“Enough! Enough!” I kept on shouting at Jerome but he seemed not to hear me. He always wanted attention and did anything to get it. He pulled some of the girls' hair. He ran around the classroom. He threw papers at his classmates. He engaged in fistfights. He did not do his schoolwork. Sometimes I was tempted to hit him on the head with a bamboo stick—the ever present bamboo stick. But knowing the department’s guideline against corporal punishment, I held back.
To keep my cool, I tried to be analytical. I thought of all the learning disorders and dysfunctions that I had read about and theorized that maybe he had ADD or ADHD or autism or bipolar disorder. There were times that I just ignored him as if he was invisible. But in lighter moments, I joked with him sometimes laughing with him because he was really a jolly, little pupil; the paragon of the class clown.
He was with the last section of grade six—any public school teacher knew what teaching the last section meant. I was their English teacher, their last subject. So, I only saw him once in the most stressful part of the day when my patience and energy was at its lowest.
One afternoon I entered the classroom and saw him sleeping under the armchairs. I got angry that I pulled him up and dragged him in front of the class. “Why are you sleeping? You are disrespectful to me!” I shouted.
He looked at me with bloodshot eyes, bowed his head and apologized.
I shouted at the class, “If I catch anyone of you sleeping on my class, I am going to fail him or her in English!”
There was dead silence.
One of my pupils stood up and told me and the class that Jerome sold peanuts at night that's why he sometimes hides to catch some sleep. There were some giggling in the class. Some even teased him. Jerome sneered and spewed threats.
When I heard this, I winced. I looked at him again in his over-sized, dirty white T-shirt, short pants without zippers, slippers too big for his feet and eyes bloodshot by lack of sleep. Then it came to me... Jerome, 13 years old, was an adult trying to be a child.