Jim, or Jimbo as I nicknamed him, was a lot like a ferret, after consuming a gallon of nicotine-lace Red Bull. He was everywhere all at once, dancing around the classroom, rummaging through my desk, the king of the overzealous nuisance. We had spent eight months together, one period a day, five days a week, before I had had enough.
He was smarter than his classmates. He could read, sound out new words, and understand the difference between is and are, something many of the native-speaking English teachers at his school were challenged with. His hand was the first to be raised. It was his voice that called out, “Teacher! Teacher!” when his written work was complete. He was smart, but he was the proverbial handful.
My first term teaching I yelled a great deal. I had the attitude that many new teachers do: I came all the way from Canada, these students should be thankful and respectful of my great sacrifice. I had yet to learn it was my attitude that had to change, not theirs. They were children, and kids will be kids. After I realized I had to think like them, not the other way around, my job became much easier.
It was a kinder, gentler Stevo that knelt down next to Jim that morning. I had sent him to a seat at the back of the class. When his mates were busy with a written exercise I approached his temporary desk. I looked him in the eye and said quietly, “You have to be quiet.” I put my finger to my lips.
He was subdued and nodded his agreement.
“Do you want me to call your mother?” I lifted an imaginary phone to my ear. That and mother would be enough of a threat to keep him in his seat the rest of the week. I didn’t yell, I talked in a quiet, understanding voice, the opposite of my boisterous classroom demeanor.
“Teacher,” said Jim, “No mother.”
The only sound was the breaking of my heart. Stupid, oafish Stevo. I understood why he was misbehaving, why he sought my every ounce of attention. Was she dead? Had she left? I never found out. My dastardly threat ended with me wanting to throw my arms around the Grade 3 boy and apologize for my stupidity and the dose of real-life he had been force-fed.
I still use “The Mother” threat, but more in jest. Sometimes attempted solutions hurt more than the problems.