The fifteenth kid I hated had a misspelt name.
Names can be spelt whichever which way people prefer, one would suppose. But you know the sort of names that everyone spells one way and then some chump parent decides to reinvent the wheel and add an extra vowel, replace an ‘i’ with a ‘y’ or spell the entire thing backwards. This child had one of those names. He won’t be named here, but it was similar to when ‘Geoffrey’ is spelt ‘Jeffrey’; or ‘Ashley’ is spelt ‘Ashleigh’; or ‘Sam’ is spelt ‘Psam’; or ‘Polly’ is spelt ‘Potato’.
Long story short, his name had been incorrectly constructed. If it had been spelt correctly it would have been close in meaning to ‘doing the right thing for the greater good’. Unfortunately this was not reflected in the child’s personality.
At first glance, he was a very charming child. All smiles and “how are you sir?”, “what can I do to help sir?” etc. He participated in class discussions and completed most of his work efficiently. Perhaps he was too smart for the other students or had some attention deficit. Either way, the pleasantries soon started to change in tone. They didn’t disappear. But there appeared to be a cunning flicker behind the fire in his eyes.
He was a Year Eight student, which at the time meant it was his first year at high school. He was exuding a particular over-confidence which was perhaps to intimidate his peers. While his contemporaries looked like deer in the headlights, he began to strut around as though he was Riff from West Side Story. He was the ‘the Fonz’ of Year 8. The boys steered clear of him and the girls swooned.
And then there was all the weird stuff where I assume he was trying to find his true self. For example he painted his finger nails and wore eyeliner. Also the more the girls swooned, the more camp he became, which did not seem to deter them in the slightest. Additionally, this was all happening around the time Hug a Ginger Day, National Kick a Ranga Day and Say Sorry to a Ranga Day was becoming a big thing (it is still a big thing, right?). So life was confusing. So confusing he dyed his hair jet black.
But chameleon tendencies were merely a mask for his thinly veiled contempt for the system. As he became more and more preoccupied with his vanity, he became less and less occupied with the task at hand. The quality of his work began to slip. His attitude towards anyone who wasn’t a female 13-year-old, became loathsome. It was all eye-rolling, slouched shoulders and foot dragging.
When I confronted him on his manners, that’s when things would escalate. He’d get his usual warnings. Then it would be a move to an isolated desk at the front of the room. Sometimes the desk was moved into the hallway. He’d usually be asked to move the chair, which would result in a lot of banging and clanging, while he made sure the chair ricocheted off every hard piece of furniture in his path.
It was the real, “I don’t care what you do to me, because everybody hates me,” attitude.
I suppose he was, what someone from the mid-noughties may have called, an ‘Emo’ (emotional human being). I don’t know what name these characters go by currently.
Placing a agitated bald eagle in a cardboard box would have been easier than trying to get this child to work. I tried all sorts; complimenting him on his dubious appearance; scolding him about his attitude; commending him on his insightful arguments; giving him the death whisper when he spoke out of turn. Nothing was working.
Most other staff had trouble with him, too. He had trouble with himself. The world was against him. There was a chip on his shoulder threatening to tear through the cheap fabric of the tight-fitting T-shirts he presumably wore on weekends. If he wasn’t looking into a mirror, he was looking out of one wondering why everyone surrounding him enjoyed life and didn’t reflect the melancholy vibes back to him. Basically it was your usual run-of-the-mill teen angst, but with skinny jeans and a misshapen haircut.
His moaning defiant self-awareness haunted my dreams. He was the child who was getting under my skin. Maybe it was because I had seen his full potential in the first instance, and was upset about his decline in attitude. More likely it was the constant distraction and disruption he was causing to the classroom as his fashion sense became more outrageous and his attention seeking quips about everything from politics to narrative plot structure became the entire focus of the class. I wondered whether things would have been different had his parents given him a sensible name like ‘John’.
I was losing control. All because of one puny post-punk.
The inevitable outcome is a bit blurry. I think eventually I went for the old fashioned trick of turning some of the other students against him, so he’d pull into line. There was still a select bunch he would listen to.
It was early days for my teaching though. I’m getting better at spotting these characters; the ones who begin high school looking like they’re out of a Pumpkin Patch catalogue, then three months later look as though they’ve been kicked out of a Lady Gaga concert, with an attitude to match Justin Bieber’s pet monkey.
If I had my time again I’d probably be more compassionate to the child’s self-pity and provide better boundaries. But if we met again, I doubt I’d swap Fall Out Boy albums with him.