Seventh period, I'm passing out a quiz, the same quiz for the fifth time today. I move quickly around the room, dropping or tossing quizzes on desks, trying to get to everyone as quickly as possible. Halfway through, one of my kids, a normally quiet and pleasant kid, shoves the quiz onto the floor. I look at him. He says something about pride.
I make my way around the room, get back to him. Pick his quiz up off the floor, plop it back on his desk, and he pushes it off again. Says something about pride again. "Pride?" I say. "You're too proud to take the quiz? Or your pride will suffer if you do poorly?" He doesn't say anything, just stares at me.
Ten minutes later, I pick up the quizzes. His is still blank. Still on the floor. "Fine," I say. "One less to grade."
Minutes later I'm rearranging students, asking them to change seats for today's lesson. Quiet kid doesn't move.
"Move here," I tell him. He doesn't budge. "Fine, move there instead." He still doesn't move. "Well, you can't sit where you're at."
I end the standoff by telling him to move or get a write-up. He tells me he'll take the write-up. I open my door, look for a security guard. Of course one's not around. "Well, go to the discipline office," I say. "I'll send the write-up later." He leaves.
"I think you handled that very well," one of my troublemaking boys says. "Couldn't have done it better myself."
"Well, I wouldn't have handled it that way a few years ago," I say, wondering what is up with the quiet kid. "When I first started teaching, that would've probably turned into a huge argument. Or I would've just let him sit there."
The lesson continues. The day ends. After school, the quiet kid shows up. Again says, "I've got pride, you know."
"Yeah, I heard you in class," I say. "But I have no idea what you mean."
"Maybe I'm not translating it right," he says. "In Spanish, it's ..." I have no idea what that means either. He explains. Turns out he was offended by the way I tossed his quiz onto his desk. Thought it was disrespectful.
Oh my God, I think. Now I can't toss quizzes on desks? What next? But I say, "Hey, I'm sorry. I meant no disrespect. It's just what I do."
"Well, I don't know you, and you don't know me," he says.
"You're right. But by now, I'd hope you know that I never purposefully try to disrespect anyone in my classroom." I then explain that I toss papers, do random weird things to lighten the mood. "Lots of students hate these quizzes," I say, "think they're boring. Or they get nervous about tests. So I try to make it a little less serious. A little fun."
But ... I am once again reminded that perceptions vary. So I apologize and promise that I'll never toss a quiz onto his desk again. He accepts my apology. And apologizes for leaving the room instead of moving to where I told him to go.
As we're finishing up, he still doesn't look too happy with me, but I can't worry about it because another student walks in, a senior who wants help with a scholarship essay. I then stay until 5 o'clock with her, working that essay towards perfection.
She leaves saying, "Thank you so much. I really, really appreciate you taking the time."
I smile. On the walk home, I can't help but think, you win some, you lose some. You can try, but you'll never be perfect.