How Long Can You Stay Mad at a 10-Year Old?

Last week I was out walking the dog when I saw him. We were walking toward each other on the sidewalk. As the distance between us closed, I maneuvered the dog so that I would be between she and Brad as we passed. She’s an intimidating dog.

It was just as we passed that I recognized him. Even up close I was only about 80 percent sure. It was dark and we were both wearing hoodies on that cold night. It’s been years since I’ve seen him. I kept walking. Then I stopped and turned around.

Me: Brad!
Brad* stops and turns around, but doesn’t say anything.
Me: Is your name Brad?
Brad: Who are you?
Me: I said is your name Brad?
Pause
Brad: No.
Me: Yes, it is.
Brad: No it ain’t.
Me: Yes, it is. I’m Mr. Teachbad. Your fourth grade teacher at Noyes.
Relief and some confusion come over Brad’s face. We walk toward one another again.

So it was Brad. Wow. I really hated Brad. And feared him. It was my first year teaching. I started after Thanksgiving with a newly assembled fourth grade class at my neighborhood elementary school. It was terrible. All of it. And Brad did way more than his part.

He was the kind of kid who makes anything you try to do, anything at all, about 35% harder; all day long, every single day. And it wears you down. He corrupted all around him. Brad was a menace; a frothing mess of disrespect, non-compliance, lying, bullying, fighting, destroying. Perhaps the most reflexive liar I have ever met, he was also bold and could not be threatened. He was tall and had amazing confidence. He responded to nothing. I was simply not ready for the likes of Brad.

I tried behavior modification sticker charts and social workers. His brazenness was almost as stunning as my impotence to do anything about it. In the end, all I could do was hate him. I was trying so hard and wanted so badly to do well. And there was Brad every morning, having prepared overnight it seemed, to make me feel like a fool and a failure. (Brad was that rare jerk-off kid who messes up everything in school but doesn’t have the common decency to skip once in a while. He was there every day. He would get suspended every so often and, in those moments, I knew that God existed and cared about me.) So I spent a lot of time hating him. I hated him for a long, long time. True Confessions: I think Brad is the only student I habitually fantasized about beating up. I’m not proud of that, but it’s true.

So, there we were. Brad and Mr. Teachbad, face to face almost 10 years later. He explained that he’s afraid of dogs and thought I might be a parole officer. That’s why he didn’t say who he was at first. Both of us took a second to process who we were looking at. Then we commenced with the chit-chat. He’s 18 and dropped out of school. But he’s got his GED. Actually, I told him, that’s pretty good. Most people who start getting a GED don’t get a GED. He still lives in the neighborhood and has a job interview at the Marriott in the morning. Or maybe he’s still a pathological liar.

Dear Brad-
I’m sorry for what I know were an enormous number of sins I committed against you when I was your teacher. That year almost killed me. It’s not an excuse. I’m just saying it because it’s true. I would have done much better by you in a couple of years. I don’t know if I could have gotten you to learn anything, but I would have been less of a screaming idiot. You wouldn’t be able to get under my skin and bait me into your little pissing contests every day like you did. I could have handled all of that a lot better.

I know you were only 10 or 11 years old at the time. Somehow you seemed older. Maybe it was hard for me to believe that somebody so young could be so unpleasant. You seemed to have no little kid in you at all. I look now at my own 11-year old son and think how different the two of you are.

Anyway, I’m not mad anymore. Though there is no way you could have known or appreciated how you antagonized me at the time. Take care of yourself and good luck with the job interview.

Mr. Teachbad

*Brad’s name has been changed to protect his privacy.

7 comments

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