A Better Understanding

Eric reluctantly walked into Mr. Walker’s class.

“I’m glad you decided to stay for detention instead of making it worse,” Mr. Walker said, looking up from his desk.  Eric walked past his seat in the front row to the back of the room and sat down, not responding.  Mr. Walker looked at Eric, as if to say something, but he went back to working on his papers.

“Well, I’m here,” Eric said, throwing his hands up.  “You won.  Give me some work or something.”

Mr. Walker put his pen down, picked up a stack of papers on his desk, and stood up.  “I’m just trying to help you, Eric.  It’s not my…”

“Look, I don’t need your help,” Eric said defensively.

Year after year, school after school, teacher after teacher, that’s all he was…someone that needed help.  Another project.  Another young man from the streets that some stuck up, well bred, college educated teacher could help in order to make themselves feel better over dinner conversations with their friends.  Only four weeks into school and Eric had already been suspended once for fighting and a handful of detentions for tardies and mouthing off.

Eric knew he had problems.  They were his problems.   He didn’t need anybody to fix him.  He didn’t want anybody to try.

Mr. Walker stopped at the front of the row.  “Look, Eric.  I’m not sure why you went off today in my class.  I didn’t push Vice-Principal Harmon to give you a suspension, cause missing school doesn’t do you any good.  I think you are capable of the work.  I just want to try and understand a little more what I can do…”

“You don’t need to understand anything,” Eric snapped.  “All you need to do is give me my work and leave me alone.”

Mr. Walker looked, again, like he wanted to say something.  It seemed Mr. Walker always wanted to say something.  Like there was something on his mind that he needed to share with Eric, but never did.

Just give me the stupid work, Mr. Walker.  Don’t try to figure me out.  You don’t know me.  You don’t know nothing about me.

Mr. Walker took off his glasses, wiped them on the back of his tie and put them back on.

Don’t say anything else Mr. Walker.  Just let me be.

“Look Eric, I just…”

“Damn it, man,” Eric said, standing, pushing the desk aside and starting down the row.  “Why can’t you just let me be.  I told you, I don’t need your help and I don’t want your help.”.

Mr. Walker stood his ground at the end of the row, but made room so Eric could pass.

“I can’t let you be Eric, because I care.  Why is that so hard for you to believe?” Mr. Walker asked.  Eric felt a hint of sincerity, but his anger let it slide.

“Ain’t no way you have any clue what I’m going through.  You can’t even pretend to know anything about me,” Eric said, stopping short of the door, moving closer to Mr. Walker.  “Just leave me…”

“Sorry to drop in on you honey, but we…” a lady said walking into the classroom.  “Oh my goodness, I am so sorry.  I didn’t know you would have a student with you.”

“It’s no problem.  Pam, this is one of my students, Eric, we were just talking about some assignments he is working on,” Mr. Walker said.  Eric stood, speechless.  He looked at Mr. Walker and again at Mr. Walker’s wife.  It didn’t add up.

Pam reached out her hand, “Oh, so this is Eric.  My husband has mentioned you a few times.  He’s excited about teaching you this year.”

Eric extended his hand out of reflex.  What was she talking about, ‘Excited about teaching you this year?’  As Eric shook her hand, feeling the touch of her skin that was the same as his, he felt a ping of guilt.  He had felt a lot of emotions in the recent past, but he didn’t remember feeling guilt.  It felt different, real.  “It’s nice to meet you,” he replied, letting go.

Pam turned to leave, “I’ll let you guys get back to what you were doing.  I’ll wait in the faculty lounge for you.  Sorry to interrupt.”

“It’s no problem.  I shouldn’t be too much longer,” Mr. Walker said.  “Besides,” he added, looking at Eric, “I think your visit was the pause our conversation needed to help us…refocus the discussion.”

Eric looked at Mr. Walker’s wife and then back to Mr. Walker, nodding.  After his wife left, Mr. Walker turned to Eric and waited.

After a short pause, Eric quietly made his way to his seat in the front row, Mr. Walker handed him the stack of papers, and Eric started on his work.

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3 comments

  1. This rings true, Chris. I work with troubled youth and it IS difficult to get them to understand that some of us really do care, not to make ourselves feel good but because we see the potential hidden within. 🙂 Well done!

  2. As a teacher I empathise with this; it resonates because you want to see your students succeed despite the obstacles in their way (of their own making or someone else's). Well told.
    Adam B @revhappiness

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