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What was the question?

Posted: December 13, 2013 1:43 p.m.
Updated: December 16, 2013 5:00 a.m.

Verbal communication can be very surprising. Sometimes it can be annoying. It can also be so amazing that the listener hardly has a reply except a gasp.

When I began teaching school in the 1960s, I was young but already married. The students, however, called me “Miz” Pruett and, obviously, thought I was single. Anyway, the following examples would say so.

A sixth grade class went on a field trip with me. If I tell you it was to an Army base, you know these children were not anticipating going to college. We had to stop for lunch at a very busy Army fast food place -- so busy that I grabbed a pad and took orders from my students. I noticed that a number of the soldiers kept coming by the tables and talking to the students. When one more daring individual leaned toward me, winked and pursed his lips, I interrogated my charges. Finally, I found the reason: my male students were selling my name and telephone number to interested individuals. I was horrified! The boys thought they had made everything all right when they told me, “We did not give them the right name or number.” Perhaps I should have been thankful for their ingenuity.

The first year I transferred to high school, the ROTC was going on a field trip and begged me to be one of the chaperones. Anyone who has taught knows that a trip of this sort is more trouble than staying with the assigned class. Therefore, I refused. The students would not be denied. Finally, one said, “But I’ve already told Sergeant I was bringing you and showed him your picture.” Evidently, my wedding rings made no difference.

Again in high school, I encountered a really unexpected question and request from a mother. She said, “T. does not like to see corrections in his paper made with red ink. I know you will like to cooperate and mark his paper in a different color.” I looked at her to assure myself that she was not joking. Can you imagine what a problem allowing student to select correction color would be? Of course, she had chosen one of the busiest days when I certainly did not have time for such foolishness. I knew, however, that refusing to entertain her request would mean going to the principal’s office, so I said, “Mrs. ____, I shall be delighted to try and solve the problem. If T. will study, I will not have to make his tests with any color pen. Then you, he and I will have acceptable closure.”

A question that remains, although I have personally asked it many times and received what the responder believed to be an answer, is why a male received more pay for a less demanding job or did not have to do any work at all. The answer was always, for my brother, “He is a boy,” and from an employer, “He is a male.” At one time, these explanations were followed by, “As a man, he has to provide for a family.” These arguments still remain even though the woman may be the breadwinner in the family. I suggest that any female asking will just know that the definitive answer will always be, “He is a boy/man.”

Some questions never receive answers; others are amazing and annoying. Adults, young people and children ask, sometimes to no avail. These are some of the interrogations I have had, but the answer that still irks me and does not satisfy is the one about maleness.

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