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Sunday, May 22, 2016

A Teacher Learns Something

Jordan Sokol Teacher Source
Somewhere on a university campus in North America in the not too recent past, a teacher did something she thought she would never do. Some thing she has not done in a lifetime of teaching.

This teacher is very scrupulous. She believes that there is an objective standard that exists outside the person, and the ethical person's job is to adhere to that standard. In short, you *don't* do just what you want to do, or what feels good to do. You do what is right, and what is right is defined by criteria that exist outside of you.

This teacher has none of the signatures of worldly power. She is not pretty, rich, or successful.

And yet. Year after year, she makes men cry.

She doesn't want to. She never knows when it will happen. It's not something for which she can prepare.

It's often the toughest of males. "Given your number of absences, assignments not completed, and test scores, your final grade is an F."

And the lids blink, and the whites cloud to red, and the tears flow.

It's awkward. How do you comfort someone with a skull tattoo and an obscene t-shirt? Really she doesn't know.

Look -- she's not looking for this. She doesn't like this.

When she meets with students, she brings a computer if the meeting place doesn't have a computer, and she puts a video of a flowing waterfall on the computer screen. She plays New Age music of wind chimes, yoga flutes and chanting monks.

She's a writer herself so she offers feedback in the gentlest of ways. "So, when you next write a paper like this, perhaps, in the future, rather than, as you do here, alternating between MLA style and APA style, pick one style and use it throughout the paper."

Even with that students cry. Male students cry. It's so awkward. A handsome young man who had been the model of self-possession all semester. Actual tears.

"Why???" she asks, throwing up her hands.

"I've never had anyone critique a paper I wrote the way that you do. This has just never happened to me before."

Is this really the participation-prize generation? Are millennials really made of spun sugar? Have they been helicopter-parented into fragility? Or is she really such a bitch?

She does not know.

But now there is a new phenomenon. Students crying when they get *good* news.

"You liked my paper!!! You appreciated it!"

"I thought I was going to fail your class!!"

"You're giving me an A? Thank you!!"

How to handle this?

She calls up images of kittens on the computer screen. "Here! Look at this!" she wants the kittens to provide what she feels it would be inappropriate to attempt to provide. She's trying to be Spock -- fair. Impartial. She can handle tears at a Polish wedding, but not at moments like this.

Recently, she did something she never thought she'd do.

There was -- This. Student.


Oh. My. God.

She would have just pulled out a gun and shot him, were she not a Christian -- and a supporter of gun control. Google would probably provide all the necessary clues on how to dispose of the body without leaving any trace. Probably it would involve bleach. She'd be into that. She's a clean freak. She likes a challenge.

Difficult in ways she could detail but not in a public forum.

Just go down the list and check off all the things a human can do to be a hemorrhoid, a delayer of sleep, someone who makes you, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday increasingly dread a scheduled Monday encounter.

So. Fairness. It is out there, It is numbers. It is reached by being Spock.

Years ago, a student, someone she loved, who was, yes, a criminal, threatened to kill her if she wouldn't give him a grade higher than earned. And she said no. Really. it means that much to her to be *fair.*

With this more recent student, because of a series of factors she cannot disclose, for the first time in her entire career, she bestowed a grade higher than had, strictly, in keeping with that external quality of fairness, been earned.

Tears? Ach yai, as Aunt Tetka used to say.

And then some words.

And the teacher realized -- it could have been pure chance -- but in this one instance, she realized, giving that grade turned out to be the exactly *right* thing to do. It was the thing that needed to be done to teach well, and to ... well to do the right thing.

She said to him, "This is a pay-it-forward situation. In the future, because of all that has transpired, you are going to apply what you've learned, and, on that future date, you are going to earn this grade."

The quality of mercy is not strained.

And that quality, like fairness, did not come from her. It was something out there. She was merely the channel.

Because she just wanted to go home and take a nap, and get back to birdwatching.

Jan Steen The Severe Teacher Source

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