I spent a year teaching in an upper tier private school in Lima, Peru. The purpose of this school was for the parents to show off their shiny new SUVs to each other, and prepare their kids for careers in professional soccer. My job was to teach them to speak English by whatever means necessary.
For the most part, the kids were sweet. However, there was one hyperactive little jerk named Alejandro who couldn’t be restrained. The kid bounced off the wall like Hydrogen atoms in a chemical reaction.
“Alejandro! Sit down!”
By the third time I yelled it, he’d kind of walk/dance over to his desk grinning at me like the Fonz.
“Ok, Ok, teacher.”
Finally, I had enough, being South of the border, I used a tactic that I knew I couldn’t get away with state side. Next to Alejandro sat Jorge. Jorge was a giant, easily three times taller and wider than any other student in the class. Plus, his grades were very important to him. He tried hard and only failed when he got distracted by Alejandro
“Jorge,” I said.
Jorge looked at me, “Yes teacher?”
“From now on when Alejandro starts making noise, I’m going to take points off your grade!”
“What?” Alejandro said.
“Shut up!” Jorge replied, punching Alejandro in the chest.
“Nice work Jorge,” I said, “that’s a point of extra credit.”
Alejandro looked at me like the world was unfair. The world is unfair Alejandro, that lesson is for free.
Okay, I admit it, I didn’t really allow Jorge to beat up Alejandro…but I thought about it.
Eventually I figured out some practical tactics for maintaining order.
“Ok class, stand up!”
“Because you’re all going to do 10 jumping jacks! Count with me, one…two…three…”
We did this every fifteen minutes. The rest of the time Alejandro sat with his leg pumping like a piston.
After a few weeks went by, I started to notice something. Alejandro did actually try to behave, he just couldn’t. He literally couldn’t. You’d see him sit there, trying to pay attention, but it would be like he was in pain. As the seconds ticked off, the pain would grow, little by little, until he started to squirm and grimace and eventually he had to burst.
“Alejandro, can’t you sit still and be quiet?”
“No teacher, I can’t!” and though the rest of the class laughed, you could tell there was real frustration in the kid’s voice. “I seriously can’t!”
“Ok, you can do some push ups.”
So he’d drop and do push ups and then he’d be placated enough to copy a couple lines into his notebook.
Tests were the worst. The silence, the hard work, it drove poor Alejandro mad. He couldn’t take it and would start howling until I put him out in the hall. Eventually on test day, he’d just grab his desk and go outside.
“Teacher, I can’t be quiet, I just can’t!”
More push ups, more jumping jacks.
I tried having class outside, but the administrators shut that down.
“You’re just playing outside!”
“No, I need to give Alejandro a chance to run every 10 minutes or he goes nuts.”
You’re ridiculous! I said internally, but I kept my classes inside.
Alejandro kept doing his push ups and his jumping jacks, and bit by bit he calmed. Three months later, he was almost stable. Perhaps he had just hit a chemical bad patch in that 12–13 hormonal growth spurt.
He wasn’t a good student by any means, but he did some work, and by the end of the year he had improved a little. The parents were happy and I didn’t lose my job.
On the last day of school, I said good-bye to all the students.
“It’s been an honor teaching you,” I said. My gaze drifted over to Alejandro. Except you Alejandro, you’ve been a giant pain in the butt!
Alejandro noticed me looking at him and spontaneously jumped from his seat. He ran to the front of the room and embraced me. This time the class didn’t laugh.
“I’ll miss you so much teacher!” Alejandro said.
I ruffled his hair and shook my head. A whole year and it wasn’t until the last day that I figured him out.
“I’ll miss you too Alejandro,” I replied. I meant it, and I do.