“Hi, honey. Welcome home,” I said to Bradley as he walked through the door. I greeted him with a kiss and handed him a progress report that had been mailed home from Giago’s school.
Bradley tentatively took the envelope from my hand. “Should I be nervous?” he asked.
I handed Bradley a bottle of hard cider from a 12-pack I purchased on my way home from picking Giago up from school because a) it was on sale and b) I had just checked the mail prior to heading over to the school. We have a system when it comes to delivering Giago news. If I hand him a bottle of beer (which I don’t drink) or hard cider (which I now do), the situation is either already handled or I intend to handle it but just want to make him aware of it. If I hand him a glass of wine, the situation needs our immediate attention. And on the rare occasion when I hand him a cocktail that a) he didn’t ask for, b) isn’t accompanying a meal or c) doesn’t involve a gathering of friends at the house, then the situation is more serious and needs our undivided attention.
Bradley took a swig of hard cider before reading the report. “Does Giago know about this?” he asked after a few minutes.
“No. I want to talk to his teacher tomorrow before I talk to him.”
Bradley took another swig. “Ok. Let me know what happens.”
The next morning, I dropped Giago off at school and stopped by the front office to put in word that I wanted to speak to a Mr. Johnson. They told me he was in class for the first two periods of the school day so I left him my name, cell phone number and Giago’s name so that he’d know which student to be prepared to discuss.
I returned home a couple hours later after running errands. Shortly thereafter, as I was cleaning up from breakfast, I received a call from Giago’s school.
“Hello, is this Mr. Moss?"
“Yes it is.”
“Giago Hollinger’s father?”
“Yes – well, one of them,” I replied as I sat down at the kitchen table.
“One of them?”
“He has two.”
There was a moment of silence on the other end that I assumed was mild surprise. “I’m Mr. Johnson, Giago’s physical education teacher. The front office gave me a message you left asking me to give you a call.”
“Yes. Thank you for returning it. I wanted to talk to you about the progress report for Giago that I received in the mail.”
“Give me one moment while I check my records…,” he said. I could hear him flipping through a set of pages – or pretending to do so. “I have him in the afternoon…I think during eighth period…ok, yes. Here he is. What seems to be the trouble?”
“According to his progress report, he’s failing your class.”
I paused for a moment to give him a chance to recognize – if not at least acknowledge -- the absurdity of this. “So you meant to do that?”
“He has a bit of an attitude problem.”
“What do you mean?”
“He has an attitude problem.”
“You grade students on that?”
“Because I take physical education very seriously and I want the students to do the same.”
“I’m sure there are better ways of getting a student to take your class more seriously than failing him.”
“I’m sure there are too, but this is what gets the student’s and the parent’s attention.”
“Well now that you have my attention, what kind of attitude is Giago exhibiting in class?”
“We’re in our football unit and he’s less than enthusiastic about having to play it.”
“And that’s a problem?”
“It can affect the other students.”
“If Giago has an attitude problem, then they can have one as well.”
“Has he somehow become the Pied Piper of Attitudes for the freshman class?”
“Any student’s attitude can affect another student’s attitude.”
“Then how do you know another student’s attitude isn’t affecting Giago’s? Have there been complaints from other students about Giago’s attitude affecting their physical education?”
“Are the other students that you say he’s affecting with his attitude also failing your class because of their resulting attitudes?”
Mr. Johnson was momentarily silent. “In scrolling my gradebook for that class…no.”
“Why not? If you’re going to fail one student for having an attitude, why wouldn’t you fail them all for having one?”
“His is more noticeable.”
“Noticeable? I’m not an attorney, but is it possible you’re just paying more attention to his supposed attitude than that of the other students and that’s why Giago’s is seemingly more noticeable?”
“It is not, Mr. Moss.”
“I’ll ask it a different way then, Mr. Johnson. How would you know the other students’ attitudes aren’t worse than my son’s if you’re only noticing his attitude but not theirs?”
“Mr. Moss, I can only notice what I see.”
“No Mr. Johnson, you’re only seeing what you want to notice,” I concluded in self-celebratory victory that he was most likely not going to be concede. “Is he changing for class?”
“Is he participating?”
“Then wouldn’t his attitude about playing football be irrelevant as long as he’s actually playing football?”
Mr. Johnson was silent for another moment. “Does he give you an attitude at home, Mr. Moss?”
“Yes, sometimes. He’s FOURTEEN.”
“And what do you do about it?”
“I see where you’re going with this and I understand your point, but having an attitude with you about playing football and having an attitude about the playing of the football are two different things.”
“I’ll repeat my question, Mr. Moss. What do you do when he gives you an attitude at home?”
“I’ll tell you what I don’t do – and that’s give him a failing grade for it. But I do tell him to either fix his attitude or I’ll fix it for him. Have you tried that?”
“We’re not allowed to threaten the students, Mr. Moss.”
“That’s not a threat. But if you’re not comfortable with that approach, have you tried talking to Giago about this attitude you think he has?”
“I have not.”
“Then I suppose you also haven’t tried asking him why he’s so unenthused about your class.”
“I have not.”
“There’s your first two problems right there. But since I’m now involved, I’ll talk to him about his attitude. And if you have any further issues with Giago, please let me know before you submit your next set of grades.”
I could hear him roll his eyes. “I would appreciate that very much, Mr. Moss.”
“And I would appreciate my son not failing gym class, Mr. Johnson. So if you have any further issues with Giago, please let me know before you submit your next set of grades,” I said a bit more emphatically.
“Physical education, Mr. Moss.”
I rolled my eyes so that he could hear it through the phone. “My apologies, Mr. Johnson. Physical education. I would appreciate my son not failing your physical education class. Now, if you have any further issues with Giago, please let me know before you submit your next set of grades,” I repeated even more emphatically than before.
“I will do that, Mr. Moss. And if we can keep Giago’s attitude in check, he won’t fail.”
“If that will keep him from failing, we can and it will be. Thank you for your time, Mr. Johnson.”
“And thank you for your involvement, Mr. Moss. Enjoy the rest of your day.”
“You do the same,” I replied. I disconnected the call with Mr. Johnson and called Bradley at work.
“Bradley Hollinger,” Bradley said after picking up the phone.
“Hey sweets. I just got off the phone with Giago’s gym teacher.”
“Did you find out why Giago’s failing gym?”
“Yes. Apparently he doesn’t like Giago’s attitude about playing football.”
“And that’s it. Giago changes and participates, but he doesn’t take it as seriously as his gym teacher would like.”
“For real. And despite my best efforts, he failed to see the absurdity of failing a participatory student on account of their perceived attitude.”
“How did it end?”
“I told him that I’d talk to Giago and if he gets any further attitude from him to let us know – before the next set of grades are submitted. I’m not sure he’ll do it since he’d rather just dole out the grade before finding out why he is. He never even spoke to Giago about any of this before failing him – which he really did as a means of getting our attention. I don’t like this clod.”
“I can tell. Just take it easy on him – or at least easier on him than you did his middle school science teacher.”
“We’ll see. That’s up to him, though. I don’t start the shit, I just end it.”
“Better him than me,” Bradley teased. “Thanks for letting me know. I have a client meeting in about fifteen. I’ll see you at home later.”
“Alright. I’ll talk to Giago when I pick him up from school.”
“Sounds good. I love you.”
“I love you.”
I picked up Giago from school later that afternoon. “I had a conversation with your gym teacher today,” I said to him after he had settled in and I started driving away.
A concerned look crept across Pierpont’s face. “Why?”
“We got your progress report yesterday and you’re failing gym class.”
Giago looked at me in utter confusion. “I’m failing gym class?”
“He said that you have an attitude problem.”
“He says you don’t participate with as much enthusiasm as he’d like you to.”
“That’s so dumb," he stated before going quiet for a minute. "You know he’s also the football coach, right?”
“I know now," I said, putting two-and-two together. "And now it makes more sense as to why he’s failing you on account of a purported attitude problem.”
“I just don’t like playing football. But I play it. And I’m not very good at it, which is frustrating,” Giago explained. “And he basically just uses the class as additional practice for the team anyway. So it’s not even fun because they’re all taking it way too seriously.”
“I understand. But be all that as it may, no matter how ridiculous it is that someone would fail a student for a gym class, it’s even more ridiculous to be that student failing gym class. So just cut the attitude in gym class or any other class – even if you have to fake it -- and save it for your lunch period. I don’t want to have to have another conversation with another teacher trying to fail you for not being enthusiastic about their class. Deal?”
Giago sighed. “Deal.”
“And just so you know, now that he knows who we are and I know who he is, he’s going to be watching you a lot more closely so he can keep us posted on any further attitudinal moments that may or may not arise.”
Giago slowly shook his head in disbelief. “All this over a gym class.”
“Well, it’s clearly more than that to him. So keep that in mind.”
“Fine…but it’s still a gym class, dad.”
“I know. I hated it too back in my day.”