22 February 2013

Innocent Until Proven Guilty

Image Source: Woody Hibbard

I have a neighbor (I'll call him Steve) who was recently arrested on some serious criminal charges. I was very saddened because he is a good man who made a mistake. According to the police report, what he did sounds much worse than what actually happened. Even still, he committed a crime and is currently in jail awaiting trial. I feel bad for him because he is a good man who messed up.

Steve had only been in our neighborhood for a couple of years, but had become a very dear neighbor and friend. He had some trouble a while back and lost his job, yet he stayed busy with looking for work as well as serving his neighbors. He helped others with their yard work, was always one of the first on the scene to help families move in or out of the neighborhood, or any other need someone might have. Steve was a great neighbor who did many good things for many different people. He was a hard worker and yet was never too busy to be helpful.

I live in a good neighborhood with good people, but many of these "good people" started talking and gossiping about Steve, yet they didn't have the full story. In talking without the full details, they caused more trouble for Steve and his family than was necessary. Instead of going and getting the full story, they assumed the worst and forgot about all the good Steve had accomplished in his short time with us.

How often do we have students like Steve, students who are good kids, yet they make silly mistakes and are "branded" as troublemakers or issues? How often do we talk with our neighbor-teachers and not the students or their parents about the issues? Have you ever received your new class list and immediately gone to the previous grade teachers to get the "scoop" on your new students? If we are doing any of the above items, we are as bad as my nosy neighbors.

I have a professional goal to make sure each one of my students receives a true "clean-slate" when they start in my class. I try to never talk with past teachers at the beginning of the school year because I don't want their baggage and left-over issues from the previous year. After school has been in session for a little while and I have come to my own conclusions, I may then go and talk with past teachers to see how they had handled certain issues with students, but never in the first few weeks of school. Besides, maybe the student had issues with that particular teacher and won't have the same issues with you, you might be the best thing for that student to succeed, but not if you start the year by judging them for past transgressions.

You never know what kind of diamond in the rough you have in your classroom if you only look at the unpolished edges. Take your time to get to know your students before you cast any judgements that may end up causing educational damage.

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