After a wonderful hike  this morning with my wife and a group of outdoor minded folks, I spent the better part of the day working on the house that we have been building over the last 4 years.     4 years to build a house?   Well, clearly, we have not been working full time for 4 years!  It has been a part time endeavor,  working weekends during the fall and spring and more or less full time when not sailing or pursuing other adventures during the spring.   And we have already enjoyed spending time here over the last year and a half, but that is for another post.  

The thought that has been on my mind the past couple of days, and during my work time today is Dennis the Menace.   Anyone who was a young kid in the 60’s will surely recognize the show.   I watched it religiously… or I should say,  I watched the re-runs religiously .   The series stopped in 1963, and I don’t think that we owned a TV until the second half of the decade.  

Of course, Dennis was not a true menace.  I think that he always had good intentions, but, week after week, he found ways to make Mr. Wilson lose his cool.   Many years have passed since I last watched an episode, but the voices of the characters are still fresh in my mind.  “Hi Mr. Wilson”..  ”  Oh, Hello Dennis”    ..     It is the “Hi Mr. Wilson”  that is stuck in my mind today. 

When students in my class say something nice or take time to do something polite for a classmate, I try to recognize them.  ” Cody,  your mother brought you up right”   That is one of my favorite sayings..   I understand that it leaves Dad out of the picture and that critics could tear me apart, but, almost inevitably, it brings a smile to the student’s face,  and I know that I struck a positive chord.    So, I guess it is time to make my point, and here it is.   Dennis’ mother brought him up right.  I don’t think that it would occur to Dennis to ignore Mr. Wilson if he saw him on the street.  In fact, I think that Dennis would go out of his way to say “Hello Mr. Wilson”, even if he had to walk half a block out of his way.

On the way to classes earlier this week, I mentioned to a colleague that I had read through a school rule book dating back to the 40’s, and I found that students were expected to acknowledge teachers in the morning.  Of course, this remains an expectation in the military to this day, but  we prefer to run the school in a slightly less disciplined manner.   

I recall my mother telling me in no uncertain terms ( a favorite phrase of hers)  that it was disrespectful for me to say “hi” to a teacher and that I should use the word “Hello”  instead.  We have a lot of great kids at school, and the last thing that I want to do is use this as a forum for rants against “kids these days”,  but I would be happy if kids said “hi” on a regular basis.  In fact, they don’t.   I saw a student walking across the street the other day, and I called out his name, expecting to congratulate him on a performance that he did a day earlier.  He was listening to his ipod…  he never heard me,  and he deprived me of the opportunity to pay him a compliment.  

High school students tend to be social.  In our school, they tend to sit in the halls and visit.  They are very comfortable.. their feet stretched out in front of them..   I guess they are deeply engrossed in their conversations, because they don’t even recognize that they have formed a gauntlet which is difficult to negotiate.   “ok, I say to myself… it is ok that you don’t say hello, but could you please pull your legs in so that those of us intent on getting to class can do so without fear of tripping?” 

When I am in one of those temporary cynical moods, it seems like students whom you have had in previous years forget that you even exist, and the current ones who are worried about their grades are the ones who remember to smile and say hello.   Thank God I don’t get in cynical moods too often! 

So, I am thinking that if my mother was still living, tonight would have been a good evening to stop by and visit and share conversation over a cup of tea and thank her for bringing me up right.   And, as we prepare for a new week at school, I need to remind myself to look for students who are not listening to ipods,  make eye contact with them,  and wish them a good morning.  After all,  good manners constitute the lubricant which eases friction in social interactions, and, while I consider myself a teacher of mathematics, I sometimes think that what the world really needs today is a good dose of manners.   jt


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