“I don’t like him.” It hurt me to hear that; and I was completely unprepared how to stop the feelings from being hurt. The other boy quickly replied (unconvincingly), “I don’t like him either.” I could see from his drooping head that he felt sad. Kids are not nice, they don’t need to pretend they like someone because they work with them, or live near them, or have mutual friends, or need something from them. Kids tell others how they feel, when they feel it. They are filter-less, emotional creatures with terrifyingly simple opinions.
This young student doesn’t like his fellow classmate, and he doesn’t care who knows it. He will forfeit a sticker in lieu of being forced to play on the other boy’s team. He will look me straight in the eye, unwavering, certain that what he said is not wrong. After all, they are his feelings. His feelings are true to him and therefore cannot be wrong. Perhaps he hasn’t learned the tact we all acquire later in life regarding how to deal with people we don’t like. Sometimes tolerance leads to new friendships.
When I was in 7th grade, I had a nemesis that no matter how great my insult was; he came back with a scorcher for me. I was constantly getting burned, and soon I learned to just keep my mouth shut and just pop a few dead arms or dead legs his way each time his mouth erupted with insulting lava. We had a rough year together in the principal’s office. Then the next year we had to make a movie together for history class with two of the craziest 13-year-old boys the Tri-State area had ever seen.
They were both war buffs and ready to make an authentic remake of a Vietnam era combat situation. The four of us did make a great homemade movie and it will never be forgotten. The point is that none of us were that friendly, but put under hostile circumstances, we made it out better friends than before. Today, that surly young man is one of my best friends and still quick with the wit, but he uses it for good these days. I will have to find a way to put these two into some kind of bonding moment and have them push past their animosity, because I did not like to see a student depressed and dejected by another’s comments. After all, I am the teacher, and they don’t have to like me. But they’d better listen to me.