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  • He stands in the back of the room, backpack on, cell phone in hand. He paces while he shouts out incorrect answers to the questions I pose to the class. Sometimes he distracts others with conversation. Sometimes he distracts me with conversation.

    "Abdul, please sit down."
    "Abdul, I need you to turn your cell phone off so you can do work."
    "Abdul, you should be doing work like the rest of the class. This is important."
    "Abdul, I can't talk to you about this right now, we're in the middle of class."

    He doesn't listen.

    I contact the director to ask about his behavior.

    "He interrupts during class in the strangest ways. I mean, he'll just walk up to the front of the class and interrupt me while I'm trying to facilitate discussion. Who does that? It's like he doesn't know how to function in a classroom environment, which is strange because he's a graduate student. What do you think I should do?"

    "The kid is unteachable. He's complained about every teacher here. Just pass him. We don't want to deal with him anymore."

    I think, maybe he has a problem with all of his teachers because they're women and he's not used to seeing women in a position of power (though it makes me cringe to say that a teacher has a position of power over the students). I think, maybe he's distracted because he just got engaged and wants to focus on the wedding.

    I talk to my peers about my concerns.

    "I don't think he's getting the concepts we're covering. He asks questions, but he doesn't demonstrate that he's really getting it. His grades are low, and he doesn't seem to think critically when we do the readings. And it seems at every minute like he's just waiting for time to be up so he can leave. What do you think we should do?"

    "He's a pain in the ass. We should just pass him. Then he's not our problem anymore."

    Abdul is maddening to work with, it's true. He's argumentative and doesn't like to admit when he's wrong.

    "Miss Misty, what's wrong with this sentence?"

    "Well, the way you use the words is a bit confusing. The sentence doesn't make sense as it is written. Let's talk about these definitions…"

    "Miss Misty, what's wrong with this sentence?"

    "In that paragraph, you're supposed to provide unbiased discussion of the article, and the sentence you're asking about shows a clear bias on your part. We should make time to sit down and talk about this a bit more. Can you…"

    "I can't stay. Miss Misty, I think there's nothing wrong with these sentences."

    "Abdul, unless you're willing to meet with me after class or at another time, we …"

    He walks away.

    I think about the time I was actually able to sit down with him to have a discussion. I talked but he wouldn't hear me. He argued. He couldn't accept that I might have something to teach him, that he might have something to learn. I began to hear anger in my voice, took a deep breath, smiled. He smiled, too. We talked longer, not moving an inch from where we began.

    I think about that word each time I see him enter the classroom. "Unteachable." If I believed that, I'd have to find another profession.

    "Abdul," I say, a deliberate calm in my voice, "Please have a seat so we can begin."
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