Today, fill your cup of life with sunshine and laughter.

24 April 2009

The Bottom Line

The following statement has been posted in my classroom for the past 8 years. I don't remember where I found it and I don't know who wrote it, but I try to live my life by it. I think it's a powerful statement for self-realization. When I have a discipline issue with a student, I make them write it out and then read it out loud to me ... and then we discuss the meaning. Strangely enough, I have very few repeat offenders.

"Face it.
Nobody owes you a living.
What you achieve or fail to achieve in your lifetime is directly related to what you do or fail to do.
No one chooses his parents or childhood
but you can choose your own direction.
Everyone has problems and obstacles to overcome
but that, too, is relative to each individual.
Nothing is carved in stone.
You can change anything in your life if you want to badly enough.
Excuses are for losers.
Those who take responsibility for their actions are the real winners in life.
Winners meet life's challenges head on, knowing there are no guarantees and give it all they've got.
It's never too late or too early to begin.
Time plays no favorites and will pass whether you act or not.
Take control of your life.
Dare to dream and take risks.
If you aren't willing to work for your goals, don't expect others to.
Believe in yourself."

I ... am a teacher. That's not a suit I put on in the morning and take off at 5 pm. Wherever I go, whatever I do, that's who I am. Teaching is more than a job - it's a lifestyle; an attitude and a personality trait. I am a teacher ALL the time and I can't take it off any easier than I can remove my sardonic sense of humour or my love of chocolate.

But it's more than that, too. It's an awareness that I am, at all times, a role model not only to my students, but to the community in which I live and teach. When I leave my home to go grocery shopping or run errands, I am conscious of the fact that I may see a student or a parent in my travels. If I enter a bar or restaurant, a former student may be there to witness my behaviour. On one memorable occasion, I went into an "adult specialty shop" and there, sitting behind the cash register, was one of my students. I'm not sure who was more embarrassed. (She had a hard time meeting my eyes the following week at school until I took her aside and told her that I understood that it was a job and she had no reason for concern.) I've had former students ask me out on dates - that just felt WRONG and creeped me out SEVERELY!

I don't understand how teachers can betray that implicit trust in their roles by acting in an inappropriate manner towards their students. Although a fairly rare occurrence, it happens and it's a shock and scandal each and every time. However, on the flip side of the same coin, I don't understand how a student can UNJUSTLY accuse a teacher of an inappropriate act and be protected from his or her actions by benefit of age while the teacher's name is dragged through the mud by the media, regardless of the fact that the accusations are unfounded and blatantly false.

In all the media hype and public outrage, we seem to forget that the majority of teachers are respectable, conscientious and self-disciplined enough to resist temptation. They have chosen their career path for the RIGHT reasons. For certain, teaching isn't a job that will lead a person to great riches, fame or glory. So why do most teachers teach? Not because it's an easy job - in fact, it's SECOND in the top five most stressful jobs - along with law enforcement, firefighters, medical workers and social workers - while being the lowest paid and least protected. So why on earth would anyone in their right mind become a teacher? Because it makes a difference. It may be the MOST important job (outside the home) in the world and, if executed with competence and compassion, along with adequate and responsible parenting, it certainly has an infinite amount of influence.

Two weeks ago, a colleague of mine was accused of uttering racial slurs against one of her students. Knowing what I do about this woman, it is inconceivable that anyone could even entertain the concept that she could be in the least bigoted. She is married to a wonderful man from the Dominican Republic. Five years ago, they adopted three Inuit siblings with FAS/FAE. Her sister is a paraplegic with spina bifida. The idea that she would use the "n" term when referring to one of her black students is beyond absurd. However, the parents of this student contacted the RCMP and the media before the school was given the opportunity to investigate the accusation and her name was smeared all over the local media before it was established that the student was "paying her back" for failing him in her course.

Supposedly, the "story" is to be allowed to die a silent death, but the damage to my colleague's name is done. People will not remember that the accusations were false - they will only remember that she was accused. She has already encountered the lack of respect or the wariness that enters people's expressions when she is present. The newspaper printed a retraction in a 5-line article on the 7th page of the third section of Wednesday's paper. Yet the original article was a full column on the front page of the Local News section.

The student who made the false accusation has not apologized for his actions, nor have his parents. Because he is a minor, his name cannot, by law, be mentioned in the media. My colleague has been advised that she can and should pursue legal action against the parents, but the student cannot be targeted in any way because he is only 13 and "not legally responsible for his actions". Worse, we teach at a small school. It is entirely feasible that she could be faced with teaching this student in one of her courses again in the future. My colleague has confessed to me that she is seriously considering leaving the profession which would be a great loss, as she is a talented and caring pedagogue.

Where did we go wrong? What teaches a child that it's okay to lie and hurt someone just to get personal satisfaction? Why didn't this child just do his work for class and pass the subject on his own merit? Why did the parents go to the media and the RCMP without asking questions of the school first? And most importantly, WHY DOES THIS SORT OF THING KEEP HAPPENING? It seems as though there's a whole hierarchy of irresponsible behaviour that has to be addressed in this particular situation, and made accountable. What do you think?


Bond said...

THe parents should have to make a public apology to the teacher. Actually the student should, but because of age that is not possible.

The local newspaper should be held accountable to put the results on the front page with an apology for smearing the teacher's name without justification.

The student should be made to transfer to another school. They caused the problem...they should have to suffer.

You know how much I respect those who teach. Y'all should be treated so much better.


Meribah said...

It's the parents that teach their children that they can do whatever they want and are not responsible for whatever they do. Parents are too permissive and give their kids a sense of entitlement by giving them everything and not expecting them to work for anything. Plus, the parents don't take responsibility for their own actions either. We live in a society where one person can do a stupid thing and someone else is made to pay for it. That sucks, but there it is.