Something happened among all of last week’s mayhem that first made me feel disgusted and angry, then disappointed and sad. When I got back to school after being sick on Tuesday, I decided to do activity stations, which was a terrible idea on many levels. (Freshmen + change in routine = disaster) At any rate, during my last class of the morning, which is arguably my squirreliest group, a student (or poltergeist) absconded with my laser pointer. Already overwhelmed by the stress of managing simultaneous lab stations for three straight periods, crashing blood sugar, and complete lack of nutrition in the previous 24 hours, I asked one of our deans to come and help me address the issue.
He told my students that unless someone came forward with the laser pointer, the entire class would receive a punishment. I was immediately uncomfortable with this, but at a loss for what to say, and at any rate, the students were tumbling out the door to their next class anyway. After my dean and I talked about it today, I proposed a more natural, rather than punitive, consequence, namely that the class would not be able to do the lab for which the laser pointer was originally purchased, since there were now not enough materials for everyone to participate. But then he added that there would still be consequences for the person who made the poor choice, possibly on the level of suspension (though he said this only to me.)
Several students bawled that a laser pointer was cheap enough to replace, which only showed that the point being made about respecting others’ property was completely lost on them. And that was the point when I stopped feeling irritated and started feeling unutterably sad for a child whose moral compass is so completely underdeveloped. I’m sure the vocal ones weren’t the only feeling that way, and I can’t help wondering whether how I would have reacted at their age in a similar situation. (But I also have a hyperactive guilt gene that was possibly even more active when I was younger, so it’s probably an invalid comparison.)
The flash of insight about natural vs. punitive consequences came from the book our dean of students gave me, Teaching with Love and Logic. The idea is that natural consequences that are relevant to the offense make more of an impression than punishments assigned out of anger or annoyance. This is why detentions seldom accomplish anything, in my experience, and why I hesitate to give them out. (Though there are consequences for that choice too, to be sure.) And while I understand that there do need to be consequences for this person’s actions, and I certainly do not want to undermine our dean’s authority, I can’t help but feel like the offender would be justified in not saying anything. There is still a fear-based punishment attached, and I can’t see any reason why the person would want to come forward. My dean did point out to the students that I had advocated on their behalf, which I didn’t expect but certainly appreciated. Not that this is a game of good cop bad cop, but I’ve worked hard to gain the trust of my students and I don’t want this incident to hurt that.
Still praying about what Jesus would do (where’s the bracelet for this, huh?!) and thinking about the story of the persistent widow. Maybe if I just annoy them enough about it, someone will step forward just to make me shut up…
Luke 16:4-5 – For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’