August 17, 2007

Joey's Story

That kid really got on my nerves. He wasn't malicious, but he was out-of-control and irritating. I likened him to Jim Carey and Tom Green. Outside the classroom, I suppose he was quite amusing, but when I was trying to teach the students the difference between adverb clauses and adjective clauses, his antics were not appreciated.

I tried everything with Joey. I tried reasoning with him. It wasn't fair to the other students, and he wasn't doing the best he could do either. He understood and would try to control his antics, but in the end it wasn't possible.

I tried detention. In general I don't like detention. It hardly makes an impact.

I let him and his sidekick have the last 5 minutes of class to perform for their classmates IF he could control himself during class. It only worked once or twice. Again. No control.

I gave him time-outs. At that time I taught in a classroom that exited to the outdoors and had a bank of large windows, so I could keep an eye on the student I banished outside. It served as a great way to get him out of my hair and calm him down, but he ended up spending half his freshman year standing outside the classroom.

Of course, I also called his mom. She became my new best friend. She was in no way blind to her son's uncontrollable antics. She did not excuse them and worked on the issues at home.

Sure, Joey was a lovable kid. He was friendly, and because he was so full of school spirit, he was always at school events. So, as a person, I truly held nothing against him, but the thought of having him in my class again for his sophomore year made me want to put my head through one of those windows in my classroom. There was nothing I could do, though. I was the only sophomore English teacher at my small school.

A few months into his sophomore year I called his mom, "Jan, I'm just calling to tell you that I'm going to have to strangle your son. I'm sorry. It's just the way it is."

She didn't file a lawsuit against me. Instead, we again brainstormed ways to deal with Joey and came up with something revolutionary. She knew I was the drama coach, so she thought maybe he could help out around the stage as a form of punishment. Her ulterior motives were perhaps to help him find another outlet for his antics. Although he was the class clown, he and his friends were more into athletics. However, because of his exuberant personality, he didn't balk when he had to report to drama practice. He was up for anything. It actually worked out for me because in a community where athletics reigned supreme, I was forever producing shows with a skeleton crew.

Even better, Jan's suggestion was actually a lifesaver for me, as I had lost an actor and was in need of a replacement for the upcoming show. So, Joey was compelled to pay me back for his behavior in my classroom by becoming an actor who needed to quickly learn his lines for a performance that would happen in just a few weeks.

Recipe for disaster? Hardly. Joey was a natural on the stage. He could be himself there. His over-the-top antics smothered us in my small classroom, but it fit just right on a stage in an auditorium. It's the truth. He rarely irritate me at drama practice. Even better, he came out for every play after that and became a leader in the club. He didn't even bother with athletics, except in costume as the mascot. Drama is where he belonged.

Did his behavior in my classroom improve? To some extent. I had a special bond with my drama kids. If you've ever advised or coached an extra curricular activity, you know how that works. Once he became one of my kids outside of the classroom, he tried much harder to cooperate and please me in the classroom. I know his behavior improved, but I probably also had more tolerance for him, too.

During his senior year, I agreed to to let him be my student aide. Now, that's a special bond--or a whole lot of faith--if I'm going to let the the biggest class clown I've ever known be my aide. By his senior year, he had grown up and become more serious. He was calmer in class, and he was more serious about raising his grades. He wasn't totally serious, though. It was during his senior year that he made a moving swimming pool out of the back of his El Camino--just one of his crazy kid antics.

He was at times a high maintenance aide, but I quickly found that if I kept my desk full of snacks and drinks, he would happily work his way through his tasks without disrupting my students. What gangly teenage boy have you ever known that couldn't eat every minute of the day? It was kind of a running joke between us because initially he was not thrilled with my choice of snacks for him, which included fruit, nuts, and granola bars. Hey! I don't need junk food, and a hyper kid like him didn't either! However, he finally grew to like them and proudly told his mom that I was keeping him healthy.

During his senior year, he announced that he was going to study acting in college. I was proud that during high school he had found his true passion. Of course, I consulted him about perhaps having a double major just in case he had difficulty finding employment. I also warned him that based on what he'd done in our little drama club, he had a lot to learn about theater, so he should go in prepared to be the little fish in a big pond. I wished him the most success, but I wanted to keep him grounded.

Joey was one of those student who I felt was more than a student. He was family to me. My own kid. A little brother. I've had a few students to whom I've become that close, but I can probably count them on one hand. I always consider myself a mentor, but there are those certain students when you feel like you've truly given everything you have and you clearly see the impact.

My moral or point? I don't know. I can't help but marvel at how sometimes those kids you want to send to Siberia turn out to be the ones you remember the most. The ones you miss the most, too. Sometimes it takes just the tiniest little thing to make them come around to your point of view, and you earn their respect, and they settle down enough to learn a few things.

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