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When a Kid Gets to You…

September 19, 2020 pm30 7:14 pm

Sometimes a kid just rubs me the wrong way. I’m not good at hiding stuff, but I really try to hide it. Sometimes I fail, but I do try.

Then there’s the kids I roll my eyes at, pick on a bit, even make fun of… the ones who I have a soft spot for, who enjoy the attention. (Plus, it masks when someone really does get to me.) There was a kid who just graduated, call him Vez. Everyone knew he drove me nuts. I adored him. Occasionally we would have interesting conversations. Never about math. Though a couple of times he confessed that I made math not so bad. High praise. And then, mid-August, he’s graduated, I got an email from him. I’m surprised. I open it. He took a project from the spring, and improved it. (at the bottom of this post). So yeah, he got to me. But not like that, if you know what I mean. This post isn’t about kids like Vez, the kind of kids I want in every class, but not too many of them…

I’m talking about kids like, well, hmm.  There are those who insist that class stop any time they have a question. They do not accept “we will come back to that.” Rather than give me and their classmates a chance to explain, they argue. They are hard for me. There are those who just don’t like the class, but like to demonstrate their distaste. I am pretty good at not reacting to them. And then there are those, well, like me, when I was a teenager.

I was smart in high school. And a smart aleck. I liked showing off. I didn’t work very hard, and made it obvious. I did participate, which most teachers did like. And I got super high scores on tests in most subjects. In Math and French especially my mixed work habits were easily forgiven. And in English and History I spoke up, and sometimes said smart things.

But there was one teacher, junior year…  I rubbed him the wrong way, and he was not good at hiding it. Physics. I actually loved the class. It was amazing how the math that I breathed intersected so wonderfully with the real world. And this was the first class where the teacher taught hard work, and did nothing to make it easy. (well, maybe that happened in math classes, but that stuff came so easily to me that I may not have noticed). The physics teacher balanced the difficulty, which he did not disguise, by grading on a scale that made sense:  25 was passing – 50 was a C, 75 was a B.

I think there were a handful of juniors in the class, the rest were seniors. In class discussions I participated, of course. And I did some of my homework, but not all. Maybe half. That’s the kind of high school student I was. Other teachers just marked me down and moved on, appreciating the good participation. But not him. The lack of effort, the lack of hard work, it galled him. He seemed to praise right answers, but not mine. And he seemed to enjoy it when I was wrong. And while I got a lot right, I made mistakes.

After every quiz the teacher made a histogram of our scores. He would mention the high score, and talk about the middle of the distribution a bit. Now, there were some really smart kids who did the work, and the work was hard. So while I got by without working hard, I was not the top bar. Generally I was in the top half, usually around the third quartile, maybe 6th out of 22, it’s a little fuzzy. But one time, only one time, I was first. He mentioned my name, top score, and before the smile could form on my face, pointed out that the previous year Paul, a senior who I did not like, had had the high score, and the teacher shared that score, which was significantly higher than mine.

I’m not writing to complain about the teacher. Quite the opposite. I learned a lot. I loved his class. I just didn’t understand why he didn’t like me. And he liked other people. He wasn’t a “mean” teacher. One senior, sweet kid, okay at math and science, pushed into the class I think by his parents, worked hard, but struggled, and the teacher was amazingly supportive. I just looked that senior up, he actually returned to work at our high school for a few years (he did not teach physics). Most of the juniors signed up for a second year of physics, with the same teacher. I don’t remember much negative vibe from the teacher that second year (tiny class, by the way, just four of us). But I do remember he had a clear favorite – and I just looked the kid up, Ivy-educated head engineer for a huge, well-known company.

Anyway, I get it. Sometimes there’s a kid who just rubs you the wrong way. And even if you hide it most of the time, sometime, with a particular kid, you can’t hide it all the time. He didn’t go too far, not with me, and while it bothered me then, that’s long ago. I’d like to think that I’ve never gone too far, but I know I did, pretty badly, once. That stays with me.

Anyway, I really was annoying. And I’m surprised, looking back, that I only noticed one teacher’s reaction. There must have been others, been better at hiding it.

Footnote – he retired from teaching, but still plays the tuba:


Vez’s Spring project:

Vez’s surprising (he had already graduated) Summer revision:


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