Are there good teachers out there who love their jobs but who are willing to admit that sometimes they have students they hate? I am - well, I'm willing to admit it.
Let me tell you about Lonnie, the boy I love to – well, no, just the boy I hate.
If we’re all stars in our own right, Lonnie is a star that imploded on itself. He is a black hole that swallows light, intelligence and humor from anyone unfortunate to be sucked into his orbit. Other students instinctively know this and avoid him the way you would avoid certain death. In spite of the fact that I’ve never seen anyone get within an arm’s length of Lonnie, his face is perpetually squeezed into an expression of squinty bravado, and he walks with a swagger that defies reason. Those rare individuals who could find the good in even mosquitoes or brussel sprouts are immediately tested when they hear Lonnie string two words together. It isn’t what he says, though what he says is idiotic. It’s how he says it. He talks with this all-knowing, smarmy sensibility that makes any sane person want to sew their ears shut, or punch him, or both.
“Ima throw a party this weekend. It’ll be live,” he told a kid next to him. The kid shrugged, apparently uninterested. “No, for reals! Even Coach Ward said he wants to come.” (Coach Ward is the assistant soccer coach.) “But, you know, I just say to him, I think about it.” He tipped his chair back smugly, to show he’s in control. The kid, Zachariah, looked at him for a minute, and turned away with no response, which was appropriate. What could he say? Lonnie then turned to me as I walked past.
“Don’t you wish you could come to my party, Ms. Marlowe? I bet when you see the pics you wish you was.”
I opened my mouth to respond with a witty rejoinder about his grammar, but luckily, Leslie, who sat on the other side of Lonnie, said, “Boy, ain’t nobody going to YOUR party. You ain’t even on the soccer team. Like Coach would ever!” I offered a silent prayer of gratitude for Leslie saving me from having to engage with Lonnie beyond what I’m contractually obligated to as his teacher and tried to keep a straight face as I told Lonnie to put his chair down.
If I ask the students a question and someone answers incorrectly, Lonnie always audibly says, “Stupid!” But Lonnie never has the correct answer either. When someone else points out he’s wrong, he scoffs and says, “I know what I’m saying, maybe you don’t know what YOU’RE saying!” or “I don’t gotta answer right, cause I already know I’m smart!”
His rude and self-aggrandizing comments aren't the only reasons why I don’t like Lonnie; they’re just supporting evidence. The main reason I don’t like Lonnie is because he’s lazy and a liar. This kid currently has a 14 average in my class. I never imagined anyone could earn such a low grade. The lowest performing kids typically put in enough effort to make at least a 50, and those who don’t care enough to work very hard will usually do something. But Lonnie seems to be actively WORKING to fail. If he has to pass an exam or assignment to move on to the next grade, he cheats. I learned that while he was in middle school he cheated on state exams by copying answers from someone near him. In my own class, I regularly catch him stealing other students’ papers and putting his name on them. To keep him honest on a diagnostic exam, I made him sit with the student teacher; since he couldn’t cheat, he just refused to answer anything.
Trying to work with Lonnie to identify what he doesn’t understand is useless, because he won’t cooperate. He writes down nonsense answers if he answers at all. When asked to point out which part of the sentence was the predicate, he put “the part with words.” When we reviewed Greek and Latin roots, he said that “pro” means “somon legit.” That’s right; he misspelled “someone.” If asked why he won’t complete any work, he’ll grandly wave his hand and tell you “this is so pointless, you know? This stuff isn’t FOR REAL.”
The first time I heard this response, I nodded sympathetically. “Yes, I can see that authenticity is pretty important to you.”
Lonnie cocked his head to the side for a second, with his trademark squint, then said loudly, “Naw, miss, I’m just FOR REALS, you know? I’m not about that city. This stuff won’t teach me nothing.”
City? What on earth was he talking about? It took Chandra yelling from across the room, “Lonnie, you’re too stupid for words!” for me to understand what he had said. Apparently, in Lonnie’s world of posturing and denial, Authenti City is a very real place.