Last week, one of my students brought a knife to school. It was a small pocketknife and he managed to keep it hidden for most of the day. I only found out about it because another student approached me after lunch and told me that the boy had been showing it off earlier in the day.
When things like this happen in the classroom, it is your job to react calmly, but you have to react immediately. I took the student out in the hall and began questioning him.
I knew it was important to get to the truth, but I did not want to spook him. I am not a scary person, but I did not want to make him deny things unnecessarily. I first told him that it was very important that he be honest with me. I remained very even-tempered.
Did you bring something dangerous to school today? Are you carrying something in your pocket that you should not have at school? Do you have a knife at school?
The truth is that he was as calm as I was. The truth is that he lied right to my face.
These moments are when you have to make very serious judgment calls. He seemed very sincere. He repeated over and over again that he had nothing at school. In fact, he showed me a toy that he had in his pocket that he was convinced must be what was mistaken for a knife.
I really wanted to believe him. He’s a good kid. And in the moment, you almost want to rationalize what is happening. I wanted to believe him and bring him back into math class and carry on. The classroom is the most important place that this student needs to be, but there we were, standing out in the hall. I was trying to get the truth out of him, to assess the safety of the situation, without being overly accusatory. All I really had to go on was the suggestion of another student.
However, that suggestion was all I really needed. It didn’t matter that he was promising that he didn’t have a knife. It didn’t matter that I wanted to believe him. I had no choice but to walk him down to the office and refer him to an administrator. I hoped that they would talk with him, find nothing and send him back to class.
That is not what happened.
A few minutes later the principal was at my classroom door and three adults were surrounding this boy, approaching his locker. We all had to be witnesses to his things being searched. He opened his locker without incident. There was the knife, lying right on the top shelf.
That was it. I did not see him again. He was whisked off to the office, and 20 minutes later his mother was in a meeting with the administration discussing a 10-day out-of-school suspension. I was asked if his disability in anyway influenced his decision to bring the knife to school or that he lied about it. I answered that I did not think his disability had anything to do with it. That’s all I needed to say. His punishment remained.
He has been out of school for six days and will return at the end of this week. I have been thinking a lot about what I want to say to him when he gets back because he and I did not get to talk after the administration became involved.
I want him to know that everyone makes bad decisions. I can forgive him for making a bad decision – for bringing that knife to school. The larger problem, though, is that he lied to me. He so calmly, coolly lied to me. I am not sure about forgiving dishonesty so fast. Actually, I think I owe it to him to be a little upset for a while. Often, in teaching, there are larger lessons to be taught to our students, larger than long division and reading fluency.
If it is our job to educate the whole child, then I think it’s important that he knows what disappointment feels like – for both of us.