He opens his mouth, just a little, just a crack, and I can see the look in his eyes. It’s the “I’ve got one on you” look, and I can hear the oleaginous tone and see the way he will smile as he points out what I’ve no doubt missed in my answer. I can predict, too, how that’s going to be alright with him because I’m not supposed to know such things yet, what with my background and all, and I’ll learn and he’ll be the one to teach me and –
The ropes keeping my circus tent up whipcrack from the Earth and, before I know it, the stakes are flying through the air – missing his smug face, sadly – and I’ve properly Snapped.
In front of the whole room – the 30 or so of them in the class – I’ve Snapped.
Yes, I tell him. Yes, I realise there’s something. There is always something. And I realise that you think it is helpful to tell me these things because of your vast experience. I realise that you can’t wait for the end of my sentence before you’ve got to tell me that I’ve missed the thing I am about to effing well tell you (and how would you know? Do I get to add psychic abilities to the list?) I realise that it’s important that you have to jump in before I’ve proved what I do or don’t fucking know. Some real psychological lack there, right enough. But what you don’t understand – ah, I’ve got you on something, you fatuous git – is that this isn’t how feedback works.
Because this much I do know.
Feedback, if you do it well, doesn’t put the other person’s back up every single time.
Feedback, if it’s to be formative (look it up, why don’t you?), helps the person on the receiving end develop. It contains hints and tips and suggestions and actively helps them avoid the same mistake next time out. Jesus, it even leads them to the answer so they can feel like they’re the clever one, and how’s that for helping them learn?
I could give you the references. Damn it, I’m pissed enough right now, I’m going to give you the references. There – look up Shirley Clarke and the others, go on. Look up the sodding plant analogy. Your kind of feedback – what you’re doing to me every single time I come to this class – is akin to you looking at a dying fucking plant, realising that it’s out of water, and letting it die.
Proper feedback – humane feedback – decent feedback, looks at the parched plant and goes for the fucking watering can.
But you’re only interested in the criticisms. You’re only interested in proving yourself right and me wrong. If I wilt and wither and die, that’s fine by you.
Did mummy not give you enough attention or something?
You don’t care for the praise sandwich – I’d have got to telling you about that one, too, if you’d waited for me to finish. A positive before the negative. A positive before a negative and then another positive. Cunning, huh? Gets the person on the receiving end in the right frame of mind before you lay into them. Means that they don’t want to punch your fucking lights out the moment you leap in with Another One.
But, no, you just want to tell me off. You just want to make yourself out to be the clever one here.
In front of the rest of the class.
So you can Show Up Your Teacher.
Go, then, tell me, son, before I have to hold up the lesson any further. What is it this time?
The eyelids flicker slightly and the smug smile, for a moment, dissolves before he realises he isn’t the one who has to be shame-faced here.
“I was just going to tell you,” the boy says, “that your flies are undone.”
Mike Hickman (@MikeHic13940507) is a writer from York, England. He has written for Off the Rock Productions (stage and audio), including a 2018 play about Groucho Marx. He has recently been published in the Blake-Jones Review, Bitchin’ Kitsch, the Cabinet of Heed, the Potato Soup Journal, and the Trouvaille Review.