Called to the Principal’s Office

[From the archives.]

***

A Call from the Principal

Years ago I got an unexpected call at work from my son’s junior high principal. Not a good thing under most circumstances, and this was no exception to the rule. She wanted to tell me that my son might be upset and she called to let me know immediately rather than learn about it when I came home from work.

It turns out she had called him to her office to reprimand him. She said he was circulating an inappropriate petition concerning one of his teachers. I started to get an idea of the problem. He’d told us a few days before that some of the students were concerned with how this teacher was handling the class and we had talked about it with him in the days leading up to this phone call.

His idea of how best to handle it was to put the problem in writing and see if enough kids agreed so that he could then talk to her about it. He didn’t want to bother bringing it up with her if not many other kids were bothered by it. I didn’t know the details of his plan, but the general topic of a petition came up.

I listened incredulously as the principal told me that once she found out about it she pulled him out of class and into her office.

I listened in sorrow as she described him getting upset and teary at being reprimanded.

I listened in disbelief as she told me her main concern was for the teacher – the TEACHER, mind you – as she might get her feelings hurt at the petition being circulated.

I didn’t hear her say anything about students handling concerns in a creative and constructive manner. I didn’t hear her say anything about listening to my son’s intentions, or what he was concerned about in the first place. Nothing. The way she explained it, this conversation in her office was pretty one-sided. She spoke and my son sat there.

I said thanks, ended the conversation as quickly as I could, and prayed for my son.

The Bike Ride to Suspension

It’s been a while since I thought of that phone call. Then I read about a group of high school seniors in Michigan who decided to stage a massive bike ride to school as their senior prank on the last day of classes. Sounds innocent enough, constructive and creative even, right? Not to the principal. She told all sixty-four participants it was a dangerous stunt: traffic could have snarled and they might have been injured – “your brains could have ended up splattered,” she told them. She would not countenance it! They were prohibited from senior activities for the rest of the day and sent home. Some even missed a final exam.

Turns out the Seniors had more on the ball than she gave them credit for. They had contacted the authorities ahead of time to take care of safety concerns and rode with a police escort. Not only that, the Mayor even accompanied the students on their route to school that morning. The only ones not in the know were the school officials, but letting them in on it would have defeated the purpose of a rather creative – and rather responsible – senior prank, of course.

Cooler heads eventually prevailed. The suspension was lifted, teachers offered make-up tests, and the school district issued an apology complete with a statement from the Principal.

Waiting for All the Evidence to Come In

Jumping to conclusions is rarely a good practice – even if it is out of concern for the feelings of a junior high school teacher or the safety of a few dozen graduating seniors. And it really doesn’t work at my job.

One thing I tell jurors repeatedly throughout trial is not to form their final opinions or conclusions, but to wait until all the evidence is in, deliberate with all the other jurors, and then see if they can reach a verdict. In fact, this admonition has been adopted into a formal jury instruction that applies to all trials in my state. The wisdom underlying it goes back to a time long before California existed.

Through presumption comes nothing but strife, but with those who receive counsel is wisdom. (Proverbs 13:12.)

Don’t presume. Seek counsel and talk things over with others. Then come to a reasoned conclusion. It’s so simple, right?

I don’t know about you, but I see people around me and then jump to conclusions about them all the time, thinking I know what’s going on in their lives. But I don’t. That might hurt only me, except there are times when I then act on this utter lack of knowledge, this lack of reasoned consideration. That can lead to mistakes, big mistakes. So what should I do?

God’s wisdom still applies: don’t presume; get the facts; find someone to talk things over with. So how do you do that? Please share your experiences here in the comments.

After all, none of us want to presume we have all the answers.

***

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14 Responses to Called to the Principal’s Office

  1. I’m learning to ask questions before I jump to conclusions. It’s a work in progress! 😉

  2. Pastor Bob says:

    Some time back a situation came up, and as I listened I found myself watching the body language and listening to the words a bit less.
    Person #1 was upset that #2 had said something harsh.
    P2 said that he “Just made it up.”
    P1 shared that the facts, the common friends, and elapsed time.
    ====
    Preponderance of evidence suggested P2 need to apologize.
    P1 needed to carefully tell common friends about the way facts shared had been turned around.

    I could not be too swayed by the body language of P2, but it screamed – telling me the lack of honesty. I probably would have used that if I needed to “break a tie,” however not this time.

    Often God gives us the wisdom we need to see things through, often He allows us develop this through life experiences.

  3. Things like this worry me about public school. It seems that it is particularly a breeding ground for the assume the worst, don’t wait for the facts, shoot first and ask questions later kind of reactions. I know that isn’t everywhere, but you hear so many stories like that.

    Of course it’s easy for everyone to jump to conclusions. I know I do it too. It’s certainly a lot easier and quicker than waiting for all the information. Just like a lot of things that aren’t good to do.

    • Tim says:

      Happily this was an isolated event in our kids’ combined 26 years of public school, Jeremy. I imagine if we’d had them in private school the track record might just as easily been the same.

  4. Alice says:

    I think if I was the teacher I would have felt undermined by a petition. I would have expected the student (or their parents/guardian) to come and talk about it privately before making it a school-wide issue.
    As soon as you ask people if they’re bothered about something, lots of them will suddenly decide that they are, even if they weren’t before.

    • Tim says:

      Soon after this event we were talking to one of the curriculum coordinators at the district office. She said having a student organize something like this on his own was exactly what she’d like to see and that the principal lost a good opportunity to help the students develop proper skills. The only message that principal sent was, “Stop that, get back to class, and leave that poor teacher alone.”

      As for a teacher feeling undermined, that seems odd when the students are only 12. The better response would be for the teacher and principal – upon learning the students had a concern – to ask more about the issue and offer to work with the students to come to some sort of conclusion. It’s not a matter of undermined authority; rather, it was a missed opportunity to carry out their authority properly as the adults who teach kids.

  5. Laura Droege says:

    This is a principle that my husband and I had to use earlier this week when my 13-year-old got in trouble at school. We heard the teacher’s side of the story, but we wanted to hear our daughter’s side before finally deciding on an appropriate discipline procedure. While the teacher’s version was indeed correct (my daughter admitted it and the stories lined up), there was more going on. It wasn’t directly related, but we suspect that our daughter was acting out because of her frustration with and lack of respect from a small group of girls. This also explained some of her behavior at home, too. Once we knew the full story, I was able to talk with her about why these girls’ attitudes bothered her; how to handle it in an appropriate manner, one that wouldn’t compromise her self-respect or backfire on social media; and what creative ways she could be proactive in the future.

    So, yes, always refrain from judgment until all the facts are in.

    • Tim says:

      The goal with kids should always be correction and growth. It seems to me that you and your husband pursued that goal quite well with that incident, Laura.

      • Ruth says:

        So true. My son missed the first class of his English course in his final year of high school. Here that is before tertiary education such as uni or college begins.
        Missing more than a few classes without a doctors certificate means a fail, full stop. He rang me straight after and told me he couldn’t face going in with the ‘clever kids’ . He was doing a double certificate with a hands on aspect as well.
        I rang his class teacher straight away and explained what had happened, we both had a little sniffle at that sad comment. She was brilliant, as were all the staff, and understood his problem on the autistic spectrum very well. He too wanted to do well, but needed help. They arranged a special pass that recorded him as attempting to be in class, but having a problem.
        I told him to get to his next class on the double while I rang the school, which he did. That proved to them that he was serious about school, never heard a negative comment about him from any teacher.
        He graduated top student in one certificate, had the highest exam score in his other, and got so many awards he was up and down on the podium like a yoyo! Never before had he been awarded a single certificate for class work. Thanks to his wonderful teachers who saw his potential and worked mighty hard to help his along side us,he is employed, in a good relationship and a lovely person. Just a feel – good story close to my heart because these teachers did listen and never jumped to conclusions.

  6. Pastor Bob says:

    This is awesome:
    “The goal with kids should always be correction and growth.”

    (Needs to be shared!)

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