Fake sneezing in a college classroom leads to a compelling conversation with Professor Paul Kotz:
This morning I am exiting the shower and I sneezed.
I followed up without too much hesitation. “Ah choo!”
“Bless you,” she again said.
“Thanks.” And then I started laughing.
I had a flashback. I was new to this hormonal scene called high school, and the first class session was getting underway.
I was excited to work with a group where this subject was not their favorite. Maybe, I could make an impact.
And a few people yelled out, “BLESS YOU!”
I thought to myself what an enthusiastic class. They care for one another.
“Ahhhhhhhhhh Choo!” again….
“BLESS YOU!” really loud.
And, then the same ring leader started saying, “Shhhhhhhhhh…….”
And one of his cohorts would wait for a good enough pause, and chime in “……….……it”
Someone sneezed again, and the same “BLESS YOU”, “Shhhhhhhhhhh………….it” routine happened.
I stopped and became very quiet. So, did the room. I gave my group an assignment to investigate what I thought was kind of a stimulating and enjoyable activity but this guy wasn’t in the mood on this particular day.
I asked the master of antics to join me in the hall.
“I appreciate you giving out so many blessings, and I have to admit the ‘Shhhhhhh……..it’ follow-up is very creative. What is going on with you?”
“I am bored. Also, I never liked school. Now I have to be in this dump. No one talks to me like an adult.”
There were a few layers here. “Well….what can I do to make this less boring and make your time here better?”
“I like to be moving around and like activities.”
I sized him up, still uncertain how I could help him, as of yet. “I see. Let me see what I can do.”
“Oh, you don’t have to do anything today for me.” His eyebrows moved in a way indicating he might hear me. Maybe something registered.
“Can I ask you a favor?” I inquired.
No response, but he seemed to be receptive.
“I think you want to be treated like an adult. Right now, you are pretty close to being an adult, legally. I am talking to you like an adult now. You can’t use that kind of language, and the antics with ‘Bless Yous’ has to stop unless you truly mean it.”
“Do you realize how much of a leader you are, and how others look up to you? That is a gift, not everyone has it, and your friends and others in the class will respond to your actions. Do you see the power you have? You are lucky.”
I continued, “These individuals consider you as a leader. Use that in the classroom and on the field.”
“You think?” He seemed surprised.
“Yes. But, I have to get back in here because, like you, I have a responsibility to the other 27 people in my class, and I am trying to give you my best in what I do know, and so you can be an example for others in what you can offer.”
I continued, “Thank you for listening.”
He returned, and the group was engaged, thankfully. I didn’t have mayhem or other incidents that session.
I also saw gradual improvement from this young man, knew I had to step up my game to create engagement, come up with better activities, and continue to encourage these young hearts and minds along to their next journey.
Dr. Kotz is a lifelong learner with education and business expertise. This includes working as faculty and advisor with undergraduate, graduate students and since 2013, in a doctoral program in leadership. Kotz has taught and served as an executive coach to graduate students and business professionals; and has assisted high school students in navigating adolescence.
In 2020, he published Profiles in Kindness – an award winning CIPA/Reader’s Choice Award for motivation & inspirational leadership. In 2018, he released the CIPA Award winning Something Happened Today, addressing seeing the goodness in everyday life even in the face of adversity. In 2014, he published Personality, Gender and Learning Styles for students and practitioners. His new book, Start Late – Finish Happy – will be released in late 2021. Dr. Kotz is a resident of Saint Paul, Minnesota and continues to collect new experiences that shape and challenge his perspectives.
Yes, Paul is in academia, but he’s so relatable and approachable. His gentle common-human-foibles stories are delightful. They made me rethink my knee-jerk reactions to circumstances.
Because of Jerry O’Brien‘s similar interaction with a respected teacher, I believe the student in Paul Kotz’s story will carry this prophetic scene the rest of his life.
Paul is a regular contributor to Our American Stories. His Amazon Author Page