The one that got away is the nicest kid you ever want to meet.
Stood up to protect me when a parent raised his voice and puffed his chest at me once.
Would give you the shirt off his back.
Has the voice and stature of a natural born leader.
Mature beyond his years.
Most of the time.
When he’s not, however, he’s the most disrespectful, naive, ignorant, wayward, stubborn child you’ve ever encountered.
He can never be wrong, only right. He didn’t start it; they did. Didn’t say it like that. He didn’t mean it like that either. Was just joking around. Wasn’t my fault; it was she, he, it – anyone but the one who it actually is. Always.
I have eternal patience in a lot of ways. I mean, I have to, I teach kids. And I don’t quit on a project until I have completed it. Yet, I recently stopped working with a student I have mentored for nearly five years. And over those five years, I have seen the young man make such marked strides as a student and as a human.
Or so I thought.
For as much as I thought this boy had come along, I ultimately deceived myself. In trying to instill in him the desire to excel, to believe in himself that he could do it because he had everything he needed, I failed to realize that he did not want to do it. No, his interests were where so many teenagers’ interests are; that is, girls, cars, money, material (never mind that education provides you the means to get all of those). And they never changed.
Neither did the mistakes he made, whether it be answering back a male teacher who challenged him or copying an essay. Sure, as a teacher and a student, I can play ball with the idea that some teachers are, for lack of a better word, dicks. They do not know how to manage classrooms. When the kids become unruly or the situation escalates, they overreact and make it worse. They demean kids. And they bait them into responding and getting in trouble.
That absolutely happens.
And there’s little the student can do.
Just like there’s little I can do when my wife looks to incite me, or a friend tries to get me worked up, or even when some jerk shoots his mouth off on the street.
Yet, my star pupil has never been able to grasp this fundamental concept of surviving in the real world. Not every situation is a pissing contest or a fight, and neither is it always a question of right and wrong. Many times, the answer is in the compromise because very few of these issues we encounter on a daily basis violate our natural rights or our fundamental beliefs. Yet, those who stand on principle, the uncompromising and unyielding ones, become pariahs because those around them quit on them.
Because they do not get it – and, worse, will not get it – that certain issues matter and certain issues do not. In a lot of ways, this focus on the immediate without regard for the future is childish, but there comes a point where the behavior cannot be excused as a product of naivety or rough upbringing or lack of positive male role models. There comes a point where you have to throw up your hands and do what I haven’t done in a long time.
Has he been dealt a raw deal in some ways? Sure. But, then again, haven’t we all? We bury cousins and friends and grandparents, and we still have to get up in the morning. Those we love get sick and wither and eventually leave us, and we still go to work. And then there are those we want to help but can’t because they can’t help themselves. And that was the conclusion I reached before I stepped away from a kid I knew could be so much greater than he himself could even fathom.
If he just stopped trying to fool everyone.
He’ll get there, though; I do believe that.