Letter America Dear Doctor Guy, My friend recently stopped taking my calls because I’m dating her ex-boyfriend, but they broke up like over two years ago. I don’t know what to do.—Helpless Hottie ... More
I'm a special education teacher and one of my students, a
large 4th grader with a behavior disorder and intense ADHD, is a
human motorcycle. He comes to school revved up and actually makes revving
sounds when he runs down the hallway and in and out of my classroom and in and
out of other classrooms.
He's almost as fast as a motorcycle too, and loves nothing more than the thrill of the chase, i.e, me chasing him around the school while he slams doors, kicks over trash cans or snatches books and backpacks from anyone who happens to cross his path.
The revving is a good thing because it means he's cheerful, if not exactly obedient, and the staff at my school—especially the half dozen or so teachers, assistants and specialists who work with him each day— would much rather be hearing the "Reynaldo Revv" than the hateful and angry diatribes that would otherwise issue forth from his lips. Things like "you can't tell me what to do," "I run this school," "I'll get you fired," "your wife and son must hate you," and the constant refrain of "don't get me angry or you’ll see what I can get away with," all accompanied by more curse words than the "Bullshit" episode of South Park, a show which he dearly loves, and which his overworked, overwhelmed, occasionally overdosed single mother evidently lets him watch when he pleases.
When I was a kid, this kind of behavior was absolutely unheard of and would not have been tolerated. Corporal punishment, such as a good paddling by the principal, no longer happened but our teachers (who liked to tell us how they were paddled for crimes as minor as cutting in the lunch line) were allowed to play tough when necessary. Keep leaning back in your chair and my 4th grade teacher would make you hold it above your head until you started crying. Talk back to her and she'd call you up to the front of the class, write an "x" on the chalkboard at your eye level, and whack at your heels with a yardstick while you strained on your tip toes to keep the tip of your nose on that x.
Such drastic measures kept our unruly class in line, and created conditions conducive to learning, but they would get her fired lickety split in this lawyer/“advocate”-laden day and age, especially were she to try them on a special education student. Indeed, regardless of the severity of the infraction(s), a “sped” student can only be suspended for 10 school days per year before he or she is entitled to receive instruction at home, or after school (at the school district's expense, of course). This is, overall, a good thing, for it ensures that kids with disabilities don't end up in hidden away in the school basement with the coal furnace or perpetually suspended due to behaviors that may not be entirely under their control, both of which measures were quite common not all that long ago.
So I do my best to keep the kid in school, with his peers whenever possible, ideally seated in a chair at a desk—a Herculean task that is rarely succesful for more than a few minutes despite the implementation of a well-honed rewards system that works wonders with all of my other students. Fact is, he doesn't care about earning a prize, or free time, or a mythical pizza party for himself and some friends of his choosing. He'd rather be at home; indeed, he wants nothing more than to be sent home so he might help out in the garden, roam the hills with his dog, or ride his bike down to the river for some fishing.
Despite the fact that he's learned nothing at all—zippo—this first few months of school, and almost nothing during the past five years, he's quite intelligent and inquisitive. He simply refuses to do any work, so he doesn't know any of his multiplication tables, but he can tell you all about his sheep and how to take care of them. He can't count money or tell time, but he'll cruise GoogleEarth for hours and can zero in on the family corrals in a flash. He can't sit still and won't write a sentence or take a spelling test, but he knows how to operate a backhoe and patch a flat tire. He knows that we can't control him, knows that we don't know what to do with him, and knows that catching fish and running the backhoe beats the hell out of sitting in school all day.
Last week he showed up to school without the characteristic morning REVVING. Turns out Mom got sick of the calls home from school and decided to administer one of the many medications various doctors have prescribed to him over the years. He was a zombie—no backtalk, but no spark either. He sat silently at his desk and, for the first time all year, completed a few math problems. In many ways it was a huge success: a day of school without incident, without referral, without utter craziness. But it was a sham, a Pyrrhic victory predicated upon the pharmaceutical subjugation of a highly spirited child who wants nothing more than to stay home and work on the family farm.
The first REVV sounded unexpectedly around 2:15. By 2:20, he was fidgety and went for some water, the first time he had done so all day long. By 2:43, the meds had worn off completely and the REVV was on, and he was bouncing around the room, throwing erasers and trying to steal things from my desk. I herded him outside and let him run around the playground, full speed ahead. No books. No pencils. No problems. Just a kid running and revving beneath the blue New Mexico sky.
Joe Teacher is a New Mexico educator who works at a public school somewhere north of Socorro.