The twenty seventh kid I hated was a chronic work avoider.
The first day I taught him, he returned after lunch break to tell me he’d lost something very important in the playground. He then began crying.
I asked him what he had lost.
“It’s my Grandad’s war medals,” he said.
I asked him why he’d brought something so important to school.
“I wanted to show my friends,” he responded. “My grandad gave them to me as he was dying and said I must look after them. But I can’t find them in my jacket. I need to check again.”
Medals, given to a young child by their dying grandparent, were certainly a very important thing to be taken seriously. It was my first day at the office, so I did not want to have war paraphernalia lost on my watch. I allowed the boy to check his bag and jacket.
He did it very slowly and very meticulously. He managed to string it out for the first ten minutes of the Maths lesson. I let this slide, because of the importance of what he was looking for.
He did not find them, but said he’d shown them to two other boys in the class. I asked the two other boys to help him look through their bags in case it was mixed up in their possessions (*slash* stolen). Another ten minutes of looking occurred, but no war medallions surfaced.
“Perhaps I left them in the playground,” said he, the child who enjoyed avoiding any semblance of work.
Perhaps, I thought to myself. I certainly didn’t want anyone else to find them in the playground, so I allowed him to be accompanied by another student to check on the benches and under trees in the yard. He returned fifteen minutes later empty handed.
“I’ll have a look in my desk again,” he said.
I allowed this as his final attempt, as the Maths lesson came to a close.
It was then time for art.
“I can’t find the medals anywhere,” said the boy. “I think I’ll look for them later. They’ll turn up.”
What was this? An hour earlier he’d been on the verge of emotional collapse at the thought of his family heirloom being lost. Now he was resolved they’d “turn up”. I smelt a rat, but kept it to myself.
He spent the art session ignoring the set task of drawing birds, instead choosing to sketch a Lamborghini 350 GT – another successful effort at work avoidance.
As we left the classroom for the end of the day, I made a big song and dance about hoping to find the lost medals. I could see the kid beginning to squirm. He insisted it would be fine and he’d look for them at a later date.
When his grandmother arrived to pick him up, I dropped the bombshell, knowing by now it was most likely a lie.
“I’m sorry, but the medals your grandson brought to school today seem to have gone missing,” I told her.
“The war medal…”
I was interrupted. The boy looked me in the eye, “Sir, it was a joke!”
Aha. It was as I’d always suspected. I really hammed it up then.
“A joke!?” I spluttered. “I was really worried. I thought you’d lost something really important. Especially since you said they’d been given to you when your grandfather was on his deathbed.”
I emphasised the last part for the grandmother.
“My husband’s not dead, and he didn’t fight in a war,” she responded.
Then she looking to her grandson, “Say sorry to your teacher”.
He would be sorry. Playing on my emotions. For goodness sake, where did he even get such a contrived idea?
As the year went on, I would force him at near to gunpoint (of course not an actual gun, because it was not an American school), to finish his work. He’d come up with many reasons not to finish work, including the need to sharpen one pencil for half an hour, the loss of his exercise book (which he’d usually hidden behind the book corner cushions), or the ever present need to urinate.
At the age of eight he would go the extra mile and urinate his pants as a way of avoiding work. His parents claimed he had a weak bladder, but we were never given any medical evidence to suggest a weakness in his urethral sphincter.
Instead he would sit there with his wet pants, looking miserable, surrounded by the musty smell of excreted liquid. He knew eventually an adult would find him and discretely remove him from the room. He’d be given sympathy and attention for his accident, beyond the realms of any praise he may ever receive for his academic work. So in his mind wetting himself became a success.
Instead of the parents finding a solution for this (i.e. potty training him or seeing a proper doctor), they simply told us to send him to the bathroom more frequently and provided us with a spare pair of trousers. It was a sad, depressing and smelly situation.
The other art of avoidance he had mastered was telling confusing stories. He never got to the point. If he did get to the point, it was jumbled somewhere in the middle.
The speech therapist even set to work with exercises aimed at getting him to sequence events clearly on cards before he spoke about them out loud.
Seeing him at work with the speech therapist showed clearly there was evidently something amiss with his processing of normal thoughts. But equally there was a cunning behind the jumbled chronology in his storytelling. This came to my attention one sunny morning detention, when one of the older children in the school told me they had been speaking with my student.
“I’ve been teaching him how to avoid doing things,” declared the older child.
“Oh yes,” I said humouring him, even though he was supposed to be reading silently for detention. “And what, may I ask, have you told him he should be doing?”
“Well he needs to create a distraction. Something that doesn’t disrupt the rest of the students and is partly about the work, but doesn’t really help with what he’s supposed to be doing. Normally by telling a long story or giving a long explanation about something, he can distract the teacher and get out of doing the work. The teacher will become interested in what he’s saying and start talking to him about other things,” he paused, with a wry smile creeping across his face. “I’m doing it to you right now.”
Touché you idiot genius, I thought to myself. But I had knowingly humoured him, so in a sense I was still the winner.
“That explains a lot,” I said kindly. “Now sit down and be quiet for the rest of this detention!”
And so it was the medal losing, pant wetting, tale telling child continued to attempt playing me like a fiddle (but not fiddling with me for a play – as that would have been inappropriate).
He was probably just a lost soul looking for a little bit of tender loving care.
But if I ever met him again, I doubt I’d decorate him with a medallion.