This Up" Department...

We've had several visitors at our school over the past few weeks while colleges have been on break between semesters. I was standing on the sidelines at an athletic event after school one day, cheering on the team, when suddenly a young man stepped up next to me. Then he hugged me and said he wanted to thank me.

He looked vaguely familiar, but it took me a few seconds to recognize the face. It was young Barbarino, who had been one of my students in one of my honors classes the first year I was at the high school after leaving the middle school. I had also had him as a student at the middle school. Neither of these experiences had been particularly pleasant, as he had been a young man more prone to complaints than getting his work done.

From the second he set foot in my class, it was a contest of wills. He wasn't going to do the reading. He wasn't going to do the essays-- or at least, he wasn't going to do them except on the back of a cocktail napkin, written in ketchup. He complained that I didn't explain everything in the book so that he wouldn't have to read it, since reading was a waste of his time. He made weird noises. He wanted to put his head down all the time. He maintained a 57% average all the way through the semester, and then finally scraped enough together that he got a 60 percent -- a D minus. And yet, he wouldn't transfer to another class, either. For some reason, he didn't want to be rescued, but he didn't want to pull his own weight, either.

I got some insight into his problem when his mom came up for conferences. All she talked about was his older sister, who was pre-med and had gotten straight As and been drum major while volunteering at an adult day-care center, and on and on. During the entire conference, I repeatedly tried to redirect the subject back on to her son, but to no avail. So what he wanted was to act up and get my attention, since he was a ghost to his mother. She threw up her hands at trying to get him in line, and basically let me know that school problems were the problem of the school.

But now, here he was, taller, bearded-- and um, thanking me? He told me he was in graduate school now, and he appreciated me never letting him get away with avoiding his work. He laughed uproariously at the memory of me hoisting a desk over my head in the crowded classroom to put him out in the hallway when he came to the class unprepared, which happened more than once. He thanked me for making him come to my class after school to teach him how to write historical essays. He apologized for being "such an unbearable little shit." I assured him he wasn't unbearable-- and we laughed again. He said he wanted to prove to me that he had finally grown up and was no longer a "screw-up." He said what I was trying to teach him had sunk in-- just three years later than I would have liked. He left me with a pat on the back and asked if he could come see me the next time he was on break.

I said, "Gladly."

It was an amazing experience.

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11 Comments:

At 1/23/08, 8:46 PM, Blogger Mrs. Chili said...

I am SO happy for you. I LIVE for something like this, and I'm living a little vicariously through you. I hope you don't mind....

 
At 1/23/08, 10:56 PM, Blogger Polski3 said...

Ok, so really, WHY are you teaching? :-)

 
At 1/24/08, 5:24 AM, Anonymous Francie said...

That gave me goose bumps! Congrats!

 
At 1/24/08, 9:56 AM, Blogger Mike said...

Wow, what a wonderful affirmation of your work! I'm tearing up just reading it.

Trina

 
At 1/24/08, 8:20 PM, Anonymous rc said...

Don't you love that sort of thing? I eat it up. Our building has a very strong tradition of the alum coming to visit during the week of Thanksgiving, and it is just the time of year I need that boost -- I schedule a lot of independent work for my classes so I can visit with them and catch up on all the news :).

Well done!

 
At 1/25/08, 6:18 PM, Blogger Mrs. Bluebird said...

Way to go! What a great treat for your week!

 
At 1/25/08, 8:48 PM, Blogger M-Dawg said...

Excellent work Ms. Cornelius! Every once in a while, we get those kids that come back to thank us.

Don't ya wish they'd come back more often???

 
At 1/26/08, 7:22 AM, Blogger CaliforniaTeacherGuy said...

You deserve every accolade this "kid" gave you. Congratulations!

 
At 1/27/08, 4:40 PM, Blogger cbh said...

validation... its all we need.

 
At 1/27/08, 8:14 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

It really shocked me when he started thanking me and apologizing for his tantrums and other behavior. He said he knew I cared when I wouldn't let him get away with less than his best effort.

But besides that, I am so glad to see that he eventually got his ducks in a row and knows how to work for what he wants. It was great. Really.

 
At 1/27/08, 10:16 PM, Blogger Jim Van Pelt said...

Nice post, and a good story.

 

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