March 11, 2009

Messing With People's Lives

Teachers are sometimes forced to make very difficult decisions which have big effects on the lives of their students. This is one of those things that you don't find out until you're actually a teacher.

Last weekend at our state DECA conference, I told Kevin (not really!) that he would be banned from the national conference because of a discipline issue. He was pretty bummed out but also remorseful about what he had done, and he accepted the consequences. Two days later, he not only qualified for nationals, but actually won first place.

I ultimately concluded that my original decision was incorrect, a mistake, and today, I told Kevin that I'd love to have him come with us to nationals, and by the way, sorry about all of the confusion.

Now, I'm leaving out a lot of details here – there are many things that you, the reader, don't know – but the original idea seemed like a good one at the time. However, now I'm convinced that my ultimate decision was the correct one. Anyway, none of that is really the point of this article.

Tough Calls

The thing is, I really wanted Kevin to come with us. Teachers aren't supposed to have favorite students but let's be honest, we all do, and Kevin is one of the top students in DECA. He worked hard on his event. He gets straight As and has been nothing but helpful and friendly all year. I really wanted him to come with. He deserved it. I hated telling him he couldn't go. I didn't want to do it. But these tough decisions were part of my job, and I had to follow through and make the call. In fact, my fear of showing a perception of favoritism toward this student was one reason I was so hard on him initially. My logic here was clearly flawed.

But It Was A Mistake

In my old job as a software engineer, I worked on a computer all day. If I made a mistake, I didn't hurt anyone's feelings. I could go back and fix a mistake on a computer. Mistakes then certainly didn't affect people's lives.

When teachers make mistakes, people are involved. I caused Kevin a ton of unnecessary stress because of my mistake. He's understandably upset. Teachers need to make these difficult calls, and our decisions can substantially impact a person's life, and mistakes actually can hurt people.

Not allowing him to attend the national conference would have been an even bigger mistake, though. He would have missed out on a great opportunity that he'd remember for the rest of his life, just because his advisor said so.

Are you willing to accept that kind of responsibility? Are you prepared to mess with people's lives? For me the answer is yes, as long as I learn from my mistakes and make less of them in the future, but this is a responsibility that I didn't really know was involved in teaching before I got into it.

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