“Can you keep it down? I’m trying to finish my work.”
“I don’t see how that’s my problem.” Amy a flashed a grin at her classmate. “That sounds like a personal problem to me.” Despite her friend’s pleading, Amy continued to sing at the top of her lungs (off-key, I might add).
I generally liked Amy as a student, but at times like this, she made me want to scream with frustration. She was usually sweet, enthusiastic, and hard-working, but occasionally an inconsiderate double-standard reared its ugly head inside her sarcasm and playful rudeness. Despite my many admonitions during my time as her teacher, Amy never understood the problem. She never “got it.” Many students don’t. They don’t see the impact of their own inconsiderate habits. They don’t understand that if they want respect and consideration from their peers, they have to be willing to give it, too. But one time, I had one student who finally “got it” – and it totally made my day.
I met Mike my very first day substitute teaching. He stood a foot taller than me, wore a leather jacket, and harbored a dark look in his eyes. He directly challenged my authority the first time I met him, and I completely won him over with how I responded to his challenge (that’s a good story; I should write a post about that some day). He was a tough, angry teenager, but after that first day, he had my back every time I subbed at his school.
One day, the teacher left another student (Sarah) in charge of presenting the content of the lesson; my job was simply to make sure the class listened and behaved. Most of the students weren’t thrilled with the arrangement, but Mike was the worst. He kept hassling the poor girl, complaining that she wasn’t explaining well enough, and then making loud jokes and laughing while she continued to try to present the notes. I reprimanded him several times and he calmed a little as he saw me marking down his actions. He really didn’t like it when someone other than the teacher lead the class, he told me. I replied that I understood, but that wasn’t Sarah’s fault and she didn’t deserve his behavior. I could tell my words weren’t really getting through to him, however.
Finally, Sarah finished the lesson and gave her classmates an assignment to be turned in before the end of the period. They all worked quietly for about 10 minutes, but as some students (mostly the girls) finished before others, the noise volume rose. Mike was still working, though. The noise frustrated him and he let spew an angry tirade at his talking classmates. He couldn’t focus, he said, along with much less tactful exclamations of frustration. I did tell the loud girls to stop talking, but I also had to ask Mike to stay after class to address his language.
To his credit, he stayed without having to be reminded, but he sullenly avoided eye contact with me and kept shifting back and forth while he waited. When I began to address his outburst, he exploded again.
“They were being so rude, talking so much while I was working! I wasn’t done yet, and I couldn’t focus while they were being so loud! How can they disrespect me like that!?”
Calmly, not accusingly, I replied, “But you were doing the exact same thing to Sarah at the beginning of class.”
It was one of those light-bulb moments that teachers live for and remember forever. Mike’s body language changed immediately. The hostile edge left his posture. He stopped shifting back and forth and softened his grip on his book bag. Most notably, he looked up, directly into my eyes.
“You see the connection, right? You can’t behave a certain way towards her, and then get mad when others behave the same way to you.”
He dropped his gaze again, but this time in deference, not in anger. “Yeah… I get it.”
I’d love to say Mike was a model student after that. He still had his anger issues and still acted out sometimes, but I didn’t see him hassle his classmates the same way again, at least, not when I was there. He understood that if he wanted to be treated well, he needed to treat others well, too.
It’s time to take a lesson from Mike. It’s time to drop the double standard of demanding kindness but being unwilling to give it. Do not loudly descry the disrespect of others if you cannot show respect to your peers yourself. Don’t mock a classmate if you don’t want to be mocked. Amy wasn’t the stereotypical “mean girl” or bully, but she still failed to be considerate and kind in many little situations. She never understood how frustrating that was for people around her. Life has taught me that people like that don’t change all that much as they grow up. Inconsiderate teenagers often turn in to inconsiderate adults that live by the same double-standard, that don’t understand how important it is to be thoughtful of others. Build the habits of consideration now, before the wrong habits become so much harder to break down the road.
Be kind, polite, respectful, and helpful even when there is nothing immediately “in it” for you. Because at the risk of sending the wrong message, there is something in it for you! There is care, trust, and loyalty. There is mutual respect and reciprocated thoughtfulness. In the long run, the rewards of consideration will serve you much better in life than a few snarky comments ever will. We all want to be around people who are nice to us – so be someone whom people want to be around!