“Miss, how long have you been teaching?” In one motion, he picks up a stool, arcs it under his body, and plunks himself down across from me. I stop eating my lunch and look up.
“More than 20 years. I’ve kind of lost count. Why?”
“Ok. So. You know how to make kids stop talking, right?” He’s taking up a lot of space – legs spread, elbows on my desk, newly-bearded chin balanced in his hands as he glares at me intently.
I’m not sure where he’s going with this line of questioning and it makes me a little nervous. He’s not an easy kid to read. He arrived at our school early last year, and his life before that was not easy. Heck, his life after that was not easy. He’s intense and funny and thoughtful, but he can be impulsive and independent well beyond what is good for him. When I taught him during that rocky first semester, I learned quickly that his questions are almost always multi-layered and that he wants real answers.
“It’s never that easy,” I tell him, and I think of some of our stand-offs in the classroom.
Some of those memories must occur to him, too, because we look hard at each other until I finally break. “Spill,” I say. “Who do you want to stop talking?”
Three ninth grade girls in the math class he’s peer tutoring are driving him crazy. “They talk all the time! They’re so rude! They don’t know what a great opportunity they have! Mr. W’s an excellent teacher.”
He’s already tried to divide and conquer. He’s figured out who’s the leader. He’s tried being nice…
-Pause here for a second-
He is a peer tutor.
He is working with 14-year-olds in a math class.
He’s seeking advice from teachers he respects because he wants to go to the classroom teacher with ideas.
He is a peer tutor.
He is helping out in a math class.
He is seeking advice from teachers.
We had a good talk, and I made a few suggestions. And I told him that the suggestions probably won’t work – who can stop three determined 9th graders from talking? – but I doubt he’ll give up.
When he left, I might have been a little teary. He’s a peer tutor. A peer tutor. I might be a little teary again right now. Sometimes teaching is the best job ever.