Saturday, June 6, 2015

Interacting With Other Humans is Hard

The worst thing happened to me today. Well, obviously not the worst worst, since I'm writing about it on my blog and not the inside of the coffin I was buried alive in. But it was this awful thing where a boy came up to me and said "Hi, Mr. Mueller! Hi!" And I responded "Hi, buddy!" And he got this very cogitated look about him, and this sweet little boy looked at me and, not accusingly but also not inquiringly, said "Do you know my name."




I did not. I looked around desperately, because when you're a teacher to over seven hundred kids you have a plan for what to do when a child realizes that you've only ever used pronouns or generic waves to get their attention. You drilled for this, Ben. Come on. Frantically I looked around for another kid, because in my ordinary context there are several children around, and I can usually flip the conversation by jokingly calling a boy "Sophie" or "Lupe" until one of the other kids helpfully corrects me. I look around, and with a sinking feeling in the pit of my self-esteem realize there are no kids close enough for this ruse to work.

I cycle through my tricks. I can't ask him to spell his last name. Don't have my class roster. Do I really only have three tricks? This is why I'm not a magician.
What do you mean, it's not your card? I only have two of these.
Now, I'm a librarian and when my mind works it works a bit like a digital catalog. Each kid has a record--albeit a spottily-cataloged one--and I use what I can find to query the catalog for the kid. Now, normally I have a very strict set of parameters. Kind of like:
It's a speciis is definitely Ms. Genericname's Class. Okay then. "Query: Homeroom:Genericname AND Gender:Male AND Ethnicity:Latino OR Ethnicity:Hispanic NOT Name:Jose" 
Standing on the playground at 7:30 in the morning, rolling on five hours of sleep, I cave. I kneel down, I man up, and I admit that "No, buddy. I don't remember your name."

There's a triumphant smile--"I'm Luis!" and I feel completely wretched.  I think it's really important that kids feel that their teachers know them, make them feel singularly important. Teachers have training about it--strategies to make kids feel more secure that the adults in their lives care for them. And nothing undermines that more than not knowing a kid's name.

"Do you think it's fair that I don't remember your name?" I ask. Is that fair is a question I employ a lot. He looks at me with this absolutely canny look. He's not angry that I don't remember. Or confused. He completely gets it, and he empathizes. Which makes me feel even worse. This is cool kid! I offer my hand, he shakes it. "Well, now I know, Luis. Now I know." And he scampers away, leaving me to wonder what I just did to that kid's self-esteem. These kids, man.

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