Intelligent But Lacks Motivation: The Story of a Bad Student
I was a straight A student and completely enamored with learning when I started elementary school. My first grade teacher, Miss Grey, was a peach. I loved her, which was a relief because my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Becker, was kind of a bitch. She made me sit in the corner during nap time once for cutting up with a friend. I was alone, seemingly miles away from the rest of the kids, and scared, sitting in the dark hoping there was no bogey man waiting to accost five year old girls hiding in the coat room alongside me. And she was brutal with the boys, especially if they had dirty nails or ears. We had to line up for inspection everyday, and if you didn’t pass muster, you were ordered to the restroom to get clean. I remember her pulling one of the kids by the ear one day to illustrate how frustrated she was with him for having dirty ears again. It didn’t help that she had a croaky voice too, like the wicked witch of the west. But then in first grade Miss Grey was all softness and light, with pretty blue eyes, a sweet voice and gentle demeanor. I could tell she liked me and appreciated that I worked at learning and enjoyed doing so, and I was rewarded with a perfect report card. I was off to a good start.
It all went kind of wonky around the fifth grade for various reasons¹ and I never really recovered. By sixth, seventh and eighth grades, I was a problem student. I disrespected the teachers. I cut up in class. I wasn’t that intimidated when they sent me to the principals office. I frustrated a lot of teachers. Some of them were good teachers too. I was just a bad student. Consequently, I was going home with awful report cards with notations like: Ilona is intelligent but lacks motivation. My parents weren’t happy but they were also trying to reign in my four older brothers, who were old enough by then to be tempted by drugs, alcohol and the ravages of teenage testosterone, so I wasn’t a front burner issue for them. I was happy being a class clown and an under achiever. I was okay with just getting along.
When it was time for high school, it got more challenging. There were two high schools in our town, and the year before I started, they changed the boundaries for the school districts. The high school my four older brothers and everyone I knew went to, was now out of bounds for me. The other school, my new destination, was off my radar. It was alien to me and when I got there, it was chaos. There was a contingency of super jock upper class men at this school who were intent on intimidating the newcomers, especially the long haired freaky people, like my ex-boyfriend Steve, who was sweet, played the guitar in a band, and got thrown into the duck pond across the street from school the first day. He somehow managed to transfer to the other school shortly after that. Those jocks also liked throwing the freaky guys into the dumpsters or the bushes, and just basically terrorized people with their ridiculous strong man tactics. It sucked. And then they punched my brother Dana in the face one day when he drove up with a bunch of freaks from the “other” school to pick up his girlfriend. Did I mention it sucked? Yeah, big suck.
I spent four years feeling like an outsider at that school. It got a little better after Freshman year. A lot of those super jocks graduated or moved on to a new school they built on the east edge of town and the remaining jocks and freaks all kind of melded together at some point and managed to get along, but I never really gelled at that high school. I was truant much of the time thanks to Mom being at work all day and a pretty phlegmatic school secretary who was satisfied as long as I was home to answer the phone when she called to check up on me. And there was often a party at my house hosted by one of my older brothers and it was fun hanging out with them and getting high, listening to music or playing cards. I never got ahead in those years, but I never really aspired to, I just wanted to get along with people. I was a “smile on your brother, everybody get together, try to love one another” teenager. I made friends with the freaks who were just passing time, like me, and hung out with my old friends from grammar school. Looking back now, it seems like a lot of wasted time. I graduated, barely, and I eventually got in two years at a community college, maintained a 3.8 GPA and graduated with high honors. I really did love the learning. It was just all the other bull shit I didn’t tolerate well.
In spite of my years of ambiguity towards schooling, I am still just as enamored with learning today as I was in Miss Grey’s first grade class room, when I had just begun to learn. It’s why I’ve always been a reader, a documentary junkie, and a frequent student in continuing education and on-line classrooms. Over time, I’ve come to appreciate, so much, the value of good teachers. I’ve had good and bad, from start to finish, and the good ones are a gift. They are the motivators and the innovators and the ones who make it so damn compelling you want to be a good student and soak it all in. They can make a bad student, like me, into a good student, like me.
So to all the good teachers out there dealing with bad students, take heart. Keep sowing those good seeds. You never know when those babies will sprout and grow and bear fruit. Oh, and Miss Kenny, wherever you are, I am so sorry.
²From the song Get Together by American songwriter Chet Powers
©2017 by Ilona Elliott