"You've changed, Mr. P.," one of my students mumbles. "You used to be nice."
"Me? I was nice? When?"
"Last year. You were nice."
"You weren't even in my class last year," I respond, possibly with a little impatience. "So, of course I was nice. I'm not nice to my students. At least not the ones who come to class unprepared or late or just sit there and don't put forth any effort."
She doesn't say anything else. The classroom, for once, is silent. I should say something else, something about the stress I feel because I'm doing my best to get them ready (for the ACT, for college, for life), and they're not responding. To anything. So, yeah, I don't give them points, even if they're only five seconds late to class. Or if they go to the board and "try" to figure out something but get only half of it right. And I hand out low grades on unrevised essays that very clearly were done in class in 15 minutes instead of at home.
There's a lot I can say, but I don't. I plug along with the lesson. They have so much to learn this school year. Sometimes it feels like we haven't even begun yet.
I try a little humor later. I've written a message for them: "There are 6 school days until the Prairie State. If you don't succeed, don't blame the guy in Room 230."
Half the students look up at the classroom door, realize that they're in Room 230, so I must be the guy not to blame.
"Then who do we blame?" one smarty says. "Our other teachers?"
"You can start by looking in the mirror," I respond. "In fact, I've got a mirror in the back of the room, go ahead and look in there. The person looking back at you is probably responsible for most of your successes and failures."
"What if I look in the mirror and see you in the background?" another wise guy says. "Then can I blame you?"
And I actually really like that point. I am in this kid's background. I am responsible for some of his successes and failures. Mostly, though, I believe in personal responsibility. So, instead of getting philosophical, I go a different route.
"If you look in the mirror and see me reflected back, you know you've got problems," I say. "And you can ask yourself, How did I get so ugly? How did I get so old so fast? Where has the time gone?"
A few hours later, after school, a student stops by.
"How's the PMS?" he asks. "I recommend Tampax."
"Is that what you use?" I ask him.
"Yeah," he says. "Anyway, the class was scared of you today. But I think you were right. We didn't do what we were supposed to, so we deserved an F."
"I wasn't trying to be scary," I respond. "I'm just trying to hang onto some high expectations."
"Whatever," he says. "I think Walgreens is having a sale on Tampax."