Kid #4 – Calming your farm

The fourth kid I hated had two weeks left when I met him. Two weeks left of school. Not two weeks left to live.

He supposedly had a mechanic’s apprenticeship in the works. Until then, the law of the land stated this 16 year-old needed to be in school until some form of employment that offered training was available. The difficulty for him was that he couldn’t organise his way out of a cardboard box, so it was taking a while to arrange his exit to the garage.

He was cocky and arrogant. He didn’t cut his hair. His pants hung around his knees. He probably smelled. He was hiding his incompetence behind his bravado.

The other children in the class saw him as a hero and a nuisance and would often join in the general defiance and disruption. But on the days he was absent they would say things to me like, “Aren’t you glad he’s not here?” or “Don’t you wish he would just leave?”. This of course gave little solace as the fear brewed waiting for the delinquent’s return the following day.

He enjoyed a bit of nose-to-nose intimidation with staff members. It was always hard to decide whether to respond with an aggressive Eskimo kiss (sic Inuit kiss); or a UFC head butt. Choosing neither I would quietly ask him to return to his seat. He did not like the passive approach and would reply with the usual, “Make me,” or turn to the class and say, “Look at this guy. He can’t even control the class”. The shouting approach was equally futile as he would claim, “You can’t speak to me like that,” or “Calm your farm” (a phrase that to this day curdles my blood – due to its illogical nature. I understand the calm bit, but what was the farm referring to? Was the class the farm? If so that didn’t make sense, because it was already calm except for this certain individual; Was my mood the farm? That didn’t make sense either because how could one emotion of anger be a metaphor for a collection of dairy and wool producing livestock; or was the farm referring to an actual farm? A farm I had subconsciously purchased the deeds for and now blocked from my mind and financial records).

The metaphorical farm was finally calmed when this child managed to get his apprenticeship approved. Or perhaps he became a truant. I didn’t care to know.

Often in these circumstances teaching staff may feel a sense of having failed the child in that final transition stage from child to man child.

I felt relief.

I don’t doubt life was hard for this vestigial over-indulged teenage foetus, but if we met again I doubt I’d pay for him to service my car.

Nobody likes a bully. Not even bullies.

If the bully bullies, who is bullying the bully?

It’s the age old question that provides little comfort to children.

When we’re bullied as a child or adult, we are led to believe that the bullying is a by-product of that person’s own insecurity. But it’s very hard to overcome this and be the bigger person. Often the bully is playing on our own insecurities and more often than not we walk away with our self-esteem dented and a desire for vengeance.

It’s hard enough for us adults to address bullies with empathy, sympathy or pity; let alone to expect children to do the same with their oppressors.

Whenever I was bullied as a child I tended to violently dislike those children who treated me with contempt. I was told these children were probably victims of bullying and had other issues that meant they were taking their frustrations out on me. This didn’t make me like them more; and further to this point many of them, to my knowledge, grew to be abhorrent adults. Or maybe I’m just good at holding a grudge.

Is it possible to say then that some people, whether they are a child or adult, are horrible people from whoa to go?

Whether you’re a kid hating a kid or an adult hating a kid, perhaps it’s due to an inherit personality defect of the target of your hatred. Not a lack of empathy on your own part.

Kid #3

The third kid I hated was a curly-haired greasy-faced racist who once exited halfway through an English class to walk forty minutes through the 40 degree Australian heat to his family home that was locked because everyone was out.

I disliked this 15 year-old mostly because of his stupidity and Palaeolithic form of communication with his fellow human.

But most of all it was the generic racism he applied towards the indigenous population of his country. If you want to see an example of how racism is different to educated opinion, grab yourself a pubescent fool from your nearest redneck backwater.

It was upon screening the film Jindabyne to a Year 10 English class that the racism, of him and his peers, came to the fore. Jindabyne is about the fallout from a community dealing with the murder of an Aboriginal girl and the discovery of her body.

The main thing the student buffoon and his comrades took from the film was that “Aborigines are dole bludging alcoholics who hang out in parks” – albeit none of the characters in the film bludged the dole nor drank any beverages in public reserves. So clearly these visions of the indigenous race had come from the teens’ bigoted parents.

I combatted this racism by pointing out that a number of their peers were Aboriginal or of foreign background; thus at the least they were being short sighted about their own associates. This fell on deaf ears so I brought in the school’s Aboriginal Education Officer to speak with them. This was a man they respected and loved. So of course their racism cooled off when they were put in this situation. They were no longer so prepared to blow off with their small minded views. I enjoyed watching them squirm as hopefully they realised their racist remarks were ill found.

Despite this calming of the situation and hopefully a refocused approach to the discussions surrounding race in the English lessons, I was still loath to spend time in the same space as this child. Nothing gets my blood boiling more than blind racism from a youth or adult alike. The boy and his mates had seen it got my blood boiling and had deliberately gone out of their way to drop racist remarks, which led me to be so frustrated with them.

Thankfully with the help of the Aboriginal Education Officer the situation between myself and this blockheaded teenager became diffused, but if we met again I doubt I’d share my Valentine’s chocolates with him.

Kid #2

The second kid I hated was an overweight teenage girl with body image issues and a personality complex. She was also a bully; A bully to students and staff a like.

One morning lining up for class she announced to another classmate the following, “Did you watch Desperate Housewives last night?”.

She then shot a sideways glance at me. What may appear to be an innocuous statement to most, seemed to be a loaded statement to a committed Desperate Housewives fan like myself.

This was then followed up by another comment, “Did your dad cut your hair?”.

The second statement, not directed at anyone particular, was clearly a reference to my hair (which had in fact been cut by my father), and more to the point was a reference to a Facebook fan page, one of my friends had set up as an ironic joke. Unfortunately teenagers don’t do irony particularly well.

Thus was the end of my Facebook fanpage – which I immediately request be shut down – and the beginning of a long riding standoff between myself and this monstrosity of a child. Every single comment she made was vile. Every request to do work was meant with contempt and vitriol. The girl would wallow in misery and every attempt at positivity by her friends was beaten down with a foul look or a snide remark about their family or face.

Unfortunately there was no redeeming feature about this child. The school management were not interested in bringing her into line. She never completed any classwork. She never smiled without malicious contempt. She really was quite hateful.

The biggest difficulty was that her twin brother was wheelchair bound and by all accounts terminally ill. The one time he turned up to school he appeared to be as hateful as her. How many exceptions should be made for children in this position?

Some I’m sure. But everyone at the time seemed to sidestep the issue. If I had my time again I’d address the elephant in the room head on and request the necessary counseling and support be put in place for her and her truanting brother.

When the people we love are gone, we are still here. She was being a short sighted teenager and her grief probably cost her an education.

But if we met again I doubt I would share a cheeseburger with her.

Expectation to love

There are lots of kids I love. But as adults we may feel forced to love all kids, because they are defenceless, innocent and small. Sometimes we are quick to pass off misbehaviours as a by-product of being a juvenile.

We say things like:

“Well he/she’s only a child.”

or “They’ll grow out of it.”

or “He/she doesn’t know how to express herself.”

or “They’re acting like that to get attention.”

or “Boys will be boys.” (which seems to state the obvious. It would make little sense to say “Boys will be turnips” as this is wholly untrue and a defiance of physics if it were).

For the most part childhood carries with it certain innocence for many. But what if some of these children are deliberately and systematically trying to unravel the highly fragile social structures us adults have been working to build over a number of centuries?

From a young age the majority of children establish an understanding of ‘right and wrong’. There is a conscious decision to choose wrong. We remember, from our own childhood, times we consciously chose to do wrong. We remember other children who consciously chose to do wrong. And we did not like them for this. And maybe we even hated them (which, in itself, is not a very nice thing to do). So as adults, is it still ok to dislike a child at a human level, even if our position in society requires otherwise?

Kid #1

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.