When I started college, I knew exactly what I wanted to be: a teacher. I wanted to be a teacher for many years, all the way up until I actually did some teaching. Learning about how to teach did not prepare me at all for life on the other side of the overhead projector, and one day while I was in my last semester of student teaching, I was faced with a difficult decision.
In my 4th period class, I had a group of KIKKers. K-I-K-K were the call letters for the local country music radio station, and since kids who listened to that station always wore cowboy boots, it wasn’t too hard to come up with the moniker. These were the kids with the longest bus ride home, the ones who sometimes missed school because they had been up in a blind all night. In this class, there were a group of three or four of these ninth grade boys who all huddled together in a back corner. They never sat up straight or volunteered to pass out papers, but they never caused me trouble, either. Until this day.
I had given the students some sort of busy work and everyone was working quietly, but I noticed a commotion coming from the KIKKer corner. Despite their best efforts to keep something secret from me, they were failing miserably, so I went over to investigate. Immediately something disappeared into a pocket, and all the faces that turned up at me were red and fearful. “Whatcha got there?” I asked James, the boy with his hand in his pocket. “Miss, it was an accident,” all the boys said at once. “He didn’t mean to bring it.”
“It” was a four-inch skinning knife. James had been skinning deer with his father the day before and had put the knife in his jacket pocket, then worn the jacket to school the next day. It was an understandable mistake, but this was 2006, and there was a No-Tolerance policy for Tylenol at this school. A knife would definitely get James expelled, and possibly even arrested.
The boys pleaded with me to not tell anyone. I didn’t know what to do. I believed that James was a good kid, and this was just an accident. If I took up the knife and reported him, it could ruin his life. But what if I was wrong? What if James DID bring the knife to school with the intention to hurt someone? What would happen to me if anyone found out I knew he had the knife but didn’t say anything?
I looked at all the boys’ faces and made my decision. “Put it away and never let this happen again,” I said. Then I walked back to my desk. There was no Incident at school that day, and as far as I know, James never brought the knife to school again.
Whatever mistake you’ve made recently, whatever word you misspoke, whatever Happy Birthday you forgot to wish, or email you forgot to send, whatever groceries you forgot to put away, I hope you’re able to take a deep breath and set it to the side and move past it. We’re all trying to do our Best, but sometimes doing our Best at one thing means doing our Minimum Requirement at another.
Every single day, you and I and everyone else have to make decisions, and sometimes we have no idea of knowing if it’s the right one. We imagine all the different ways our actions can have consequences, but we’ll never know for sure if the choice that was made was the best one. And we’ll just have to live with it.
What would you have done in this situation? Tell me at Kate@KateLanders.com.