Just when I thought Tommyland had entered an era of pacifism and peace, turmoil re-entered in the form of a demonic fourth-grade boy that I’ll call Jack. Now Jack is no mischievous but loveable scamp in the tradition of Huck Finn and Dennis the Menace. I am convinced he is Satan’s spawn.
Jack is a student in my English “camp” class this week, and he has been a thorn in my side from Day One. He is big, loud, and more spoiled than a year-old carton of milk. Fortunately, things were still relatively fine–thankfully, the other students have been angels–but at the end of the class on Wednesday, I caught him red-handed stealing a sticker (I use them as a rewards system, and the students with the most stickers at the end of the week will receive prizes) from my desk when he thought I wasn’t looking (little did he know that I, like most teachers, have eyes in the back of my head). Oh, I was P.I.S.S.E.D. (as Gwen Stefani might put it). But I contained myself, gave a brief lecture on how one shouldn’t steal, and asked him to say, “I’m sorry.” A reasonable request? Well, one wouldn’t think so from Jack’s stone cold refusal. Then the battle was ON (in a responsible-teacher sort of way, of course).
I excused the rest of the class, as it was goodbye time, and I asked Jack to stay. He tried to make a run for it, but fortunately, I got to the door before he did, and I marched him to his chair. Once there, I held him by the shoulder while he writhed, wiggled, and whined, while repeating, “Please say, ‘I’m sorry” every five seconds. Again, no. He just kept trying to escape for a full seven minutes, at the end of which he was banging his sandals against my arms. Finally, he blurted, “I’m sorry,” at which point I replied, “Thank you,” and let him run out. My head was pounding, pounding, and pounding, and the battle weighed on my mind all day, especially before I fell asleep. However, I felt like I had to do it, because as much a lost cause as he probably is, I AM his teacher, and someone’s gotta at least plant the seed that stealing is never acceptable, and that if you make a mistake, the least you can do is apologize (his parents certainly haven’t done so).
I felt quite apprehensive about seeing little Damien–sorry, Jack–again this morning, but what happens? He runs in, and the first thing out of his mouth is, “Tommy Teacher, yesterday, I’m very sorry!” My heart did a little buttery flip kind of thing, and I nodded and said, “That’s okay,” before I got the class started. I’m still convinced Jack is on a path to destruction, but there may be a little hope for him yet.
The thing with kids is that, they are so completely who they are, and they show EXACTLY what it is that they’re feeling. That’s the great thing with kids, their honesty, their innocence. But that’s also the drive-you-crazy, terrible thing about kids, their difficulty in controlling their emotions and their tendency to think only about what THEY want and what THEY feel at that moment. Some people have lamented that children don’t come with instruction manuals for parents to follow. From my personal experience as a teacher, I’d say that the instructions would be fairly simple: 1) Give them love, but don’t spoil them by giving them everything that they want. 2) Make sure they develop a good level of self-confidence; kids soak in compliments like a sponge. 3) Teach them the difference between what’s good and bad. In my opinion, getting kids to read a lot of books will take care of this naturally. 4) Keep them healthy, and try to get them to enjoy at least one physical sport or activity (for me, it was tennis). I think that covers all the major bases.
I think #2 is especially salient, as I believe that most assholes in the world are assholes not by nature but by deficiencies in their upbringings. Overcoddling, abuse, family problems, drugs, what have you, it can all cause major issues that can take much of a lifetime to recover from. And perhaps no song illustrates that better than the #83 song on the Top 101 Countdown: Suzanne Vega’s “Luka.” The song is about a young girl clearly living in a world of violence and abuse who’s asking her neighbor to look the other way. It’s affecting on so many levels, thanks to Suzanne’s sad but never sappy lyrics and her nuanced vocals. It’s a poignant little tour de force.