Today, I am musing on those who want to skim by on the outskirts of what is right. You know those people – they have grown up being able to get by on looks or charisma. They don’t feel it necessary to play by the rules; rather, they make a game of getting by on charm. To them, this is a large game and it does not matter if they did not earn the prize. They think they got it “fair and square” by playing off looks, charm, reputation, etc.
Years ago, I attended field day for my daughter’s school. To the best of my recollection, she was in fourth grade. Kaitlin is a fierce competitor. She wants to be first and she is willing to work as hard as needed to arrive at her goal. One of the events was a short race – I can’t recall the distance – and Kaitlin was the winner. In a show of sour grapes, someone muttered, “She cheated.” Now, hard to do. She didn’t knock anyone down or do anything else untoward and she came across the finish line first. I was not a judge; I just witnessed this and I heard the comment. My thought then was, “Silly child, Kaitlin would never cheat to win.” To her, that wouldn’t be a victory. She would know she had not legitimately topped the others, and the prize would have held no value.
I once encountered a student who was trying his very best to squirm out of the work needed to pass my class. He manufactured a story, whined a whole lot, refused any suggestions given by me or the administration, and was heading for disaster, in my estimation. Years ago, Kenny Rogers had that now famous song, “The Gambler.” You know the lyrics:
“ You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run….”
This kid obviously did not have parents or older relatives to let him know that he shouldn’t overplay his hand. He had planted his foot and was living out the oftimes ill-advised, “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”
Let me offer a caveat about teaching high school students as you age: however old you are, they will think you are older and, to them, with age does not come wisdom. With age comes a dumbness they think they can use to their advantage. Here’s the thing: I know they think that. I tell them I graduated from Keyport High School 9 million years ago. Here’s the other thing: If you knew my mom, you would know that, until a blood clot rendered her unconscious, her mind was like a steel trap. I may not be at Frances level, but I am not doddering off in the weeds. From the moment this child launched his shenanigans, I felt in my gut that he was attempting a scam.
Unfortunately, I have had times in my life when I fell under the spell of these charismatic people – adults who, like this student, thought they could sell me some snake oil. I will admit there were times I actually purchased a bottle. In my defense, it was a small bottle – a sample size – and I was able to shed the snake oil and the snake oil salesman, like an actual snake sheds his skin.
To these people – student and snake oil salesman alike – the game and subsequent victory using the “tools” they have found to be successful is a huge part of the allure. It may actually be easier to do the right thing but that is not “challenging” enough for them. They like being able to coerce people into doing things their way, using nothing but what they consider their skills.
In an unfortunate twist of timing for the student, I had encountered a snake oil salesman prior to encountering him and I was that much more leery. I also learned that trusting my gut was first and foremost. Red flags may not be flying outwardly, but they will be fluttering inside, no longer to be ignored.
Along with some students thinking age means waning intelligence, some also equate kindness with weakness. I believe in kindness – it is one of my classroom policies – but, when push comes to shove, I may be older but I am still an Irish girl from New Jersey, and I know when to take a stand.
Something else important to know about me is that one of the worst things a person can do is to underestimate me or to assume they are smarter than I am. To be sure, there are many people smarter than I am – dare I say I raised three of them – but to make that assumption due to the fact that I am older, or female, or kind is at your own peril. Doing that, you see, is completely overplaying your hand. Remember the old adage, author unknown to me, “When you think you have someone eating out of your hand, it’s best to count your fingers.”
I am a rule follower and, like my daughter, I want to succeed or win, fair and square. I am not looking for a shortcut or a way to circumvent the work needed. It is sad to me, to be sure, that people bemoan the work needed to reach a level of competency. It is not for others to know that I have won. It is for me to know it.
Those who know me know I use this analogy (ad nauseam to some) from Happy Days, the 70s television show. Back then, characters were sometimes so popular, they would be “spun off” to another show of their own. Case in point, Laverne and Shirley. They went on a double date with Richie and Fonzie. Richie Cunningham (played by Ron Howard) was a straight shooter and a conservative guy. He wore a suit to the date with a handkerchief in the pocket. Laverne said, “Is that for showing or for blowing?” For me, substance wins over the outward show. For me to know something to be true is more important than for others to know it. To cheat to win or to rely on charm or charisma alone, is not a life skill to me.