I like “like,” but I hate “wait.” Some of my snootier colleagues get around to expressing their exasperation with this generation’s overuse of “like,” but I never hear anyone complain about what drives me bats: my students’ use of “wait” in addressing me.
For my entire five-year teaching career, most students have addressed me as “Wait,” as in “Wait, do we need to write this in our sketchbooks?” People with little recent contact with teens might imagine that the student calling me “Wait” was asking me to slow down or to return to a subject that I had just finished covering. Those people would be right in some cases but not in most. I am most often addressed as “Wait” when I am not speaking to the class at all. I might be walking around the classroom helping people. I might be bending over my backpack for a mint or staring out the window, searching for snow clouds.
“Wait,” then, feels like an unfair accusation. It’s as if the person addressing me assumes that I’m insensitively plowing on, or that, even if I’m not doing so in this instance, I’ve plowed on often enough to earn the nickname. Maybe one or more of them is subtly threatening me with a lawsuit, suggesting that I have Left One Child Behind.
When I’m lucky enough to have a student address me by my name, I’m still not in the clear. The questioner often has another annoying lead-up in store for me, though in this case I have a passive-aggressive means of getting even.
“I have a question.”
Here I fall silent. My silence is designed to communicate that the student’s declaration tells me nothing that I am not quick enough to surmise. Sometimes, when I’m feeling lucky or uncommonly ornery, I rub the silence in by continuing some activity at hand that involves no eye contact with the student, such as staring at a monitor and nudging a mouse.
Invariably my questioner, realizing that I am not going to say “Yes?” again or even “Mm-hmm?” eventually asks his question. And it feels so good to me.
You may think that I am being petulant. But if you got hit with this stuff twenty or thirty times a day, you’d find ways of coping, too, and of convincing yourself that you’re doing it for your students’ sake. I believe that I am inculcating my slice of today’s youth with less provocative means of addressing adults and of propounding questions.
As for “wait,” I wait until the spring to get my revenge. In the process of teaching some rudimentary Elizabethan English during our study of Romeo and Juliet, I make my students address me as “But soft” every time they start at me with “Wait.” Most of them smile thoughtfully while saying it slowly – “Butt Soft” – and they ask their questions.
By June, I have done my part to retrain another set of young interlocutors.