Tutor Tales, Volume 12
There is only so much one can blame on a medical condition.
The first time I told Doctor Nemesis' mother that every other word out of her firstborn's mouth was an obscenity, she apologised profusely and promised to talk to him about it. Then she explained that her boy's doctors had told her that his Tourette syndrome makes him say things he might not mean, while his ADHD makes him crave any attention--even negative attention--and she pleaded with me to be more tolerant.
So I bit my tongue and steeled myself to focus on nothing but sixth-grade Geometry (with word problems!)--which I've been doing since that call. In the meantime, Doctor Nemesis has repeatedly told me to f*** myself, go to h***, and suck his c***, with the saucy confidence of one who knows that Tourette, as defined by the adults around him, means never having to say you're sorry.
Given the diffused buzz of voices around the main area of XYZ Tutorial Centre, none of his foul language was ever really a problem . . . for others . . . until two weeks ago. That was when Doctor Nemesis suddenly used both hands to grab his crotch, thrust it back and forth at one of the high school girls, and made a nasty suggestion even I hadn't heard before.
I grabbed his ear and used it to yank him back so hard that he nearly lost his balance.
"Don't you ever say that to a girl again," I hissed. "I'm telling your mother about this!"
(Pathetic, I know--but I had nothing else to say. And since even pathetic threats have their dignity, I did ring his mother that night. She said she'd talk to him. Luckily for all three of us, the high school girl thought he was just faking another spasm with the movement, and didn't really hear what he was saying.)
Will anyone argue with me when I say the time had come to find the right bar of soap to stuff into Doctor Nemesis' foul little mouth?
As with most of my best teaching ideas, insight into what that right bar could be came to me on the spur of the moment, springing from my head fully formed, like Athena from the mind of Zeus.
The first thing I did was change where he and I usually sit. After the first few times he bolted up from his seat and made me chase him, I elected to sit next to him, all the better to throw a leg over him or spring at him. Today, I resumed sitting across from him . . . all the better for him to see the new tabs I was keeping on his language.
"Every time you say a new bad word," I told him, slapping a blank sheet of paper between us on the table, "I will write it down. I will keep a tally of everything you say so that I have a record for the next faculty meeting."
His eyes nearly bugged out of his head. "Why? WHY??? It's not fair! You know I have Tourette!"
"Yes, I know you have Tourette . . . I also know that you take advantage of it. I'll bet that if you really tried, you could control it."
"F*** you! Why don't you believe . . . Hey!"
I had written "F*** you" on the paper and made a note that he had said it once.
"You're serious? Why are you doing this? Are you going to tell my mother?"
I bluffed: "If you try harder to keep those words in, I won't have to."
He looked truly distressed. "My mother is the only one who believes me now. Everyone else--all the teachers, all my relatives--they all say I can control it, but I can't control it. I just say it. Why don't you believe me? F*** you!"
I made another note on the paper.
"Oh, f*** you! This is all your fault, you know! I can explain . . ."
Then the brilliant Doctor Nemesis said something I never would have figured out in a million years: "I only really say those words because you talk to me when I'm trying to concentrate on my Maths problems!"
"Okay, then. I won't say a word until after you solve every problem thrown at you."
"Good. Shut up!"
Then he howled when he saw me make a note of that as well.
"That's not a bad word!"
"It's bad because you shouldn't be telling your tutor to shut up. Do you really want to get into more trouble?"
"No . . . F*** you . . . No, don't write that!" He took a deep breath. "You know . . . I love you, Teacher Enbrethiliel."
"Oh, hey, why don't you write that? Why do you only write the bad things? You should be fair and write how many times I tell you I love you."
So I did. According to my record, he told me he loved me another three times . . . and threw the f-word at me another fifteen times.
He was also on to something when he said I shouldn't talk to him when he does his Maths. We had never worked so fast or so efficiently . . . and when he asked to go to the men's room and I told him I wouldn't give permission until he found the area of the triangle he was working on, he doggedly produced the right answer instead of trying to run away.
Yes, Doctor Nemesis, my dear boy, I love you, too.