Rebel with a pause

I’m lucky that way. As a teacher, I get to meet youngsters in the middle of their stories.

Sometimes, I’m fortunate enough to find my way into their stories. Sometimes I just get to listen.

So I got chatting with a youngster the other day. I don’t startle easily, but I was startled with his story. He was talking about his time in high school. While recalling his failure to pass in Grade 11, he told me breezily, “It didn’t work out for me. I didn’t work. My Maths teacher used to humiliate me all the time, it was tiring. But after the first few times, it didn’t bother me. I would get myself thrown out of class early on in order to avoid all that nagging. It was just simpler that way. So no, I didn’t clear the exam that year.”

I realised he was telling me that he had been forced to rebel to free himself from daily humiliation.

In an instant, I connected. For I remembered another young man in another city, an energetic rebel, whose friends had warned me about his defiant streak right away. “He has anger management issues,” I was told, as his class teacher, on day one. I had responded with bravery. “In that case we will get along famously, for I have the same issues,” I had replied.

And we did get along famously – after the first few months, that is. In the first few months, he tested mine and every other teacher’s tolerance limit with new ideas for disruption of class! Teenagers rebel, of course they do. No problem. The problem starts when a teenager thrives on being used as a bad example. He seemed to enjoy his notoriety.

I tried. I drew him aside and spoke to him. I scolded, requested, coaxed, cajoled. He laughed openly. I even tried the emotional pitch, begging him to think about his mother, who was called in to school every so often with complaints – I told him that surely she didn’t deserve that! Didn’t he love his mom? He scoffed. Alas, even my dramatics failed.

What finally worked was so simple, that I almost couldn’t believe it.

It happened by chance. One day, I was called urgently to class by other students because he had broken a window. Expecting a lot of blood, I ran into the class, and told him to show me his hands, ready to bundle him off to the nurse. Turns out he had been banging on the window with his ruler, his hand was fine.

And that was it. Instead of smirking at me as I had expected, he looked sheepish, and even apologised. I wouldn’t say he turned over a new leaf (that would be stretching it) but I found a shift in him after that. He was slightly more amenable to reason. He continued to fill up pages with doodling during class, but we all felt that he was sometimes listening too. I assumed that breaking the window had led him to finally realise that he should calm down… We got the window fixed. Life moved on from classes to exams to sports to concerts. As the year drew to an end, we became friendly enough to chat amiably about various things. One of the topics was adjustment to school life. Treading carefully, I broached the topic, since I was keen to know. I asked him how he had managed to turn himself round. “Well, you helped a little bit,” he grinned his famous grin. Did he mean that all my motivating talks had actually worked?

“No! I didn’t pay attention to all those lectures of yours. I used to think of designing cars in my head when you spoke to me,” he said, honest as ever.


He went on, “Remember when I broke that window? I just felt nice that you asked me about my hand before going to check the window. So I tried to give you less of a hard time.”


So that was all it took? Just basic concern for a child who might have been hurt.

P.S: Who would know that rebellion is sometimes just a soft place in the heart.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.


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