Learning From Challenges

I remember my first year of teaching when I walked into a boy’s bathroom that was reeking of smoke.

Photo credit: Flickr user Hessa.
Photo credit: Flickr user Hessa.

A couple of boys were standing at the urinals when one of them dropped a lit cigarette at his feet.

I didn’t know his name, but I told him to grab his bag and follow me to the office. All the way there, he was talking.

“I don’t know why you are taking me to the office,” he complained. “It wasn’t me. I don’t know whose it was, but that cigarette wasn’t mine.”

“I saw it drop right at your feet,” I said.

“But, I swear, it wasn’t me. Those guys smoke in there all the time…”

On and on he went. By the time we made it to the office and the assistant principal had called him in, I was trying to picture what had happened. His protests, however, had begun to make my memory fuzzy, and now I was doubting myself.

When we stood in front of the assistant principal’s desk, he quizzed the boy who was adamant he had been falsely accused.

The principal asked me, “Mr. Parker, could you swear on a Bible that it was this young man who was smoking in the bathroom?”

I hesitated. “No, sir,” I said, “I can’t swear on the Bible. I thought it was him, but if I had to swear, I couldn’t do it now.”

I had been played, but I didn’t have enough experience in being lied to or in observation to know any other way to proceed.

The principal dismissed the boy and told me not to feel bad. He believed the boy was most likely guilty, but he couldn’t discipline a student without the unequivocal word of a trustworthy supervising adult.

When I stepped out into the hallway, the boy was at his locker trading out books before heading to class.

“Listen,” I said.

I tried to shoot straight without sounding spiteful.

“If I falsely accused you, that was wrong of me. But if you were smoking and just lied your way out of it, then I will never know. But you know. And God knows. So I hope you’re honest because that’s a lot more important than whether or not you were smoking.”

He just looked at me, grabbed his books, and we both walked our separate ways.

Lessons Learned
Teaching is so much more than imparting subject-area knowledge. And the lessons like the one I learned from the boy in the bathroom are ones I have repeated over and over again for more than twenty years.

Even in my twenty-first year as an educator, I am still learning.

Many of the lessons I have learned were not ones taught in my college education theory classes or in courses on differentiated learning styles.

This week, for instance, I attended some training out-of-state on developing assessments.

It is stretching for me to think about how to become a stronger instructional leader, how to support my teachers as they learn to team around assessment data, and how to structure schedules to allow teachers more time to collaborate.

What ways are you being stretched as you work with your students or team?

If you’re not facing any struggles it is likely you are not growing. But if you are an educator, you know struggle is inevitable. It comes with the territory.

The Rest of The Story
One week after I had the incident with the boy and the office referral, I stepped into the same bathroom, smelled the familiar hint of tobacco, and saw the same student dropping a cigarette at his feet in front of the same urinal.

This time my mind took a snap shot: blonde hair, white shirt with blue stripe, right hand drops cigarette, and white tennis shoes. Blue eyes with look of guilt.

He didn’t even argue or complain. He just grabbed his bag and followed me to the office.

Sometimes the most uncomfortable scenarios push you into the next level of learning–lessons like learning to pay attention to detail, remaining true to what you believe, treating others like you’d want to be treated.

And somedays we even triumph over little evils like kids smoking in the boys’ room.

Now It’s Your Turn
What are some of the areas where you are being stretched this year? Is there a lesson you are learning through the process that you could share with others?

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker
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