Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Dog and a Boy

I was sitting at a traffic light yesterday and saw a boy sitting under a tree with a dog.  The dog reminded me of a picture I'd seen of a stray dog a friend has fallen in love with.  The boy reminded me of a former student.  I kept looking at the pair until the light turned green, staring as I passed by.  Seeing them got me thinking about my friend's dog, my former student, and what they might have in common.

The stray, ears in tatters, teeth missing, and a few other signs of a rough life I can't quite remember, has not yet surrendered to the kindness of my friend.  My student never fully surrendered to mine, either.

My student say the least, but I absolutely adored him.  He did his best to push my buttons, sometimes succeeding, and yet I was and still am so glad he graced my classroom with his presence.  He was one of the kids I taught two years in a row and he (and probably many other people) might be surprised that I would use a phrase like "graced my classroom with his presence" in reference to him.  When he chose to engage (as opposed to simply checking out) in class, he was often abrasive and offensive, sometimes disdainful, and could get under the skin of his classmates if he chose to.  He and I had a number of...interesting...dialogues on paper...when he chose to do my assignments.  He often challenged what I said in class and I'm pretty sure he did it for the sheer sake of arguing, rather than (at least in some cases) because he actually believed what he was writing or saying. A skeptic for sure.  Thankfully, I was up for the challenge.  I like having skeptics in my class because they help me to step up my own game and articulate my points better than I would if I had a class of complacent unquestioning kids. Thankfully, I've never had a class of all complacent unquestioning kids.

I am reading The Hunger Games right now. The stray and my student remind me of Katniss at the beginning of the novel as she tries to figure out why Peeta is being kind to her.  She says, "Kind people have a way of working their way inside me and rooting there.  And I can't let Peeta do this."  Given the scars and pieces of flesh missing from the dog, I'd venture to say the dog might take some time to accept the kindness of my friend, to let it root.  Accepting kindness leads to vulnerability.  Vulnerability is a luxury, one the streetwise, whether they be dogs or people, cannot easily afford.

My kindness, though I'm not even sure I can call it that, was something my student didn't want to let root.  I think he interpreted my tolerance of him, my reaching out to him, my refusal to give up on him, as weakness.  I suppose his interpretation was correct.  I allowed myself to care for him, knowing full well that I probably wouldn't receive much back. Caring for a kid like that can sometimes hurt.  I tried to hold him accountable, to ask for the best he had.  He didn't give it to me.  He was a smart kid.  That was obvious when he chose to speak up.  Of course, he bragged about how good he was at manipulating me.  He failed my class, so I guess he didn't manipulate a passing grade out of me...  When I read his final exam, I saw him let down his guard a little, maybe because he knew we wouldn't see each other again, when he admitted, "The only truthful answer there is is that I’m still not sure about anything I believe."  Not an admission made by the tough and impermeable.  Maybe my kindness seeped in just a little...

My friend has been giving food to the stray, trying to win him over, trying to plant a seed of kindness. I hope he'll succeed.  I haven't seen my student since he was last in my classroom a year or so ago.  I'm not sure what or how he's doing now, but I think about him a lot.  I hope someone has been patiently feeding him love and confidence, helping him to figure out what he believes. I hope some kind person has worked through his tough exterior, gotten inside, and taken root. 

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