Slice of Life: To Err is Human…

11454297503_e27946e4ff_h“So C what are you up to?” I asked a student council member as he rifled through a shinny pencil case in the lost and found box.

“Oh nothing, just looking. Nothing I want,” he said casually.

I let it slide. Writer’s Workshop was in full swing. The incident goes to that place in my mind that wakes me up in the middle of the night.

Recess came and went.

Classes change. My homeroom moves to their math and science teacher, and in comes my second group, noisy and sweaty from recess.

Amid the movement, D walks up to me. holding the shinny pencil case. “Mrs. Harmatz my pens are missing. B said the A took them.”

Perhaps A got the good things before C.

“Don’t worry, I’ll look into it,” I tell D.

This is the first incident of its kind this year. The dreaded he-took-my-pen accusation. Considering we are just past the mid-point in the year it isn’t surprising. Students are comfortable and start to push limits. I’m sad that these generally good kids did the wrong thing, but I’m not surprised. That shinny pencil case harbored untold treasure. Temptation got the better of them.

After lunch, I greet my homeroom class containing the suspects. I hold the empty case and ask, “Does anyone know about this?”


“I have her red pen,” said N. .

Gasps, jaws drop. N? No way I hear whispered. I have to agree. He’d be the last one I’d suspect. Interestingly he is A’s best friend.

“Thanks for stepping up. Anyone else?”

No one moves.

Amazing, they’re going to let him take the fall.

Finally, Z pipes up, “I saw A, C and E with the pens.”

Called out, they stand outside the line, ready for punishment.

It’s Friday afternoon drama. Dismissal is in 30 minutes. A quick check of the backpacks turns up one pencil. Quite a bit short of the reported loss.

Kids go home.

I think about it.

Saturday, I get an email from my colleague.  “How do you want to handle it? Should we call their parents?”

I am disappointed. I think about trust, about being able to turn my back and wanting to believe that they will do the right thing.  Am I upset about students making a bad choice, or about my classroom being less than what I want it to be? A little of both I suppose. To err is human.  Ah yes, all the times I have done less than I should have. 

Monday recess. All involved are present in my colleague’s classroom.

“Do you know why you’re here?” I ask.

C, the student council member, explains.  I tell them what great students they are. How people make mistakes, and when great people make mistakes they make sure they admit it. They don’t hide it, they face it.  They take responsibility.

All acknowledge their wrongdoing.

I thank them, and go on to say that we expect them to live up to their greatness by telling their parents.  The apparent instigator says he already told his dad.

Wow, I think. He was worried, and smart, and perhaps, his greatness showed through in the end. “How did you feel when you told him?” I asked.

“Scared,” he said.

At this point I wonder what the others are thinking.

I thought it would be worse —
I won’t do that again —
I’m great?
My parents?
Being great isn’t easy–

Maybe all of the above and a little more.

Ah, teaching. So much more.