I returned to work today after a very enjoyable three day weekend. I hadn’t been in my office long when I received a call from a frantic parent who asked if I could please speak to her 11th grade, seventeen year old son. She said she was having a real problem with him and didn’t know what to do. His father had gone to Mexico in mid October to help care for his sick mother and she had no idea when he would be returning. She said the boy was taking advantage of his father’s absence and she already had her hands full with three other younger children in the house. He was, as she put it, ‘out of control,’ sneaking around, coming in at all hours of the night smelling of alcohol and she was pretty sure he was doing drugs. I tried to reassure her and asked if there were any other family members she could reach out to, an uncle perhaps. There was no one. The rest of her husband’s family were in Mexico and her family was in Texas. I told her I’d call him in right away.
The first call slip I sent was brought back. The student wasn’t in class. I checked his attendance and found that he had been missing a lot of school long before his dad had left. I also checked his grades. He was failing everything except PE. He was already behind in credits and if his current grades hold which I’m sure they will, he’ll fall another 25 credits back, putting him nearly a year behind.
I sent for him again during second period and surprise! He was there. I knew as soon as he arrived that we had a problem. Students will usually wait at my office door until I invite them in, this kid strolled right in and was about to sit down when I asked if he’d signed in, (standard operating procedure when visiting your counselor.) Without answering he did an about face and went back to the counter to sign in. I watched him standing there. He was your typical skater type, dressed in baggy jeans, sagging several inches down his rear, exposing a large expanse of underwear. Blue loose fitting Bilabong tee-shirt, black vans and a beanie, which he should have taken off when he entered the guidance office but didn’t. His body language screamed ‘attitude’!
He strutted back into my office and slouched into a chair. I turned to face him and asked him to remove the beanie. He did so reluctantly and sulked. As we sat there in silence for a moment, I couldn’t help but notice his bloodshot eyes, the small ring that pierced his bottom lip and the small holes above his eyebrow. I was trying to decide what kind of jewelry he wore there when he finally spoke up and asked if his mom had called.
“Why would she?” I asked.
“Well, why else would I be here.” he said sarcastically.
I turned to the computer screen and pulled up his file. “Let’s see, I teased, you could be here because of your attendance problem or possibly your 5 F’s or maybe it’s your low credits,” I turned and looked back at him, “or it might even be your terrific attitude.”
He sat quietly eyeballing me for a moment then said, “ She told me this morning she was gonna call.”
“Is that why you decided to show up today?” I asked.
“Maybe.” he smirked and slouched even lower.
I bit my tongue to hold back the ‘smart ass’ that was about to jump from my lips. One of my former bosses once told me he was going to die of tongue cancer for all the times he’d had to bite his during conferences with students and parents. I knew exactly what he meant.
“Okay, I finally said, your mom called, why don’t you just tell me what’s up?”
Sometimes getting kids to open up is like pulling teeth, but this kid must have liked the sound of his own voice, once he got started he wouldn’t stop. We actually went on to have quite a conversation. He was pretty much a realist. He knew he was blowing it, and he knew there’d be hell to pay when his dad got back from Mexico, but he said his dad ran the house like a penitentiary (his word), so for now he was going to enjoy his new found freedom.I told him his mom was really concerned. He rolled his eyes and angrily told me that she was his step mom, his real mom had left when he was seven. I asked him about his real mom but he didn’t want to go there, lots of anger. We moved on to his relationship with his step mom. He had a lot to say about her, all negative. To him she was an intruder, it was obvious he had absolutely no respect for her. When I asked him about drugs he readily admitted to smoking pot a few times, but said he didn’t really care for it. His drug of choice was alcohol, more specifically vodka.
As for school and graduation, he could care less. He had no expectation of receiving a diploma. He was just biding his time until he was 18 then he was going to quit school, get his GED and get a job. I tried to talk to him about the importance of getting an education, but he wasn’t listening. He’d already made up his mind. I tried talking to him about the possibility of getting some outside counseling, but of course he said he didn’t need it. His step mom definitely, maybe his dad, but not him, no way.
I was spinning my wheels and I knew it. I was frustrated, but there was no way I wanted him to know that. I sent him back to class with the promise of keeping an eye on him and visiting with him again the following week. He got up, adjusted his pants and turned to leave. On his way out he gave me a knowing glance, smirked and went on his way.
After he was gone I sat there thinking about our little chat. I hate when a student conference goes nowhere. The kid was like so many others who think they have all the answers. It’s their way or no way! They remind me so much of myself at that age. Yeah, and like me, they refuse to listen and insist on learning things the hard way. I sure wish I could change that for them, even just a little.The student may have won round one today, but we have a few rounds left to go. Like John Paul Jones said when faced with surrender to the British, “I have just begun to fight!”