David Russell

Teacher touched by 'tough' teenager
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The Vancouver Sun
June 23, 1995

He arrived at my classroom door a month into my first full-time teaching job. ``I want to transfer into your class,'' he said.

I looked at this newcomer that I had yet to meet. But I had seen him. Oh, I had seen him. I had seen his dyed, jet-black hair tied back in a single ponytail that ran down past his shoulders. I had noticed the nose ring with the chain that connected it to the earring in his left ear. I had seen the black leather jacket, black T-shirt, black jeans and the heavy boots we used to refer to as crapkickers.

And I saw him outside my classroom asking -- no, telling -- me that he wanted me to be his teacher. And I wasn't sure I wanted to be.

``Why?'' I asked him.

``Because I don't like my other class and I don't want to drift someone.''

``Oh.'' This didn't sound promising. A month into my teaching career and I was faced with this dangerous-looking teenager. Here was the kid who looked like everything people felt was wrong and scary about teenagers. I would need to be delicate. ``Okay,'' I told him. ``You can come into my class. On one condition. You're not allowed to drift me.''

He smiled suddenly. ``Fair enough. I won't drift ya.'' He ambled into my classroom and into my life.

He was not the sort of student who made the honor roll. He didn't achieve straight As or even straight Cs. He was the kind of kid whom an adult might meet and think, ``Oh, oh. He looks like trouble.'' But those were ideas for those who didn't know him. Because he looked like a tough kid. Therefore, the assumption was, he was a rough kid.

He had character. He was the kind of person you could imagine meeting 10 years after school was over and sitting down with a drink to laugh about ``old times.'' And you looked forward to that drink.

He wasn't always a very productive student. He missed assignments and found doing homework to be something he really wasn't into. But he had an understanding that a lot of kids his age didn't. He would sometimes startle me in class during a discussion or in response to a question by making a comment that showed such depth of insight that I'd swear someone had prompted him. And always, whether work was done or not, he was ready with a smirk and a smug comment about running into me in a dark alley or letting the air out of my car tires. He knew he could make some people uncomfortable. We knew, after a while, I wasn't one of them and he didn't want me to be.

School probably wasn't for him. The rules weren't his and so they didn't work for him. He eventually found his way out, which was disappointing, but at the same time it was right for him. I knew that he would not only survive, he would succeed because he would figure out how. He would know what success meant for him and he would get there his way.

His name was Luke and he died last month. I miss him.

David Russell lives and teaches in Coquitlam. Luke McIvor, 16, was killed in an accident at his workplace May 12.