The other day I ran into a girl who was in one of my old high school writing classes and who is currently working on her degree at the community college where I now teach. She greeted me enthusiastically and with a big smile. I was glad to see her too, of course, and we exchanged a few minutes’ conversation before heading in each our own direction. But I was also stunned. Was this lovely, gracious young woman the same rebellious fifteen year-old I wrote about, below, several years prior?…
She has the pouty, eye-roll routine perfected, and like a modern-day, Bartleby the Scrivener  of passive-aggressive-to-the-extreme fame, she “prefers not to” participate or do homework, explaining that she just “doesn’t see the purpose” of the writing assignments or being in my class.
I want her out by next semester.
Talks with Mom reveal difficulties at home and in other classes. While I sympathize with and encourage Mom and hope she finds a good counselor, I still need students who participate, who do the work. I do not need Attitudes.
I’m a little sorry, not to mention troubled, about my own attitude, too, because I’ve never wanted to get rid of a student before. But I can’t deny my feelings.
The sad part is that she is a decent writer. More than decent. Talented. But I can’t get to her at present. And I’m afraid her recalcitrance might infect the others.
Then today, in a prayerful moment between classes, this thought surfaced: “Don’t give up on her.” Later, the unabridged version: “Don’t give up on students with attitudes, trouble-makers—or frustrated teachers. Don’t give up on her and don’t give up on—yourself.” Well, I had to smile. Okay. We’ll figure it out. And we did—and survived the rest of the term. It started with a refresher course for me on an all-too-familiar passage: “Create in me a clean heart, oh God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10, KJV).
I had experienced the fruit of praying that Scripture many times before to soften stubbornness, reel-on rebellion, and re-focus frustration. And I’ve seen it bring about changes in other people, too.
I’ve also learned that what is impossible with man (and writing teachers) is possible with God. So it’s back to the white board—and back on the knees, this time, sans attitude. I pray my student’s negative outlook will fade, too.
We are works in progress: student, teacher—all, and in the hands of the Teachers of teachers, though it may take time, it is possible to make the grade.
- Herman Melville, Bartleby the Scrivener (sylviemheroux.wordpress.com)