Back With a Story

I finally got out from under the piles of grading that signal the end of another marking term, which partially explains the dearth of posting in the last few weeks. Thus, the following story has been cooking up for a couple of weeks. So here goes.

The school at which I am currently employed has a bit of a theft problem, not an entirely uncommon problem in a high school, but one that is uncommonly frequent at this place. For an upper-middle class school there seems to be a rather cavalier attitude towards property. All kinds of things have turned up missing, both school and personal goods.

One of the greatest ironies of all occurred during a fall faculty meeting. As theft in the building was actually being presented as an issue, the English department’s newest LCD projector grew legs and went for a stroll, never to return. I guess it, like many of the students, just couldn’t wait to get out of the building. During the year, I have had a radio disappear from my classroom, only to reappear a couple of months later, a little worse for wear but still surprisingly returned.

Yet, I grew positively despondent a few weeks ago, when I taught a nighttime computer class. Upon returning to my locked classroom, I came to find that my jacket had been ransacked and a few items seemed to find the exit before me and in greater haste. It was particularly frustrating, because I made sure that all the doors were locked. Although I have learned the hard way that locked doors present no impediment.

Well, I expressed to all my classes how depressing it was to work in a place where theft was so problematic. I had made very similar remarks to them earlier, when the radio disappeared. My main message in both cases advocated that the only way to stop the problem was to change the culture of the school and make it unacceptable. As far as I am concerned, we all have a responsibility to prevent theft, vandalism, and general disrespect. Moreover, my use of the word “we” was the entire school community, including adults; because it seems far too easy to always blame the students for everything. I actually think that this responsibility extends far beyond a school and is true on a society-wide level, as well, but that is another thing altogether. Little did I realize how much theft bothers my students. Many of them have had items filched during there time in school too.

While I was reticent about saying what items I had stolen from my jacket, I did confirm or deny items when a student might have asked. One of the vanished items was my iPod, much to my chagrin, as I had really taken to the thing in recent months. So a few students knew, but I really tried to downplay the actual items that were swiped. It was really more an issue of principle as far as I was concerned.

Still, a week later I entered my room for the first class of the day and awaiting me on my desk was a brand new iPod with a letter. My junior honors students, two classes totaling over fifty kids, each contributed $6 to raise the funds for a replacement. I was absolutely floored!. If any of you could believe it, I was speechless. As I tried to articulate my gratitude, it sputtered and stammered from my mouth. Reading their short letter, I was so profoundly touched by there act of kindness and appreciation, my eyes grew glassy. Fortunately, I was successful in preventing any embarrassing, tearful displays. Still, I simply could not believe that my students would organize themselves in such a fashion, for my benefit no less. I am still astounded, quite honestly.

Unfortunately, I could not keep the overwhelmingly generous gift, as I am governed by some pretty stringent guidelines on the value of gifts that I can receive. Working in a more affluent community, there is a much stronger possibility that a teacher might receive a really nice “gift” forma a parent, as an encouragement to help the future their child, read give them a better grade. Many of you would be quite surprised at the value of gifts that a parent or student might present a teacher. In fact, I had never even received a gift prior to this year. So I was quite surprised at Christmas to get a couple of small, token gift cards and a book. Nevertheless, a 30 GB iPod was clearly beyond the bounds of what a teacher can take, even though no one student contributed any more than a few dollars. However, that’s not even the point.

In a way, I don’t even care about the iPod. For me, it really was the gesture on the part of my students that left me in a daze of shock, amazement, and gratitude. In fact, it was precisely those sentiments that made it excruciatingly difficult to not take the gift. Here were a bunch of kids, completely of their own accord, that cooked up an idea to do something exceedingly nice and caring, while making a statement; the kind of behavior that we want to encourage in kids. Yet, I found myself unable to completely receive such an act of pure kindness and generosity. Plus, were I to make a big deal about things with the school or administration, I felt would only e viewed as self-serving. It was simply a bizarre situation and there was no real good way out of it. It was a real struggle to honor the act, still maintain and encourage their desire to do nice things, while at the same time saying, “Sorry, I can’t take it.” They all seemed like antithetical messages. I did the best I could and I hope they were not discouraged and got the message, “Even though I can’t take this, you should still do good things.”

Anyway, that’s one of my latest stories.

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