Recently, a senior stuck his head in my sophomore English classroom door and said, "Hi Mr. O."
He looked around the classroom and then said, "Hey, you guys are lucky to have Mr. O for a teacher. He is great." I thanked him and he left, but not before some of my college-prep sophomores put their fists to their noses and said "squeak, squeak, squeak."
They were expressing their contempt for him, and me, and for themselves, for his "brown-nosing." It is not Politically Correct for most Conval students to publically express their praise for a teacher they like. This is a student who is taking and excelling in my Philosophy course, a course for which he is very well suited. In a previous course with me he had flunked. I did not dislike him in the previous course, nor do I like him more now. He simply is better suited for Philsophy.
The sophomores smiled at their squeaking sounds, amusing themselves with their cynicism. You see, a cynic is one who questions another's motives, something they were assuredly doing here, but their intended insult hit more than their target. It also hit me, and, ultimately, it hit themselves.
Obviously, it hit their target, the senior boy. He was made fun of in public, and, if he cared, which I doubt he does, it would hurt him to think that his peers do not respect him.
The insult also hit me. It said that, for someone to compliment me in public, it had to be for ulterior motives. It said that I am not worthy of such praise on my own. But, deeper than that, it also insulted my professionalism. The assumption is that such praise would work, and that I am so weak in my own self-respect and professionalism that I would reward those who curried my favor with good grades. That insult hit me harder.
The insult also hit themselves. I saw who did the squeaking and I now know who thinks so little of teachers in general and of me in particular that to smile or compliment me was tantamount to getting a good grade.
I will not lower their grade for insulting me any more than I will raise the senior’s grade for giving me public praise, but I know who they are and how they really feel, and I will know why they treat me well if they do. They have told me that the only reason they see to compliment a teacher is for personal gain.
Our reactions to everyday occurances reveal our characters, if not to ourselves, then most definitely to others.