Bout: Teacher's Pet vs. Class Clown
My Topic: Teacher's Pet
My Opponent: Ranee Zaporski, Class Clown
Charity competing on behalf of: Pediatric AIDS Chicago Prevention Initiative (PACPI)
Across the room there were some murmurs and some giggling--in that way that means a classmate is being made fun of. Keisha, of the always-wearing-frilly-dresses-to -school; Keisha of the thin, dainty piano fingers; Keisha of the black patent leather shoes and flawless hair; Keisha, the perfect example of the chronic teacher’s pet, was crying. Alone. No one had pulled a prank on her. No one had called her any names. Yet tears were rolling down her smooth face, her lashes clumping with moisture. In moments, the rolling tide of giggles made it to all four corners of the room: Keisha was crying because she had gotten a B on her spelling test.
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This is a really smart crowd. I’d wager several of you have at least tasted the teacher’s pet status once or twice. Do you remember how that warm glow of approval felt? How it washed over you and instinctively made you smile? How you wanted to feel that good about your hard work all the time? Can we begrudge anyone that feeling? It’s so fleeting! SO fleeting, that it can’t possibly be the end-game. That’s not the real “win” that any given chronic teacher's pet is looking for. She’s not thinking “Maybe if I crush all my classmates, I will win the affection of this bespectacled, floral-patterned giant who pairs ankle-dresses with new balance sneakers.” No.
She’s thinking maybe if she proves that she’s a good child, that she is smart and dependable, maybe her parents will get back together. Or maybe she’s thinking if she works hard and gets good grades, she’ll get a scholarship that takes her away from the house where her brother finds her in the middle of the night. Or maybe she wants to challenge herself, because she’s sick of being told she’s “just a girl” as though that isn’t a powerful, ass-kicking thing to be in this world. Maybe she’s just trying to get as much education as possible before Rahm turns another blind eye and closes her school, too.
Her reasons are none of our business, but her goals probably don’t end at Get A Pat On The Head From Teacher. The teacher’s pet status is a byproduct; a side-effect of her goals and larger ambitions.
Is she jealous of the class clown? Probably! She’d probably love to crack jokes! She’d love to relax, she’d love to be liked. She doesn't know that the class clown does what he does for the same reasons: Coping. Surviving. Same goals, different methods.
What stakes could be so high that a B would bring Keisha to tears? Who set that bar that she felt her last finger was slipping from?
The teacher’s pet is an easy target--a lazy target for ridicule. Most of them are just trying to show up and do their best; they’re not trying to hurt anybody. (To be clear, I’m not talking about the ones who rub your face in it, those kids are assholes and they can die in a fire.) I’m talking about the kids with the inexplicable drive, who are fighting not only to succeed but to understand what it is that drives them, whether it is need, or fear, or love.
Keisha moved away after 3rd grade. I think her family was military? I have no idea what happened to her. But it is my firm hope that 10 years after that day, somewhere in her first year of college, we might’ve found her burrowed in a homemade foxhole of primary and secondary sources, her upper lip lifted in a sneer of determination and the sharp focus of her gaze illuminated by the soft glow of a single desk lamp--she may be rationing her sleep, she may be greedily draining the last few precious kisses of Red Bull from a can that she mercilessly crushes in her young fist, she may be hearing voices in the pocket, she may be moments away from collapse…
But may she be surrounded by a thick coterie of supportive, like-minded contemporaries. May she be immersed in fellowship, in acceptance, in the knowledge that she is not alone, that is it ok to want success, but that any grade less than an A will never make her less of a human being. Her eyelids may droop, her hands may get heavy--but the task is not yet done--she bites off another ½ a caffeine pill, chases it with a fresh Mountain Dew and howls a rallying cry from her corner of the study group. Her fellow scholars cheer in equal parts exhaustion and exhilaration, toasting her with their diverse anti-dozing beverages of choice: This History of Linguistics group project will be OFF THE FUCKING CHAIN. They buoy each other up, slapping shoulders, offering ideas, each gladly taking their part, each barely conscious that this all-night collaborative rite of passage will make for a glowing touchstone of their college experience someday.
May she be surrounded by such equals.
Expectations are a razor’s edge. The desire to learn, at any level, should always be encouraged, always be rewarded. And if the teacher notices you it can be so, so awesome. And so, so addicting. Because it is so, so rare. But it costs nothing to encourage another human being. Instead of faulting someone for gaining that encouragement elsewhere, we should be giving it to each other. Freely. There is plenty of room in the class. There is plenty of room in life. There is plenty of room in the goddamn sun for everyone.