It’s Debatable.

“Um…no, thanks.”

I was having a pretty solid Monday. Sure, I had to deal with a sketchy looking car that drove by campus (three times) trying to attract students. Sure, there were numerous times that students approached the fence to either jump it in order to leave, to attempt some sort of transaction through the fence. I’ve gotten to a point where I actually just accept that the administration is willfully in denial about these things, and that I should do whatever basic enforcement that I can at my end of campus.

That stuff ceased to even bug me.

I had a fantastic discussion about the language concepts of syntax versus semantics with my classes, and the day was going very well academically. The Magic: The Gathering Club at lunch was fun to hang around with, and play cards as we wind down the season, and the tournament. Pretty excellent day.

During fourth period, my conference, I was on campus making sure some of my students actually made it to class. It’s amazing how really simple that is. You meet up with a student, shake hands, have a nice talk en route to the class. Most kids are pretty reasonable, and just don’t want to be hassled for being late. Show up with a teacher, and that’s not a problem.

As this wound down, our principal approached me. I have trouble dealing well with our principal, so this was not a very comfortable situation. He started with the usual small talk, which I find pretty awkward. I’m not great at small talk to begin with, so compounding that with someone that I have real trouble interacting with…not great. With reasonable alacrity, he cut to the proverbial chase.

“So…we had an alumni contact us the other day, with like a million dollar grant on the table to start a Debate class and team. Would you want to coach that?”

I did not miss a single beat. “No sir…I’m not expert in debate competition. Thanks for thinking of me though.”

A confused look greeted me. “But…the AP’s told me that you had this big debate as a culminating project.”

“No sir. That was Mock Trial. If you had a donor for Mock Trial, that would be different…I might be interested.”

But…” he began, faltering. “Aren’t they the same thing, pretty much?”

“No sir. Not at all.”

That produced a moment of thought. It was hard to sit through, because at the end of it, it wasn’t that there was a real effort here to motivate me with something that I might want to do. There was a literal briefcase full of money involved, and it was the sight of that which was clearly driving things. I was beginning to chide myself as unfair and cynical, when those thoughts of his congealed into, “Are you sure? Because the donor will pay for anything and everything, and it would be a statewide competition…?”

“No sir…I’d have to politely decline. If Mock Trial comes up, that would be more my speed. I should get to my class and grade some final papers…have a good day.”

And like that, a bit of my day was eroded. Largely because I’ve offered assistance in things that don’t directly have money sitting on the table, and been declined. Here…is something that I don’t necessarily want, and most certainly had been offered to others ahead of me (I later checked, and yes). It was offered more to get a body doing it, than as any sort of acknowledgment of skill or utility.

Later on in the day, on my way home, a call from my father pretty much made Monday into Monday. We haven’t spoken in months, which has pretty much been on purpose. As I endured the “conversation” at many points really a shout fest, I realized the main problem that I have with both my principal, and conversations with my father.

Neither one of them listens. They just wait to talk.

That’s a bad, but all too common quality these days.

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