A glance. All it took was a glance. The teacher was blabbering away, most likely about how intelligent some student from another class was, or how obtuse we were, withering my soul with boredom. I felt myself drifting away. But my mental absence just wouldn't do. Not with that teacher.
There was a wordless agreement with that teacher: I'm your king, you're my doormat. Be awake, be alert. Always look at the board, at me, or at your notebook. Never look sideways, not even a for split-second. Never be late, never get up, never go to the bathroom. Dress "appropriately." Never chat.
Yet although those rules applied to all pupils, more leniency was exercised with the "good" ones. Sometimes they could even behave like court jesters, as far as this teacher was concerned. But not the "bad" students. We were under a rule of fear.
So, forgetting my status, I glanced sideways and made eye contact with another "bad" student. Don't get me wrong - he was a genius, but not by this teacher's lights. The student smiled at me. I smiled back. And then worlds collided.
"Tom!" I swiveled as quickly as a hammer thrower, looked at the teacher, and then straight down.
"This can't go on! Your results aren't exactly sky-high, yesss?! Your quizzes aren't too perfect, yesss?!"
I cleared my throat, but he had already launched into one of his homilies, couched in his inimitable, high-volume style."You sit hereâ€¦," (he paused to think up an appropriate bon mot), "you sit here like a princeâ€¦ like Saddam Hussein!"
His pink lips spread across a pink face; he was very pleased with himself.
Saddam Hussein, yet! I ask you, what did old Saddam do to deserve being compared to me?
THIS INCIDENT happened toward the end of my dealings with this instructor, but was typical. It all began when I fell for a bewitching depiction of the "best school in Israel."
After stepping into the bubble, the utopian portrait was torn to pieces, and numerous setbacks and adversities cropped up. But somehow I managed to cope with the difficulties the school, boarding there, and my own achievements posed.
As for my nemesis, at first I actually did well in his class, getting higher results than most of the other pupils; but I think that, for some reason, he saw me as someone who didn't deserve to be there and began treating me with contempt.
When I asked for help, I was answered: "I'm not a private tutor." On the other hand, if I exhibited advanced knowledge, I was branded as a "blowhard." And when I glanced sideways, I was called Saddam Hussein. Gradually my motivation to study his subject petered out.
THIS PERSONAL story has a certain point to it.
The school laid many obstacles in my path, but what initiated the decline was not my academic performance, but my teacher's attitude.
I managed to fight against hindrances that made quite a lot of kids willingly and unwillingly leave the school, but I was not able to fight against one person's power. This can serve as an example of the clout teachers have vis- -vis pupils.
It's difficult for decent students to come out on top when dealing with teacher idiosyncrasies. Yes, teachers are ordinary people, but in their students' minds they are beacons marking a way through the obscurity of the material being taught. Indeed, from the students' point of view, they represent the material.
What I saw in front of me was not the abstract subject being taught, but a human being explaining it to me. When teachers treat students contemptuously, in a degrading way, and with anger instead of understanding, eventually the kids will cease to respect them, which in turn is likely to shut them off emotionally.
I think some teachers tend to relate to pupils as computers into which they just feed data; they may need to press "enter" more than once, but all that's usually needed is reiteration.
That is not the case. The human relations between pupils and teachers play a vital role in motivation.
Teachers are not dealing with machines on which they can take out frustrations. Emotion is the intangible force that piques and nurtures interest; disregard it and the results are all too tangible.
The writer is a recent high-school graduate living in Jerusalem.