Some years ago, I sat at a table inside a coin-op laundry. I wore headphones and read a book.
I knew the attendant by face, but not by name. She rapped on my table with her knuckles.
I slid my headphones off.
“You don’t look like you’re in a good mood,” she said.
I wondered to myself when asking that question ever resulted in making anything better for someone else.
The buzzer on my dryer went off and I broke off to fold and leave.
I recalled this story last week when one of my students came to me and said, “Mr. Finney, there’s something inappropriate written about you in the second-floor girls’ restroom.”
A lot of responses raced through my mind, but I work with children, so I withheld most of them.
I told the student, who is sweet-natured, that sometimes when you hear or read something bad about someone else, it’s OK to keep it to yourself.
When you tell the person, you’ve just spread the meanness.
I used to work with a guy at the newspaper in Des Moines who did this.
He’d tell me or other reporters when somebody said some cruel thing on social media or elsewhere on the internet.
There was a guy that got fired by the Des Moines paper for plagiarism. He took a strong disliking of me, though I barely knew him.
He wrote on his blog about me several times; none were complimentary, and he usually made a crack about me being fat.
The plagiarist was skinny and about 40 years older than me. Neither maturity nor humanity followed ideal weight or old age in his case.
I’ll never know what the plagiarist’s problem was. He died a few years back.
Another student recently told me my nickname was “Dump Truck.”
I didn’t ask for clarification.
I told the student that I was fine with him keeping that to himself.
Another student reported a student had said something along the lines that when Mr. Finney jumps into the pool, it causes a tsunami.
Again, this knowledge is not an aid in getting the day’s lesson across.
The kid who told me about the tsunami comment is one of my best students, so I just told him not to worry about it.
I wish I could honestly say that these kinds of barbs don’t bother me, but they do.
And I am fat.
You’re never going to surprise a fat person by telling them they’re fat.
And whatever joke you make about them being fat is just a variation of one they’ve heard too many times to count.
I don’t begrudge children who say mean things about teachers.
I did when I was a boy.
One of my favorite teachers today was one I cursed the loudest when I was in her classes.
Years later, I realized she inspired me to be a writer. I thanked her profusely and hopefully apologized for being such a jerk when I was her student.
However, I would like to stamp out this behavior of passing on the ugly things that people say about other people.
This is the rare case where ignorance is bliss. I need not have every cruel thing said about me routed directly to me.
I have long believed that no news is good news when it comes to feedback.
People are much more likely to go out of their way to tell you something mean than they are to pat you on the back.
This is not said to discourage people from giving me feedback, nor do I wish every note I receive to be puffery for my ego.
I do publish these paragraphs. People have a right to comment. At least when someone tells me they don’t like me or what I write, that’s direct, one-to-one communication.
Everyone else is just trying to stir up trouble.
So, if you’ve got something you want to tell me, good or bad, there are plenty of ways to reach me.
But if you just heard something nasty someone said about me?
Keep it to yourself. Silence is golden.
Middle school teacher Daniel P. Finney is a Marion County Express columnist.
Daniel P. Finney wrote for newspapers for 27 years before being laid off in 2020. He teaches middle school English now. He writes columns and podcasts for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating $10 a month to help him cover the expenses of this site.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
This beautifully echoed Bernard Meltzer’ s advice. “Before you speak ask yourself if what you are going to say is true, is kind, is necessary, is helpful. If the answer is no, maybe what you are about to say should be left unsaid.” Betting you are a favorite to many of your students.
Regarding your 4/9 post : Hopefully the kids saying/writing things about you will come to their senses some day and mature out of this unproductive behavior. Of course the fault is with the accuser. Most times when people make fun of others are when 1) they don’t feel good about themselves in some way or 2) they can’t think of any other way to make their feelings heard or any other way in which to harm the accusee. I would think middle school is where these emotions collide with proper manners frequently.
Yes, ignorance is bliss but also consider the source