Saturday, January 28, 2012

Subverted the Norm

My students described me in two ways, between talking out of turn, working and asking me questions about my personal life (name, college, do I work in X, do I hate them). I'm not sure I agree with their assessment in either case, but here we go. Apparently I am (a) cool and (b) scary. Sorry, what?


Urban Dictionary (a perfectly citable source for definitions) describes "cool" as: "The best way to say something is neat-o, awesome, or swell." However, "cool" is a term that is relative to the observer. (Which is why, when asked if I am cool - happened once - I respond with "No.") My classes consisted of twelve and thirteen year olds. They did a number of things, like play sports, not-read and play X-Box.

Somehow, I don't see how they then came to the conclusion that I am "cool". By their standards, I would need to:

(a) Play sport. Let's just be clear, here: the most physical activity I got in my three weeks in that school was walking to and from the bus stop and to the college. Okay, this amounted to several kilometres a day with what might have been heavy bags in each hand on some days (copies... gotta love 'em!), but I wouldn't call that sport. They even asked what team I supported, and were disappointed when I said I don't. I wasn't going to lie to make them like me. I don't like sports. I don't think people who play sports are "cool". (Correction: I don't think playing sports defines someone as being "cool" - I might think someone is "cool" who also happens to play sports, but the two are as related as myself and the president of Uganda.)

(b) Not read. I think we know by now that I read. More than that, I actually like to read. I also love to write, which is like reading by backwards. And I work in a bookshop, which more or less means I encourage people to read on a daily basis. At this point, I began to wonder if, by being the exact opposite of these kids, I was therefore "cool". I still disagree with the term, and I'm certainly nothing like them.

(c) Play X-Box. Okay, so I have a PS3. Well, I have 1/3 of a PS3. I sometimes get a chance to play it. Sometimes. I was asked if I played Skyrim, and I said yes, because I had to let a student know that I got his "arrow in the knee" reference, but it wasn't funny. He was asked to refrain from referencing the game again, or he'd have extra work. But a PS3 is not an X-Box.

So, I didn't do the three things they did. I was also eight years older than them, had an interest in religion and Shakespeare and gave them homework at least every second day. I gave punishment work and raised my voice at them when they spoke too loudly. I kicked people out of class (but kept them within sight with the door open, as I am legally obliged to). I did everything a teacher does. But I was described as "cool". I am as confused as you, believe me.

(And in case you think I'm being entirely self-critical, I told my friends about this: they laughed.)

As well as "cool", though, I was also "scary". The same student used these two words. I kind of understand the "scary" part, though. I raised my voice a lot. I didn't shout exactly, but when I do that Drama thing of raising my voice without much effort, it can get to a class. The teacher is supposed to shout and lose their voice. Then they lose the class and the students can keep on talking. After all, learning isn't "cool". But God I love learning.

There is a point to all of this, though. For a start, I want to make it absolutely clear that I do not think I am "cool". I am relateable and mostly easy to get along with. I am sometimes funny and sometimes smart and I almost always listen when someone needs to talk. I make stupid mistakes and embarrass myself, which makes people laugh. But being annoying, clumsy and in Drama does not typically equate to someone being "cool". Therefore, I conclude that I subverted the norm of social standards in terms of "cool".

The second point is much briefer, and related to this exchange of words:

Student: Sir, will you just tell us your first name?
Me: Why do you even care about my first name?
Student: Because we want to add you on Facebook!

No matter how "cool" they think I am, I would never accept them on Facebook. Ever.

And the third point: I have a kind of catchphrase that I intend to keep ironic: "I'm cool like that." It doesn't work if people start calling me "cool", because then it turns from ironic and possibly annoying to just annoying. I'm annoying enough as it is!

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