To illustrate the point that I learn some type of lesson in each classroom, my most recent experience with fifth grade proves it. The incident was minor, but it allowed me to catch a glimpse of the mind of one fifth grader for one spot in time.

The setting was the school cafeteria. At my last district, teachers were invited to be elsewhere while kids ate lunch. That’s not the case here. The teachers are required to supervise their classes so that no-one gets underserved or beaten into unconsciousness by a chicken leg.

One girl in my class was eating said chicken leg and I observed her casually wiping her fingers on her jeans. Thinking I was doing an act of kindness, I quietly pulled two napkins from the dispenser and placed them beside her.

Apparently, that was a mistake in judgment. In addition to not using the napkins, she left them exactly as I placed them and inched slowly and methodically away from them. She continued to wipe hands on jeans and when lunch was over, she left the forbidden napkins on the table.

What actually went on in this student’s mind will never be known to me. Did she think I was insulting her hygiene? Did I insult her maturity – if I wanted a napkin, I would have taken one. It might simply be that she didn’t like me or doesn’t like substitute teachers. Speaking with her teacher, I discovered that this was one of the most polite and courteous students in the class. Hmmm.

Given the minimum information I have available, I’ll simply make it a point not to repeat my gesture. You might make a case for this being one student in one class with one particular attitude. It may also be a case of fifth-gradeliness – I am my own person and you will absolutely not contaminate my free will or decision-making options.

A kindergartener might have said thank you. A different fifth-grader might have appreciated what I did. No matter – if I ever again decide to offer cleanliness in a school cafeteria, I’ll ask first. And I will defend your right to wipe hands on you jeans if you choose to do so. Shalom.

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