Teaching

Professional Courtesy — A Tall Order

You tell 'em Grumpy Cat.

You tell ’em Grumpy Cat.

I’ve worked many different jobs and been in many professional environments. I’ve worked in sales, a restaurant, a greenhouse, and as a receptionist in addition to my ten year career as a teacher. Regardless of where I have worked, I never had anyone make comments about my height nor have I heard comments about anyone else’s. Except as an educator.

I’m completely baffled as to why education is the only field where this occurs. Repeatedly.

Maybe this is because remarking on other physical attributes would constitute racism, sexism, or even harassment. The only “safe” feature left for for the inadvertently rude is height. Despite the fact these commentators might never make the mistake of informing a woman she has big boobs or a man how very dark his skin is, they don’t seem to be aware that height remarks are still a jerk-thing to say. Here is a sample of the sort of comments I’ve gotten from students and fellow educators over the last ten years. (No, there isn’t really a discernible way to tell the difference, other than perhaps formal language usage.)

“Dang you short.”

“Are you ever gonna grow up? You’re not very tall, you know.”

“She’s so short, we could just stuff her in the overhead compartment.”

“Miss, you short.”

“Are you a student? You’re not?! You’re just so short I assumed you were.”

“You know you short, right?”

“There you are, short stuff. Wanna walk with me to the meeting?”

“Ms. D, how come you so short? Did you drink a lot of coffee when you was a kid?”

“Hey shorty! Almost didn’t see you there, I thought you were a kid.”

“Naw, really, Miss, I ain’t tryna be rude, but how tall are you? For real?”

Ugh.

The comments are rude, for certain, but also imply I’m somehow grotesque. That my height is a distortion, a malformation of what is acceptable.  Full disclosure: I am 5 feet tall exactly and am FULLY aware that it isn’t considered tall by anyone’s standards. It is no where near average, I know. But why should this particular height inspire shock or shockingly rude comments? Especially among fellow professionals?

Good teachers have a way of turning ignorant comments into teachable moments while accepting children’s unintentional rudeness with a shrug. Good teachers know that sometimes an important lesson about how to treat others matters even more than one’s personal dignity and desire for respect. With children, I can understand where the comments come from without taking extraordinary offense. Maybe I’m annoyed, sure, but they don’t have any idea how their observation sounds. In fact, they make all sorts of seemingly random and sometimes offensive comments about others’ physical appearances with fellow teens. They’re children.

And to children, I can comfortably say, “Why would you feel you need to say something like that? Do you think I’m unaware? How do you think a comment like that would be received?” And presto, a quick lesson on communication skills. I don’t feel as though I should need to have this conversation with my colleagues.

But maybe I do.

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