Monday, March 31, 2008

They only remember the really unimportant stuff

I'm trying to respond to an email from one of my students. Maybe if I write out my thoughts here, I might be able to come up with something.

Her message to me:
HEY MR. P, ITS JULIA IN YOUR 5TH PERIOD CLASS, I WANTED TO APOLOGIZE FOR WHAT I SAID TODAY IN CLASS, I FEEL I DISRESPECTED YOU.
She sent it Friday afternoon. It's now Sunday evening. And I just checked my email. And my initial thought is: What is she talking about?

I have no idea.

Whatever it was, she felt it was important enough to send an apology. What could it have been? Did she say something inappropriate? Ask a rude question? Respond in a sarcastic way? For the life of me, I don't remember. But since she apologized, I have to remember ...

Let's see ... 5th period Friday. ACT review. Strategies practice. Think-aloud of a passage. No real opportunities for someone to say anything horrible ...

Hmm ... what were the passages about? Something boring. All ACT passages are boring. Why are they so boring? If they were interesting, maybe students wouldn't fall asleep taking the darned test. Oh yeah, one of the passages was about some Japanese guy climbing a mountain. The next one was about ... something college students do, some college tradition like stuffing people in a Volkswagen Beetle.

Did we end up talking about college life? Possibly. I often get side-tracked by college talk. Thing is, so few of my students have any first- or even second-hand knowledge of what happens in college, that it's my job to inform them. I tell them about being able to schedule your own classes, so you get to choose what time of day works best for you. About applications and financial aid. About being able to go to the bathroom without asking for permission. About lecture halls. About Frisbee. Anything and everything they've never experienced.

Oh yeah!!! Wow, now I remember. And she was a little rude. But hilarious. And I totally forgot about it:

I don't know how we got on the topic, but someone said something like, "Everyone always thinks about sex," and I said something like, "Well, maybe teenagers do," and someone said, "You used to be a teenager," and I said, "Yeah, used to be. Now my thoughts are pure." Something like that. A total throwaway conversation, something meaningless that no one would ever remember.

But then Julia said, "Well, that explains why you're single!"

I said, "What's that supposed to mean?"

And she said, "The only thing girls think about nowadays is sex. And if your thoughts are pure, you're boring."

And the whole class said, "Ooooh!"

She continued, "And no one wants to be with some boring guy."

A throwaway conversation, one I should have avoided. One I should have nipped in the bud. One that would have embarrassed me a few years back. But that was then, this is now, so instead of quickly changing the subject or threatening to write her up or blushing, I looked at her and said, "Who said anything about me being single?"

Another "ooooh!" from the class.

"You did," Julia said. "That one time you asked if our mothers were single!"

Wow, that's something I said at the beginning of the year. A stupid joke, with this punchline: "Can you imagine calling me Dad?" But people remember the stupidest things. In fact, I often wonder if students ever hear anything important I say. Anything about writing or literature or college life. It seems like they don't. Ever. They sure don't take notes. But a stupid joke, that's what they remember.

And now that I remember that stupid conversation from Friday I need to remember to yell at her about it tomorrow.

4 comments:

appopt said...

But how should I reply to her email? Any ideas?

Anonymous said...

Probably just best to keep it simple -- since you did forget about the comment, it wouldn't be right to make more of it than necessary. But, imagine how bad she must have felt to send that email! It's terrible to feel like you put your foot in your mouth.

Just say something about how you appreciate her apology, and that you understand that we all say things before really thinking sometimes.

--Jenska

ms g said...

I think your posts like this one illustrate on how many levels you rock:

1.) you mean enough to this girl to not only have second thoughts about what she said, but about how she may have made you feel. It also says a lot about Julia, as I know of plenty of adults who can't apologize to save their lives.

2.) you make college desirable on levels often not touted--the lofty "broaden your horizons" is nice and all, but you make it tangible for your kids.

3.) you talk to them about yourself--you seem to be very real with them, and they so need adults like that.

4.) you ponder how to respond to this kid.

For what it's worth, I'd tell her what you've told us--that you thought the comment was a little rude, but that you appreciated the humor of it.

(But you probably don't want to get into what bs "my thoughts are pure" is...)

appopt said...

Thanks, jenska and ms g, for the kind words and advice. I ended up sending her a quick little email thanking her for her message. I was going to talk to her about it today, but she was absent. In the grand scheme of things, what she said was definitely closer to humor than disrespect, and I've got kids like from today's post to worry about ...