The first kid I hated told me to “fuck off”. This is not behaviour that would be tolerated from an adult; or at the very least would be met with a similarly anger-charged, “Why don’t you fuck off?”.
However, I was a student teacher, he was a student student, and both of us were out of our depth in the West Australian Pilbara without a dime to our name (albeit the state government had paid me a lump sum to head to the dust bowl; I’d blown the whole lot on petrol – some for transport, the rest for recreational use). I’m normally non-confrontational, so if someone else had told me to “fuck off” I’d probably have done just that. But this child needed to be in the classroom doing his work because the government said so.
After much negotiation, time out, shouting and general cajoling, he re-entered the room. Sitting back in his seat, pencil in hand, eyes rolling to the back of his head, this 13-year-old ball of anguish continued to do no work for the duration of my six week stint in town.
Had I failed as a teacher? Had I failed as a human being? Or had the school simply omitted that the child had recently been taken off his ADHD medication and was spiralling into a severe pattern of withdrawal?
I tend to think that my inexperience at the time led me to have less empathy for the child. It is very hard in that moment, when someone tells you to “fuck off”, to remember that this is not a personal attack but a by-product of an unstable home environment or emotional turmoil or testosterone or flagging Ritalin levels. We are human beings first and professionals or parents second. Sometimes our own human emotions kick in and it was my inner Zen that prevented me from pushing that child over the first floor rusted cast iron railing.
I of course dealt with it in the professional way and acted amicably to calm the child, but if we met again I doubt I would buy him a drink.