Dear Terrence,

I’m really starting to wonder if you’re not doing this on purpose. I mean, you just got back from a long out-of-school suspension today, and yet you didn’t even make it through the whole day before you got into a fight. (When I wrote that, I dithered between “couldn’t make it” and “didn’t make it.” I figured the former was too fatalistic.) You tell me you want to do well in school. We have the conversation about impulse control at least once or twice a week. I explain to you regularly the effect your reputation — created from experience and rumor — has on how teachers treat you. And yet you do it still: indeed, if you hadn’t gotten into a fight today, you still likely would have been suspended, for I know a teacher wrote an administrative referral on you because of your completely disruptive behavior in class.

So I’m wondering what the deal is.

There are two options, both frightening, but one is positively terrifying. The first option is that all this is intentional, that you’re trying to get into alternative school. Don’t laugh — it’s not so far fetched. One of your colleagues just down the hall has expressed that intention openly. Still, you insist that’s not what you’re up to when I ask you about it. That leaves the second option. The terrifying option: you honestly don’t have a clue how to control your impulses. You’ve built up such a habit of just going with whatever wild thought enters your head that that’s your standard operating model now. What’s terrifying about that? People like that usually don’t meet with a lot of success in life. People like that usually end up bouncing in and out of jail, spending some time in prison, collection welfare while not incarcerated, completely unable to hold down a job, and if they happen to be male, leaving several fatherless children in their wake. (Yes, I know, it does take two to do that particular dance, but that simple fact does nothing to negate your responsibility.)

At its heart, your unwillingness to control your impulses is a kind of immaturity. Toddlers don’t control impulses well, but with guidance from parents, teachers, and other adults, they learn how to curb those crazy compulsions. So your refusal — and at this point, I’m not sure how else to describe it — to reign in these urges is at heart a refusal to grow up. Sure, that’s not fun in a way, but I would imagine it’s a whole lot more fun than a lifetime of incarceration, joblessness, dependence, frustration, and anger.

I end reiterating what I’ve said to you many times: I’m here for you. You drive me absolutely nuts in class, but I’m still not giving up on you. Your decisions today, though, make me wonder if you’ve given up on yourself.

Your Teacher


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