Students Deserve Best We Have to Offer

Throughout my time in Peru, I have written occasional columns for The Fond du Lac Reporter, my hometown newspaper. The following piece originally appeared in the June 30, 2013 issue of the Reporter and can be found at http://www.fdlreporter.com/article/20130630/FON06/306300059/GUEST-COMMENTARY-Students-deserve-best-we-offer

My thanks to Gary Clausius and Mike Mentzer for editing these articles and helping with this project.

Parents say they do not have a favorite child, but nobody with siblings believes this. My brothers think I am the preferred son, while I feel a strong case can be made for our dog.

I do not have kids, but my time as a teacher in Peru has made me aware of favoritism. Though I would like to say I treat all my students equally, I can indicate which make work a joy and which make me want to hit my head against the whiteboard.

The golden students tend to be those who refrain from throwing pencils at their classmates.

There are, however, some lovable troublemakers. These are the kids whose mischievousness manages to be endearing. Kike (pronounced Key-Kay), a second-year student in the Fe y Alegría School where I work, falls into this group.

How does one describe Kike? Imagine a tornado disguised as a teenager. Kike rarely spends more than a few minutes at a time in front of his desk. He prefers to peruse the classroom’s aisles, occasionally stopping to kick one of his peer’s seats.

Though he is very bright, paying attention is not a forte. His participation usually consists of asking the meanings of swear words.

So why do I like him so much? The reason is simple: he has a lot of personality, which, as Samuel L. Jackson says in “Pulp Fiction,” “goes a long way.”

Kike has an unusual way of looking at the world. Once when I asked him how much Jell-O cost, he held up two fingers and announced, “One sol.”

“How do two fingers indicate one sol?” I wondered. Kike thought for a moment.

“Each finger is 50 cents.”

Kike also has a colorful — as in dark— sense of humor. One day when I asked him where his brother was, he inaccurately reported his death.

Nevertheless, he cares about others. After missing work for medical reasons, I bumped into Kike in a store. My absence had forced another volunteer, Theresa, to cover both of our classes, and she was understandably tired.

“Where have you been?” Kike asked bluntly.

“Sick.”

“When are you coming back?” he demanded.

“I don’t know,” I replied. Kike shook his head sadly.

“Theresa’s suffering,” he lamented. Never mind that he was probably giving her more grief than any other student; his concern was touching.

Recently, I learned Kike had been bullying a younger student. I was disappointed but was relieved to learn he would not be expelled. I never mastered the art of disciplining him, but an experience last year gave me some ideas.

We had an oral quiz in which students would fail if they spoke while a peer was answering a question. I knew this rule would be particularly tough for Kike, so I privately told him how critical it was that he remain quiet during the test. More importantly, I stressed my faith in his ability to do so.

Kike did not make a sound during the quiz and was arguably the best-behaved student in class that day.

In chaotic moments, it is easy for me to forget that students behaving badly are usually not acting out because of personal vendettas or major character flaws. They are adolescents, still maturing and learning what is and is not appropriate in social settings and relationships.

Moreover, many of my students have unbelievably challenging lives that make their misconduct more understandable, though not excusable. In my weaker moments, I forget this and yell. In my stronger moments, I manage to maintain the firmness many of them are already accustomed to while introducing patience they otherwise might not be getting from an adult. They do not always respond well, but sometimes, as in Kike’s case during the test, they do.

All of this is to say that whatever my failures as a teacher, I refuse to give up on any student. Especially not Kike. He is simply too fun to have around. 

With Kike after his First Communion.

With Kike after his First Communion.

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About brianharperu

A recent Marquette University graduate who inexplicably finds himself living and working as a Jesuit Volunteer in Peru, Brian enjoys writing, learning new musical instruments, imagining himself to be a better athlete than he is, eating pancakes and voting as part of his civic duty.
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