By Bruce Pinnock
“It’s just a stage he/she is going through!” is a sort of universal parental wail used as a cover-up for any especially strange teenage behaviour.
And the teacher is expected to smile tolerantly and patiently cope with it. However, sometimes a teacher finds a model student in the class. We all know who these are.
There he sits in the front row, listening so very attentively. His hand is perpetually poised, ready to shoot up to be first to answer any question the teacher may ask. From the uniform he wears so perfectly, to his top-of-the-class test scores, he is seemingly faultless. Work is always handed in on time and always, but always, painstakingly neat. Such wonderful pupils! They are just so good!
They can quite set your teeth on edge.
Let’s face it, fingernails on blackboards aside, is there anything in this world more likely to tip you over the edge than that smug look-at-me-I-am-sogood attitude?
But, of course, it’s just a stage.
When you enter the class of a Monday morning, the model pupil is the one to ask, “Have you marked our tests, sir?” – delivered artlessly in that ‘I’m-just-asking’ tone. And you’re all girded up to turn on him with a withering, “If you think I’ve had nothing to do over my event-filled weekend except mark your test, you are sadly mistaken!” (Which, of course, is a lie – you hardly budged from the couch even to change channels – but he doesn’t know that.) And you suspect his raised eyebrow is to say, “That’s what I expected.”
When parents’ evening comes around, his parents book to see you. (Of course they do. Model behaviour and pushy parents go hand in hand.) And, of course, they only want to hear how wonderful their son is.
And so you meet the mother…
She was nothing like I expected. Her sharp, nononsense eye also held an understanding glint. Her opening salvo of “Do tell. Doesn’t my son drive you totally nuts?” confirmed this.
“Well…” I temporised.
“I mean, he is just so, so… always right – how do you stand it? Please tell me it is just a stage.”
“I’m sure it is,” I said.
She leaned forward to confide. “Do you know, his grandmother ordered him out of the house with the instruction to go out and sin a little. He said, ‘Granny! That won’t make me a better person!’ Grandmother said, ‘No, but it might make you easier to live with…’”
The mother continued with a sigh, “The real problem, of course, is that with his behaviour he is not making any friends.”
We parted on amicable terms, but without any clear idea about what could be done. After all, how do you dare tamper with the behaviour of a child who is doing as he is told?
And then, quite by itself, without teacher or parental interference, there was a turnaround. Suddenly, he no longer sat in front. Or handed in perfect work. Or asked if his test had been marked.
What had happened?
He had discovered girls.
At the next parent-teacher meeting, the first thing his mother said (a hint of a wail in her voice) was, “He used to be so good! Do you think it’s just a stage?”
“Oh yes,” I said. “It probably won’t last more than – oh, probably, his entire life.”
Her answering laugh was unfortunately somewhat hollow.