Prompt: Write about staying quiet when you feel like shouting.
“I don’t understand why I can’t turn the assignment in late,” Paul says, his voice taking on the grating whine only teenagers seem capable of achieving.
I sigh, rubbing my temples and pulling out my teaching binder. He watches as I flip through tabs until I find the syllabus for his class.
“Did you read the syllabus?” I ask him.
I point to a line and read aloud while my finger traces beneath the words.
“‘No late work will be accepted.’ Paul, do you find this to be an ambiguous statement?”
“It means unclear. What do you think this line of the syllabus means?”
“That you don’t accept late work.”
“But why can’t I turn this in?”
I grind my teeth, taking a moment to control myself.
“I don’t accept late work, Paul. That is a late assignment. It is the very definition of late work.”
“Yeah, but I was sick.”
I close my eyes and take a deep breath.
“You were sick a week ago. That assignment was due yesterday. How does your illness a week ago have anything to do with yesterday’s homework?”
He opens his mouth to reply, but I cut him off.
“Don’t answer that. It doesn’t. But I am glad you’re feeling better.”
There’s a pause, and I can almost hear the gears in his head turning.
“If I have any missing assignments, my mom will ground me for the weekend,” he finally says.
“I’m sorry to hear that. That’s a very unfortunate consequence.”
He waits, shifting from one foot to the other, the assignment drooping in his hand. I raise my eyebrows.
“Was there something else you needed, Paul?”
“I have a date this weekend.”
“That’s really not something I want to hear about.”
“My mom won’t let me go if I have missing assignments.”
It’s a longer pause to control myself. I use the opportunity to clean my glasses on my shirt.
“Let’s compromise, Paul. I will take this assignment. I will check the work and mark any errors. I will then put it in the gradebook as a zero.”
“Does zero mean missing?”
“Missing means missing.”
“So I’ll be able to go on my date?”
“That’s up to your mother.”
“But the assignment won’t be missing?”
I suppress the urge to tell Paul that talking to him is an uphill struggle.
“It will be a zero. That means you didn’t get any points, but it isn’t marked as missing.”
He drops the assignment on the front desk and turns to leave.
“Paul, it’s customary to say ‘thank you’ when someone does you a favor.”
I manage to not throw my binder at him as he walks out the door. At least no one can say that teaching gets boring.