spiked hair girl     “She’s going to be trouble.  What a freak!” These were my thoughts as she walked into my introductory computer class the first day of the semester.  Purple, pink and lime green spiked hair! Nose, ear, eyebrow and cheek piercings!  Doc Martins and bib overalls!  And the eternal rarely mentioned great theme of conflict continued – man against teenager!  And like any war weary teacher in the trench, I felt it was a war I was losing!

     “Why does the guidance department always load up my classes with the misfits and weird kids?”, I lamented inwardly with a self pitying sigh.  “Oh well, here we go again!”

     I started the class with my usual – ‘don’t mess with me’ assignment.  The class was to type out a short essay (with whatever computer skills they had) on the reasons why they were taking my class and why I should take them seriously.  Little Miss Spiky Hair wasn’t the only individual in my class with an attitude problem.  The vice principal was always telling me that I wasn’t taking the modern business model of education seriously.  He never got my ‘humor’ when I would retort – if this was a business we’d all be fired!

   After seventy minutes of helping kids get their essay’s entered and printed the class was over.  It’s amazing how much you can learn about what kids know by giving them an assignment on the computer without telling them how to keyboard, format and print out their work.  Some need lots of help, some are natural helpers, some have no initiative and others like to run the class if you let them.  All good information to get early on.

     Little Miss Spiky Hair, to my surprise, worked quietly and freely helped others without being pushy.  I was keeping my eye on her – she looked like a potential trouble maker.  Her essay was probably going to be either unintelligible crap or some diatribe against the ‘establishment’.  At the end of class I collected all the papers, shoved them into my briefcase to read when I got home.

Later that night, I waded through the essays, trying to keep my supper down as I worked through the continual variations on the theme of ‘computer knowledge and skills will set right everything wrong with our economy and ensure that I have an overpaid job for the rest of my life’ crap that everyone seemed to accept as gospel.  And then I got to Little Miss Spiky Hair’s paper.  What a surprise!

She started off by saying that she took my class at the recommendation of the guidance department. (I knew it!) Although she didn’t like computers, she argued, they would become an ever increasing presence in our world and it was important to learn about them.  At this point I rechecked that I was indeed reading her paper.

Continuing, she pointed out that even though my class was just one small step to her high school diploma every step was important in a journey.  She hoped that she would learn as much about how computers affect relationships in society as how to ‘work’ with one.  Miss Spiky Hair concluded with the observation that she was pleasantly surprised with my first assignment because it didn’t require any real computer skill to complete it.  Rather the assignment  wanted to check to see if the students knew why they were taking the course. Every student should think about that she pointed out.

She finished her paper with the point  that I should take her seriously if I wanted her to take me seriously. ‘That was a fair deal’ she concluded.  I put on the top of the paper in traditional red; “This paper deserves an A – see me after class.”

The next day, after the computer class was over, Miss Spiky Hair stayed after class and said; “I thought you said you wouldn’t mark the essays.”  She eyed me suspiciously, perhaps doing a little judging of her own.

“I didn’t mark your essay,” I replied,  “The A stands for Apology”.

“What do you mean?” She looked at me quizzically.

“When you came into my class yesterday, looking like you do, I misjudged you. I thought you would be a problem in my class.  After watching how you helped other kids in the class and didn’t cause trouble – I still misjudged you.  Then I read your paper and realized that you think deeply about things.   You’re a good student.  I was wrong and I’m sorry.”

Little Miss Spiky Hair gave me a radiant smile and said; “That’s ok, sir.  I think I misjudged you too!”