Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Student Teacher, Part 7

Russell Karp knew better than to swear, or to get physical. He wasn't stupid. Had he been determined, a rebel with a cause, it would have been one thing, but the boy had no ambition or motivation other than the pleasure of watching his classmates and his teachers – and his student teacher – squirm with anxiety and fear.
It was something about the flush in his cheeks, the depth of his eyes, that betrayed hostility, a seething anger. Yet he often played the class clown.

I rushed my classes through "Great Expectations," intent on getting through with it as quickly as possible regardless of whether the kids had read it or not. Better material lay ahead. And all the time, Russell competed with me for the attention of the class.

As a diversion, I asked my students to do some creative writing. "If you could be doing something else right this minute besides sitting in this classroom listening to me, what would you wish to be doing, and where?" I gave them 15 minutes to write; Russell laid his pen down after five minutes and thumbed through an issue of Hot Rod magazine.
"Who would like to read his or her essay?" I asked.
Russell waved his arm and began to read: "If I could be someplace else this minute, I would be sitting in my car across the street from this school, watching this place burn to the ground."

Every night, I would complain to my wife about Mr. Trouble, and in the teacher's lounge I quietly sought advice. The football coach, who also taught driver's ed, was always there during my free period. He listened to my griping with knowing nods and shrugs of his shoulders. "Ignore him," he said.
"Ignore him?"
"Just ignore the bastard," Coach insisted. He wants your attention, so don't give it to him until he behaves."

I was highly skeptical of this advice but tried it anyway. I pushed Russell Karp to the margins, looked through him and beyond him, made other students the center of attention. His influence on the rest of the class began to fade, and although he was still Trouble, things were better. Eventually, I would be able to turn back to him, give him a different kind of attention, even share a joke. But it was never easy, an I never understood the anger in those eyes.

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