Summer School: Day 11
The students are getting restless—too much pent-up energy, and no way to release it except by mouthing off, so it was no surprise that the following exchange took place this morning:
Student: You got a pencil?
Student: I need a pencil.
Me: I thought you had a pencil. What were you using?
Student: My nose.
These kids are just a year or two younger than I was when I gave my first smart-ass answer to an adult’s question. The summer I was 14, our family had just moved from Vermont to a small town in Kansas. Jobs for young teens were scarce, so my dad bought a new lawn mower, hoping that my brother and I could earn some cash by building a yard-maintenance business.
I was always on the lookout for shaggy lawns, which meant potential new customers. I knocked at the door of one house with a particularly jungly front yard. A stunningly beautiful woman answered. “I was wondering if you’d like for me and my brother to mow your lawn,” I stammered.
“How much do you charge?” she asked.
“We can negotiate the price,” I said.
“Let me ask my husband.” She left me standing at the door while she consulted her spouse. She returned a couple of minutes later with another question: “Are you going to use your lawn mower?”
“No,” I retorted, without thinking, “I’m going to use my teeth.”
“All right, wise guy, that’s not what I meant. Are you going to use your mower or ours?”
Amazingly, Sue and Art Lewrenz hired me to mow their lawn for the rest of the summer. Sue must have known that adolescents often open their mouths without thinking, and she must have been in a generous mood that day, willing to overlook my transgression.
As a middle-school teacher, I’m called upon to overlook transgressions daily. Choosing my battles, I ignore a lot of smart-ass remarks. It’s good for the kids, good for me, and good for the health of our classroom community.