On trust and other virtues

IMG_20151007_204405Some see life as a string of lessons. When I think about it, it’s interesting that we call the moments of insight ‘lessons’. Taking into consideration traditional education, I quite understand why we use the idiom to teach someone a lesson when talking about punishment. But if you learn your lesson, the kind of experience we mean doesn’t really have much in common with those lessons we usually take at school.

First of all, there’s no teacher who judges us or assesses us. These lessons are never planned in advance and as there’s no teacher, there are no objectives or expected learning outcomes. In fact, there’s nobody (but you) to expect learning to take place. When you learn your lesson, things just happen and oftentimes, you realize with a little delay that learning actually happened.

Anyway, back to my lesson. I’d say that I’ve always known what my weaknesses are. For example, I’m aware of the fact that I jump to conclusions too quickly and that I can be easily deceived by the things I see and hear. I believe in intuition, but I admit that my vision is often blurred by prejudice. I tend to use my previous experience to judge the present, thus a stimulus can often create a totally wrong response on my part. However, I’m proud to announce that I recently learned my lesson and finally managed to save the day by widening the space between a stimulus and my response.

But first things first. A few days ago, the following incident happened. Towards the end of a class, I asked a couple of students (14-year-olds) to clean the board. The rest of the group, including myself, left the room before they finished the job. When I came back to the same room 10 minutes later to teach another class (19-year-olds), I noticed a potentially abusive symbol materializing itself on the board (somebody had scribbled it down with a finger and it took the doodle some time to show up on the drying board). It was not a big deal but it was somewhat embarrassing and unexpected so I asked the 19-year-olds if they had done it. They said they hadn’t. So I went and asked the two younger students if they had done it. Obviously, they said they hadn’t. I really don’t know why I wanted to make a mountain out of a molehill, but I suddenly couldn’t step back anymore.

IMG_20151007_185235The problem is that I automatically trusted the older students and accused the younger ones with no evidence whatsoever. I just supposed that the younger kids would be more inclined to do such a thing. I should stress that the younger boys (let’s call them John and Peter) are no angels. Nevertheless, they felt pretty aggrieved that I didn’t trust them and they expressed their attitude quite openly (read: in a somewhat rude manner). Anyway, they came to me voluntarily the next day and we clarified things a bit. I apologized for my prejudice and they apologized for having been rude. I’ll conclude this story saying that I’ll probably never find out if they did it or not and that it’s actually not important in relation to what I’m about to say now.

The next week, another incident happened. I found out that a boy from my class had created a website. I was happy when I incidentally learned about it and as their homeroom teacher, I was obviously curious to see what my students were up to. I checked the website a couple of times and everything seemed ok at first. However, a few days later somebody tampered with the cover photo adding some ambiguous (religious and political) symbols. To cut a long story short, I automatically assumed that it was John who had done it because of my previous experience and because he was one of the administrators of the website. I thought I had enough clues to believe he was the culprit. Again, it was not a big deal but I got a bit angry with John because he seemed to be mocking all the effort the other boy put in the website.

In retrospect, I must say that luckily, I didn’t take action, such as informing the parents, immediately. The next day I talked to a couple of kids from the class and finally learned that John was not guilty of tampering with the cover photo, even though he had allegedly posted some inappropriate content, which the creator of the website decided to delete (and which I have never seen). Ironically, the person responsible for adding the symbols was someone I trusted unconditionally.

The morals of the story:

  1. Things are not always what they seem to be.
  2. Stick to the presumption of innocence rule.
  3. If you don’t have hard evidence proving someone’s guilt, you’d better trust them.
  4. Trust is very fragile. Try not to break it.

About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for almost 25 years and I still love my job. You can find out more about my passion here on my blog.
This entry was posted in Education, homeroom teacher's rants, Just pondering ..., Personal challenges. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to On trust and other virtues

  1. Marc says:

    A valuable reminder. Sometimes even the best-behaved kids do stupid stuff, either on impulse or through peer pressure. Often they’re the kids you’d never imagine doing such things.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ChristinaC says:

    Hana this is a story to love and thank you for sharing. To begin with, any chance given to us to peer in a learning space is a blessing; being able to look through that educator’s eyes is just priceless. We come to our teaching as ourselves, carrying our dogma and prejudice with us. I have often contemplated whether assumption really kills thought and inference should be our key skill. As with most things, I think we need to achieve balance. We are in the position to ‘feel’ actions around us, to anticipate behaviors, to put out fires before or at the moment of breaking out. But trust also involves allowing the unexpected and believing it actually happens for good reason, right? I fully agree with the morals of this story. Trust can be very hard to build and we should be meticulous in preserving it.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Thank you for taking the time to read my story and comment, Christina. I totally agree with the following line: “We are in the position to ‘feel’ actions around us, to anticipate behaviors, to put out fires before or at the moment of breaking out.” This is so nicely put. In oher words, one of our jobs is to prevent bad things from happening. When you suspect that somebody is bullied, for example, you really need to pay attention to the tiniest of clues. You need to be observant but you also need to speculate to a certain extent to be able to finally uncover the truth. And you must be prepared to swallow your pride when you are wrong. The teaching job is so rewarding but can be really difficult at times.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Zhenya says:

    Hi Hana

    Thank you for this story! Interesting synchronicity today: on YouTube, I watched Phil Beadle’s tips (How to Teach – Teaching tips for new teachers), and he mentioned a rule (passed to him by an experienced teacher) about never trusting what the kids/students say. It made me think (and I am still not sure about my final opinion) but he says that kids can easily and skillfully use lies when they need to. I guess the rule above is not ‘mine’ but I might re-consider its relation to trust in general. Again, thank you for making me think more!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Thank you so much for this comment, Zhenya. You words are always so insightful and helpful, and they arrive at the right moment (as I mentioned earlier on Twitter, I’d had another situation to deal with in my class today). Anyway, my take on trust in situations like the one I described in my post is this: when you suspect two people of doing something bad and you don’t know which one actually did it (and there’s no way of finding out), you will inevitably suspect both. So Phil Beadle’s tip about never trusting what the students/kids say makes perfect sense and I totally relate to it. However, I believe that, at the same time, you have to trust both of them. This, by the way, reminds me of Schrödinger’s cat dilemma 🙂 Now, it’s not easy to trust somebody if you suspect that he or she may actually be lying to you; is it real trust when, at the back of your mind, the nagging feeling tells you to be alert? As a homeroom teacher, I really don’t want to give the impression of a naive person who is easily deceived by a couple of convincing lies. In other words, I want my students to know that I wasn’t born yesterday. On the other hand, we can err in judgement and these errors may have fatal consequences for the future relationship with that person.


      • Zhenya says:

        Yes, this is getting much deeper than it seemed at the beginning. More philosophic even? Wondering if by trust we mean ‘unconditional positive regard’ to the students (‘we love you no matter what, but sometimes your behavior might be less acceptable’, or something like that). Wondering if ‘trusting’ a student means ‘taking his/her side’ in a situation? Accepting/admitting that we are ‘naive’ as you said? I think the topic is great actually – feeling grateful for the thought-provoking discussion. Suddenly thinking if this could be a topic for the students (mini) writing – wondering what they have to say about trust, and honesty…

        Liked by 1 person

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