From the first day of school, Helen had been a most difficult student going out of her way to be disagreeable and unlikable. Her parents, clearly in prolonged denial, justified all her behavior through her casual ADHD diagnosis and her intolerance for all prescribed medications. The kids liked her enough, mainly because she disrupted class and ripped stealthily-rude comments under her breath, giggling constantly as she entertained her audience and mostly, herself. She also happened to be overweight and well…round. No where was there an angle on her person. Her cheeks puffed around a bulbous nose and pouty mouth complete with braces. Ok, OK! Maybe some of it could be that ever-present nemesis of self-esteem issues, but the excuses had been so prolific since her 6th year of life, it just became part of her modus operandi for which she was notorious.
It was her freshman year, a new school, a new life, a new set of teachers to torture and, as luck would have it – she got me! After giving this darling dumpling, not one but two workbooks, she failed to produce either for homework claiming aloud, “ My dog ripped apart the second one and I can’t find the first one and I don’t care about this class and neither does my mother.” Week one and endearment is nowhere in sight!
Meetings, disciplinary actions, private “talking to’s” – even parental convocation with internet comuniqués and an “all teacher” and administrators meeting left Helen just the same as before. Oh, maybe things would be toned down a bit for a short time, but very soon, she would be gearing up again, completely self-satisfied to insult and carry-on, her business as usual.
Friday, we played “Jeopardy”. I had spent a good amount of time creating all Jeopardy boards on Powerpoint to be projected for the class on the Proxima overhead system. Not a complete master, but somewhat proficient, I can whip up a Jeopardy game in a little over ½ hour of free time. Teams picked, Helen sat with her friends and talked, whispered, giggled, anything BUT play the game. Included on her team was Lisa; a pretty girl who valued popularity all too much while struggling with reading and learning disabilities. Helen’s talking and giggling made reviewing that much more difficult for Lisa, even with the games. But the saddest part of the problem was Lisa’s irreverent absorption in her entertainment to understand just how far behind she was.
At the end of class, I stopped them both. I felt sorry for Lisa, but knew that Helen did know better. I would have normally avoided speaking to Helen, as one one avoid walking into the Everglades at dusk, but today, I felt Lisa’s innocent ignorance and vulnerability should be illuminated.
“If you were a true friend,” I chided, “you would help her succeed rather than help her fail.” They both stopped still.
“You mean I’m not doing good?” Lisa searched my eyes for an answer. “I had to raise your grade to get a 60,” I quietly confirmed. Helen softly stared at her friend with a combination of realization, guilt, pity and sadness.
“I’m sorry,” Helen whispered. And of one brief moment, I saw through the obnoxious façade of a totally unaware child whose evolution into adolescence was harsh and abrasive, leaving nothing but the raw truth of how painful growing up can be. For just a brief instant, I felt that sliver of hope in Helen’s gaze. Just possibly, with lots of work, miracles and reinforcement, Helen would be the teacher who reaches Lisa this year, instead of me.