The other day a student who is normally fairly respectful decided to test the waters, and allow the undertow to drag him into extreme rudeness. It turns out that he had recently lost a power dynamic with his friends, and clearly needed to feel on top of the world at someone else’s expense. In this situation, it didn’t work for him…at least, it shouldn’t have, but in retrospect, let’s face it, he won. The person he won against is me.
Tables turned, I called him out on his offensive behaviours. Crocodile tears from being caught in his own trap dampened his day, but not his attitude. A call home to adults provided interesting insights. I was right about his entitlement. What his parents claimed to be a humble upbringing came out in the bathwater of gloating, and condescension. I was appalled by the outpouring of pity seeking from a person who washed my face with her riches, and possessions. Each phrase that fell from her lips was another reminder that I am but a lowly servant that her children are “taught to respect, and oblige.” They don’t though…at least not the one I lost a battle of wills to.
A story poured out about bullying, and alienation. My heart sank for the child, and I immediately spoke out in support. I promised to make amends with him since we both danced a misstepped tango, and had aching souls as a result. Of course, after I resigned myself to apologizing for my participation in creating a bad day, I was enlightened with tales of nothing but riches, and artificial attempts at being humble. These fish clearly needed to be praised for swimming since their adults believe that having children wait in line at restaurants, or say “good morning” to their staff is putting everyone on equal playing grounds. It’s not; especially when the square footage of a house is greater than every home that I’ve ever lived in COMBINED! (This was boasted about as reassurance that the children are well cared for.)
My reaction was not out of line in any respect, however, I do not like the idea of being a part of making someone’s bad day worse. I also try to demonstrate empathy, and compassion towards my students in hopes of them learning those skills in life.
Before class let out for the day, I took the student for a short walk around the building. I informed him of my call home, and expressed understanding towards his friend situation. I apologized if my behaviours had upset him further. He smiled, and nodded in agreement to write me an apology note for his rudeness. He smiled the entire time I was speaking to him, and nodded away like a bobble-head toy from the 90’s. His shit-eating grin said it all though: he won. There I was, standing before him explaining that I felt bad that he was being bullied by his peers, and apologizing to him for calling him out on his behaviours in front of the class, but really what I was doing was giving him back all of the power. He now had an excuse for his behaviours, and suddenly, I was admitting to being a big scary monster who was trying to hold him accountable for his words, and actions.
The fact is, this student is physically larger than I am, which is somewhat irrelevant here. What does hold water is the fact that he knows his social status at a mere decade old is higher than mine will ever be. He believes that his financial standing is more powerful than my education. He is convinced that as a male, he is above me. (No, I’m not assuming, or jumping to conclusions in this situation. I’ve known this student for quite a while. I am very well aware of his social dynamic in this regard.) My apology to him confirmed his feeling of superiority. The proof lay in his apology note which was weaker than the last scoop of instant coffee mixed into a full cup of water. For a proficient student, his note read like a three year old who stole a cookie, but tried to blame it on an invisible dog.
True to point, his interactions with me have changed in the past few days. While he has been much more respectful in class, his manners are not given without want. This student now feels that he can have his way with anything he wants. When I instruct the class to work on a specific task, he believes that he is above the law, and can opt out if he is polite about it. No; that’s simply not how life works. “But Miss!” he pleads, “I wasn’t rude about it, and I really just want to do XYZ instead of ABC. Why do I HAVE to do what I don’t want to do?”
Welcome to life, kid. No amount of “waiting in line like normal people,” or “having to say ‘good-morning’ to staff” is going to get you out of obligations. You may rattle around in a McMansion while I scrub my own toilets, and shop for sales, but at least I appreciate what is in front of me. Look down at me from your ivory tower, but you will never be above me.