Cats and dogs

I have a boy in my class this year who has remained a puzzle to me.  He is quiet, thoughtful, athletic and very very smart.

Sometimes he is funny and sweet.

Sometimes he is sarcastic and mean spirited.

Most days I thoroughly enjoy having him in the room, seeing him act as a quiet leader with the other students.  He is often the child who quietly reaches out to classmates who are struggling to fit in.  A quick joke, a simple comment, a moving of his chair to make room.  He finds ways to make the others feel included.

Some days, though, I worry about turning my back on him, as he uses his status within the classroom to disrupt a lesson or goad another student into misbehavior.  Always quiet, mostly behind the scenes, on those days he is the hand that stirs the pot but rarely takes the blame.

He has a mature mind, an agile brain. He understands literature and can talk about the metaphors and symbols in a book with an ease that is surprising in the fifth grade.  He can write with humor and clarity when the mood strikes him, but it rarely does. He understands math and can solve fifth grade math problems with ease.  He could solve most of our math challenges, but he chooses to avoid them.

Sometimes he looks sad, his eyes downcast, his face a mask.

Sometimes he can bring us all to laughter with a clever phrase or a bit of mimicry.

I have no idea of what he is really feeling.

Every year there are one or two kids who seem to simply elude my grasp. I am used to connecting with the students.  I am used to knowing that I make them feel comfortable and safe.  Most kids like being in my class (or so I am told and choose to believe).  Those few children who remain guarded and aloof are a huge challenge to me.  I want to crack their code, to touch their hearts.   I want to solve the mystery of what makes them the children that they are.  I think of the students as temporarily “mine” and my sense of responsibility is matched only by the affection that I feel for them all.

So naturally I go crazy when one of them remains an enigma.

Yesterday I met with this boy’s parents, a wonderful supportive couple who helped to shed a lot of light on what I have been seeing.  We talked about his aloofness, his desire to have some control over things in his life, his sense of self-awareness and self-motivation.  I felt much better knowing that he is the same in every setting; it is always a huge relief to find out that I am not making a child miserable!   I realized that what I am seeing is just temperament, personality and a little bit of pre-adolescent preening.

And I came to a realization about all children.

Some kids are dogs, and some kids are cats.  The dogs are always open and affectionate, and they just want to be praised and patted.  They do what you ask, and they aim to please.   Dogs are fun and easy; most kids in the fifth grade fall squarely in the dog category.

But some kids are cats, and this boy is surely one of them. He is happy to observe from the outside and to keep a safe distance, but don’t get too close.  Cats can be social, but you can’t just march over and pick one up expecting a cuddle. Cat’s come to you on their terms.  You have to sit quietly, watch and be patient. If you are very lucky, the cat will stroll over in his own good time and decide to favor you with a purring visit.

Cats dispense their affection more sparingly, but it is all the more rewarding when you finally earn it.


2 responses to this post.

  1. What an excellent way to describe the differences……I can tell you are a wonderful teacher because you care so much. And a wonderful writer, as well. You observe things that others would not and you share it well.


  2. Thank you so much for reading, and for your kind words about my writing. Coming from you, its high praise indeed! Funny how writing helps me to see things more clearly, and to realize some things that I hadn’t understood.


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