Sometimes Ramon drives me nuts. He’s that kid who wants to sit as close to me as possible, follows me around the classroom, wants to have a non-stop conversation with me. He’s the one who rarely raises his hand and who calls my name repeatedly when his hand is finally raised.
“Teacher, teacher, teacher! My hand is up! I have a question!” When I call on him, it takes him a while to get his question out, because he always starts with, “Can I say it in Spanish?” even though he knows the answer is no.
He rushes through his work at such a clip that it is often illegible. The consistent use of capitals and periods seems to be against his religion. He has been sent back to his desk to re-do his work so many times that he has memorized the poster I send him to read on his way: “If you don’t have time to do it right, you must have time to do it over.”
Ramon plays rough. He pushes and pokes and pulls and bugs until someone is angry enough to throw the first punch. Often it is him. Fights are never his fault though. Of course not. “He was bugging me.” “He started it.” “He was cheating at soccer.”
Honesty isn’t Ramon’s strong suit. He’s learning to take responsibility for his actions, but generally starts every confrontation with adamant denials. I give him the stern teacher look until he folds, nodding with the hint of a smile, “Si, Si. I did it.”
Staying seated is a challenge for him. He gets up to tell me he’s done, to tell me he read a book, to tell on another student or just to say, “Teacher, yo la quiero mucho.”
At least once a day he is out of his seat to hug me, and it is those times I bite back a sigh or a scolding, ruffle his hair and tell him, “I love you too, m’ijo. Now get back to work.”
When Ramon came to school with his head shaved, I was a little relieved. I try not to have a bias against kids with a ratty little tail of hair hanging down their neck, but I will confess to a desire to sneak up on them with a pair of scissors. When I saw Ramon’s newly shorn head, I rubbed my hand over the fuzz of it and told him how handsome he looked. He took a deep breath, and words came tumbling out, a mix of English and Spanish. “It’s for my Tita. She has cancer and she had her breast cut off and she’s going to have chemotherapy and all her hair is going to fall out and I didn’t think it was fair to have hair if she didn’t and I’m embarrassed but she’ll be more embarrassed, so I figured I could stand it and...”
He finally stopped to breathe and promptly burst into tears. I hugged him and let him sob it all out as I rubbed his back, and then sent him off to wash his face and calm himself. I took a deep breath myself, surprised once again at how lovely children can be.
When Ramon came back to class, calmer and quieter, he gave me a pink rubber bracelet and asked me if I would wear it in support of his abuelita. There was no correct answer except yes and I slipped it on. I wear it every day, and every day Ramon checks to see that I have it on. He smiles proudly when he sees I have not forgotten. I’m not much of a wearer of jewelry, and by the end of the day, the bracelet drives me crazy, not unlike Ramon himself. It’s just a little bit uncomfortable, a little bit in the way, a little too bright. I wear it because it makes Ramon happy and it costs me so very little.
The relationship between Ramon and me has shifted ever so slightly. He still struggles to stay seated, he calls out well before raising his hand, his work is still a mess, and he still denies guilt before admitting it. But now we’re both on the team of people cheering for his Tita and her quick healing.
If I forget that we’re on the same team, I look down at my pink bracelet or rub his fuzzy hair and I remember, and now Ramon doesn’t drive me so crazy after all.