In my 18 years of teaching, I have been insulted by students in countless times in countless ways. Playful banter, of course, never meant to hurt and often in response to my own purposefully amusing hubris and declarations of supremacy,
Basically, I walk around, telling the kids how great and powerful I am and allow them to respond accordingly.
It's actually an ideal strategy for bringing the more introverted students out of their shells. These are kids who have so much to say and are often funnier and more clever than their classmates have ever seen because they have such difficulty finding doorways into conversations, discussions, and debate.
In an attempt to open one of those doorways, I offer these kids a large target and permission to fire away. They often charge right through. I cannot tell you how many formerly "quiet" students have opened up and become leaders in the classroom by first finding ways to tease me, mock me, and insult me in the spirit of humor and friendship.
It's also an effective way of bringing a class of students together by providing them with a common enemy. The enemy happens to love them and want them to succeed, and my bluster is meant to be more entertaining than sincere, but the kids quickly see me as someone who must be defeated, and they rally around each other as a result.
In eighteen years, you can imagine that I have heard a great many things from students as a result. One of the best pranks ever played on my by a student became a story that I told on This American Life. Others have become stories that I have told on stages for The Moth, including stories involving an endless supply of raisins and a betrayal under the stars that will never be forgotten.
But last week, I think I heard the greatest insult of all time from a student.
With the utmost of sincerity, this young lady looked up at me and said, "Mr. Dicks, I'm just curious."
I leaned in. Curiosity. A quality I want every student to possess. How exciting.
"When you wash your face, how do you know when to transition from face soap to shampoo, since you have so little hair left and it's hard to see where your forehead ends and the top of your begins. It's all one big patch of skin.?"
She pulled me in with her expression of curiosity and her dripping sincerity, and just as I was open and ready to respond, she stabbed me in the heart with her words.
I was so impressed.