The Blackboard Jungle

days spent beating back the seeds of doubt

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

I've spoken of Lawrence and his unpredictable, sub sentient misbehaviour on several occasions.

The one thing I can use to bribe Lawrence is playing speed rally games on the class computer. Not in class - he mimics epileptic fits for two hours if he's not allwed on the computer in a lesson - but after school.

The other children are as repelled by Lawrence's gummy grin of idiocy as the staff, and his repeated erratic, uncontrollable swearing, farting, cussing, dancing ensure he's banned from most shared areas of the school - homework clubs, computer clubs, library - they've all finally hit their limit and closed the door.

You can't help but feel sorry for him, even as he drives you wild: by throwing raisins at you, 'punishing' you for asking him not to scream swear words, or spinning crazily around the class throwing shaken cola at other students.
Ask him about fairness or politeness, and he literally does not understand the concepts. Ask him why I threw him out of the room when all he had done was start a fist fight, or scream cuss words in a high pitched voice for fifteen minutes, and the only possible answer is 'because Miss L is a bitch'. He's quite literally not cognisant of his own behaviour.

Fat lot of good that is for the victims who are forced to share a classroom with him.

But still. He's a child.

A sixteen year old, thirteen stone, six foot child who is isolated. Still.

So when Lawrence asked if he might play on the computer for a spell after school, I saw my opportunity for a quiet life broaden.
I agreed, on condition that when asked to do something, he did not fight loudly or make a fuss for more than five minutes maximum.
That may sound easy to you. You don't know Lawrence. Since September, he's achieved this feat of moral rectitude precisely twice.
Today he achieved the impossible, and won himself twenty minutes of playtime after school.

Sitting close by as I drew up a list of student reports, I listened to Lawrence swearing under his breath rapidly. I threatened to switch the computer off if I had to listen to any more. The attention prompted his venality to fizz into overdrive. He swore ever faster, trying to get my attention. Stole my bag in an attempt to ward off the impending disconnection. I tried to ignore it. Tried.
We compromised on the words 'shoot' and 'crap'.

Eventually it was time to go. I reminded Lawrence that if he shut down the programme without moaning and shouting, or becoming angry, he was much more likely to get to use it again. He threw smarties at my head, but giggled, happily, and did as instructed with only a little direct address in the vulgar mode.

As I packed up the room and waited for him to pull on massive padded jacket and heft his way to the door, Lawrence reminded me of a threat I often use on remedial classes. The Hug Reflex.
The Hug Reflex.

I explain to kids immobilised by furious indignation that if they misbehave, I'm going to hug them. That I'm a very lonely old lady with no dignity left, and I'm quite frankly desperate. Therefore, if they continue to misbehave in front of me, I have no choice but to guess that really, underneath the angry face, they're saying something different - they're asking me to hug them.

Finishing with the matter of fact statement that, frankly, it'd be quicker for all of us if they cut short the tantrum, and just said: 'Miss, I need a hug'.

It's usually met with giggles or breaks a tense, sulky mood. If not, a few further remarks succeed; thank the reprobate in question for the flowers last weekend, or mention how nice it is to see they spend their Sundays helping old ladies across the road for a penny.

Once - just once - I couldn't get beyond the kid's fury, and had to actually give Courtney a hug.

News spread fast; I've never since needed do more than open my arms threateningly while wearing a dopey smile.
Lawrence calls my attention back to the threat, as he bundled up his things. "You know when you threaten to hug Wes if he's not a good boy?"
Wes's always a good boy, I snap, impatient to get out of there. Pelted with smarties is not the best way to end the day.
"Well, if you was to do that to me, ever, I wouldn't mind." Lawrence lurched through the doorway, heading off home.
"In fact I'd quite like it."

You see, it's not just that some days they surprise you.

"I'd quite like a hug you know."
That - right there - is the group identity of students at my school.

Naughtier than anyone could imagine there being a point to, and all of it done for just one dominating reason: attention.

A hug.

I threw a halfhearted smartie at his retreating back and gently closed the door.