Teaching: That Kid Who’s Never Absent

You know: That Kid

We all have that student that, if we had our druthers, would be the one who is out all the time. We have kids who seem to come to school on the same schedule as equinoxes and lunar eclipses, but it’s never that kid, right?

For those of you who don’t teach, the really good odds are on there being a student in your child’s room who is that kid. That kid is disruptive. They’re disrespectful. They’re hard to manage. They don’t do any work, and when they do, it’s all complaints to the bottom of the page, if they get done at all. They don’t seem to care about school at all and you’re just about done with teaching sometimes because of that kid.

I’ll say it: that damn kid.

Who’s out today? Not that kid, that’s who.

How do we deal with it?

If you’re like me, sometimes you roll your eyes when you see them or say something sarcastic when they’re up to no good or remarking that they don’t have their homework, or permission slip, or discipline form, or project, or or or. Roll your eyes and say “Big surprise.”

They go to their seat, having successfully navigated responsibility (they give it a wide berth) and nudge their friends and grin.

When the project begins, that kid raises his hand and asks a question you already answered. When the presentation is over, that kid raises his hands and gives you an inappropriate fact that, while true, certainly doesn’t need to be covered in your classroom.  (Hitler had both testicles, thank you, and no, I’m not explaining that.)

I got to thinking in the middle of the most recent winter-themed end of the world scenario we go through here about once or twice a year in North Georgia about that kid. I knew that kid was going to be there. On a Friday, with a two hour delay, and more snow coming down. That kid was going to be there.

I was right.

The reason we all have that kid, and the reason that kid is never out of school, is because mom and dad or grandma and grandpa or Auntie-All-Her-Teeth (or None of Them!) doesn’t want that kid at home either. They know what their kid is like. They’ve gotten phone calls and notes and emails and been to conferences. (Or, expert navigators that they are, avoiding those with a deft hand.) They want peace and quiet. They want a kid out of the house.

They want to not worry about it for a minute.

So here we are with the snow coming down and 50% of my class out and those that remain are that kid and the kids whose parents help them with their homework at night. Losers and winners, in so many words. (Note that I don’t adhere to the belief that all kids who parents don’t help them are losers, it’s just a short hand for the situation.)

I got to thinking about that kid, because he sat next to me while I put a movie on. The intercom boomed with kids being checked out ahead of the Connecticut Confetti falling from the sky. Charlotte’s Web played.

And that kid started talking to me. He talked and talked. He talked for a solid hour without a break, telling me about shows he liked (rated MA for mature audiences) movies he’d watched (Rated R for Restricted) and what games he played (rated M for Mature.) He talked about trivia from classes and what he did with his time on the weekend and at night.

He told me about being home alone with his sisters, all older, while his parents were at work. Both parents work 12 hours (he said 16, and I’m sure that happens, but I doubt it personally) and different shifts (second and third.)

He talked my ear off. He asked me questions and tried to learn more about me. Yeah, lots of what we talked about isn’t right for our grade level. The movies he referenced and the games he played alarmed me. I won’t get into a media rant, but I will say that the number of students I’ve had who are fans of Game of Thrones is worrying. It’s good TV, I just don’t think it’s good TV for the under 18 crowd.

But there we were, talking and talking.

And I realized he knows he’s that kid. This version is a very smart young man with too much Internet and adult media, but he’s still a kid. He’s smart. He’s loud. He wants to be the center of attention, and he knows he gets there by asking about burning people in ovens. His grades aren’t bad for the apparent lack of work that kid always seems to do. He keeps his grades up.

That kid is lonely. He’s starved for attention from adults who care about him, and while other kids miss school and miss the lessons therein offered, this kid never missed a day, and he learned a different lesson: Mr. Hewitt is here for me.

That’s a lesson I tried to take to heart, too. I make sure to tell him I’m glad to see him in the morning, and I take time to talk to him when I can. Maybe he’ll always be that kid, but at school, in my classroom, he can be a kid. A kid who has an adult who listens to him, and is there, not for a lack of love (because anyone willing to work their asses off to take care of their kids loves their kids) but because a teacher must be there for their kids.

You have to be that teacher, the one who those kids love, because without you, they’re left in a world where people are only glad they’re gone.

Jeff Hewitt