What is our obligation to the kids who, for whatever reason, can’t or won’t do what is expected of them? I’m not talking about the kids who aggravate us with their little quirks, or even about the kids who refuse to do their homework. I am talking about those kids whose name alone is enough to make even the experienced teachers cringe.
This year, I have two such students in one of my classes. For anonymity purposes, I’ll call them Fric and Frac. Their primary skill involves using the playground bathroom at lunch and before school to smoke pot. They were caught on the second day of school, and were briefly suspended. However, they haven’t been deterred. In fact, we often don’t see them after lunch, and they are late most mornings.
I should feel guiltier than I do that they cut class and show up late. But the truth is, the classroom is a much happier place when they aren’t there. It’s more enjoyable for me to teach, and if I secretly polled the 28 remaining students, I am fairly sure that they would admit to being glad that the Pot Princes are keeping the kid equivalent of banker’s hours.
The pot smoking is by itself problematic, of course, but accompanying that is the fact that neither boy will ever be accused of being too gentlemanly. In fact, their behavior when high is preferable to when they aren’t. Both are rude, disrespectful and contribute nothing to the class. I actually recently wrote about Frac and how he threatened one of the girls and cursed at me. Fric isn’t much better. Recently I met with Fric’s mother, after repeated attempts to call her. When I dialed the number and asked for her, the person on the other end told me that I had the wrong number. Fric insisted that the number he gave me was correct, and for once, I believed him. At our meeting, Fric’s mom said that she was frustrated and at her wit’s end, and was planning to go to court during the next week to get a PINS petition for him. The next day, I saw that he was making a true effort to do what was expected. I called his mother and told her that he’d had a good day. She ended up choosing not to pursue the PINS option. I have to wonder if my call to her commending him was a factor. He got progressively worse again, and thinks that completing his class work means that he can disrupt the other students if he wants. (On a side note, that has to be a prime example of faulty logic, one that I’ve heard many times. Why do kids think, because they do their class work, that they can do whatever the hell they want while they do it? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that, and I still don’t understand the logic behind it.)
It’s not lost on me that both of these students have issues. During one especially hellish lunch detention, after Fric stormed out while launching a string of vulgarities at me, one of the other students looked up at me and said, “He acts like that because his mother doesn’t love him.” And while I don’t think that’s a fair assessment, there are clearly things happening at home (or not happening) with both boys that is a factor in why they are making these choices.
So I have to make a choice of my own: do I invest time and energy into these two students, try to win them over, try to help them see that the path they are on leads to a place worse than nowhere? Or do I direct that energy into the many kids who are struggling but want to learn? I look at some of these other kids and see potential that’s never really been tapped. I think about what Fric and Frac’s behavior costs them. Really, it costs me nothing. No matter how aggravated I get, at the end of the day I still have a job, at least until the TPU comes after me. But their behavior also costs the other students a great deal. These other kids, who have likely gone through every school year with a Fric/Frac equivalent in their class, have suffered.
I wonder how much more most of these kids know and be able to do if this small group of overly-disruptive kids was elsewhere, if there were true consequences for bad behavior, if their parents were truly held accountable for them.