Friday, February 24, 2012

Fighting My Inner Primate

Photo: Walt Jabsco, Flickr Creative Commons

I currently have a student with issues. This is honestly the vast majority of students, as even the best of them have issues, but this particular student absolutely refuses to participate in class. The student refuses to read, refuses to give class presentations, and refuses to speak when I ask questions, even when pulled out to speak privately in the hall.

Intellectually, I know something is majorly screwed up here. No normal kid reacts this way. I've gotten even my most belligerent students in the past to participate. I'm actually really good at breaking down the kids who hate school and hate me, and that's not through force. In fact, you can't force those kids or you just make the problem worse. I actually like these kids. They're the ones who, when I finally succeed, make me feel like I'm not wasting my time. That kid in the good class who makes the easy high A? I'm wasting my time. I could give them a textbook and a calendar of assignments and they'd get what they need from the class. The kid who's failed the class two times already and has a huge temper problem? They're the ones who I can actually do something for. I like that (after it's over and they aren't making my life miserable anymore).

This kid is different. Something has to be wrong, so much so that I'm surprised that I don't have a special education paper in this case. Honestly, this post isn't even about the student in particular; this is about me. I know there is something emotionally or chemically wrong here. During the poetry presentations I assigned recently, I had kids who shook so badly during their reading that they looked like they were experiencing a highly localized earthquake, but they went up there without any more prodding than my calling their name. I feel sorry for those kids. I hate public speaking, which makes me identify with them and should make me identify with this student, but I can't. When I talk to them, the complete refusal to respond in any way makes me angry. There's eye contact, sometimes even a smile, and it makes me want to punish instead of empathize. I'm not so ignorant as to be unaware of the fact that some people smile as a defense mechanism or as a way to prevent other emotions from spilling out into public, but it grates on me. The ape in the deeper portions of my brain sees only pure defiance, taunting through refusal, a grab for power, and I want to grind this student back into their appropriate position further down the social hierarchy. I'm the silver back. The student isn't even a submissive adult. This is a child. Hulk smash! Hulk grade unfairly!

But I don't. The student gets graded the same way the others are. A refusal to present doesn't earn a zero if the written copy of the report is turned in. Only a deduction for not presenting that was listed in the rules for the assignment is enforced. It's just not one I've had to enforce in the six years I've been doing this project.

I want to punish the obstinacy I see, but I understand there's probably more going on at home than I know and I'm aware my anger comes not from logic and reality but that primitive part of me that wants to act without rational thought getting in the way. I am aware of my reasons, and self awareness is the only way to keep from being an unintentional bully.

This post is to remind me of that.


Julie said...

Flinging poo at the student probably would get an actual response, though...

Courtney said...

Hmm, that's interesting. I assume most teenagers act out by being loud or belligerent. I don't remember any kids from high school who just didn't talk. I wonder what's going on there, but I suspect it isn't good.

Good for you for not treating him differently from the others.