I have found myself lately in the idiotic position of having to defend myself as “nice.” Well, after a few weeks of this, I have only one thing to say.
I don’t want to be “nice.” Nice is how you describe a person who has no identifiable personality traits. And it is a word that is always used with some hesitancy. “He or she is a…nice…person.” No one says the word nice as applied to another person with any sort of authority.
Because it doesn’t mean anything. If this word at one point had a concrete meaning, it is long since lost. Nice is a catch-all for “not an asshole.” Sometimes, the person you are calling is an asshole, but just not enough of one to call him or her an asshole. There is no moral imperative behind the concept of being nice. There is no ethics of nice. It is a non-thing that has become the all seeing eye of Sauron of social behavior.
Okay, so what set me off on this tirade against the concept of “nice?” For the last couple weeks my students have been grumbly. It’s the end of the school year. They are tired. I am a burnt husk of a human being. I’m finding it hard to shower on a daily basis, I am so emotionally exhausted. Into this cauldron of doom known as May, my students have added their assessment that while other teachers at our school are nice, I am not. For 9-year-olds, this seems to be the be all and end all of put downs. Now, the opinions of children should be rather irrelevant to me, as an adult, but apparently, they are not alone. Yesterday, when she wasn’t paying close attention to her words, a college said “oh it’s good you were absent yesterday, your students had such a nice day.”
I neither respect nor enjoy this particular co-worker, so I didn’t feel hurt by her claim that my students were better off without me. Rather, I was intellectually offended that a grown woman would describe something as “nice” what what she really meant was chaotic. Her version of a “nice” day in school is one with inconsistent and unprepared instruction, ever shifting behavioral expectations, and a goal of “whatever we get done.” And why is that? Oh yes, because a group of 9-year-olds had a day exempt from their customary routines and structures provided by an experienced and disciplined teacher, and so of course they took advantage. That is the nature of having to take a day off. I fully understand the difficulties facing substitute teachers, and I take a “what happens with the sub stays with the sub” attitude towards it.
But don’t tell me how “nice” their fucking day was without me.
Nice is such a vague word that it is essentially dishonest. We use it to absolve ourselves of the responsibility of our own opinions. My co-worker approaches teaching as adult facilitated self-indulgence for children. But she calls it having a “nice” day. I approach teaching as an adult responsibility to foster the intellectual and moral development of my students. That requires compassion, charity, and more patience than I ever thought I could muster. It does not require me to be nice.
So, quite frankly, the world is welcome to nice. I have neither the time nor the desire for such a wishy-washy concept. I know who I am. I know that I am brave, intelligent, hard-working, resilient, funny, empathetic, and fair. I am know that I am also irritable, stubborn, childish, maudlin, and rash. I don’t fucking need nice.
Keep nice, you’re more than welcome to it.
(4 years, 7 Months, 22 Days Sober)