Saturday, April 26, 2014

Doggy Bag

Ever get your hand caught in the cookie jar? What about the poopy bag?

I did. And, I didn’t handle it well.

The other day I was walking my dog. She went, and I picked it up. Problem was there was a hole in the bag. I didn’t notice where the hole was until it was too late. The bag began to leak. I begin to walk quickly in the direction of my house. I begin to get coated. Life gets worse.

My dog, all 65 pounds of her stops, dead in her tracks. She needs to go, again. By this time my hands and arms are beginning to resemble the poop bag. She repeats the process. For those keeping score at home, Bella is two for two.

I don’t even have a bag for the first one, much less the second one, which is on my neighbor’s lawn. I decide retreating is the better part of valor. I wait until she’s done, get my hustle on, and figure I’ll clean up, get another bag, and get her other parting gift. Only my neighbor doesn’t know my plan, he just sees me scurrying away.

“Sir, Sir,” I hear from behind me. I turn. I am literally coated from hands to elbows in Labradoodle poop.

“Your dog went on my lawn,” says an older man, pointing to the spot where Bella did her business. He’s well-dressed, and quite proper looking. Think Fred Gwynne (Herman Munster) sponsored by Polo.

“I see it,” I snap. “I have no room in the bag. I’m coming back.”

“Okay,” he says, staring at me. And, that is where it should’ve ended. But, because of my emotional - mental state right then, it didn’t.

“Is there anything else,” I say, turning fully toward him. We’re about 100 feet away. I lift up my hands and elbows so he can see them. “Or are we good?”

My question isn’t really a question. It’s not even a statement. I’ve just overreacted and unloaded on a neighbor. Who. Did. Nothing. Wrong.

But, my mind isn’t there. See, my Dad is in the hospital. He’s had four bypass surgeries in the last 19 years. He’s not getting enough blood to his heart. The arteries are fully working, it’s just not enough. There’s a lot of plaque around the heart. He’s got two options, stent, or some other crazy procedure I can’t understand. But the man who asked me to be a good neighbor doesn’t know that. He just knows what he sees.

He looks at me, stunned. He wasn’t expecting that response. Because, there was no reason for me to go there. None. And, he’s unsure how we got there. I showed no outward signs that something was wrong (minus the poop coating).

So, he does the right thing. He models graciousness and courtesy: “No problem,” he says, smiling. “Have a good day.”

Me, now I’m doubly angry, because I overreacted and am ashamed of my reaction, and, I still have arms dipped in poop chocolate. I need to make this right, I think. But first, I need to wash my hands.

How often do we form judgements about our students, their families, our teaching peers, or our administration, based on just the information we see? We see a child who calls out, acts out, doesn’t hand in homework, has trouble staying seated, fidgets, argues in a group, and we make a final decision without all the pieces in place. Have we checked to see if: they had breakfast, slept, were told by their parents that they’re moving or divorcing (or both), feel like they have no friends, don’t understand the content, have prior bad experiences in education, or come from a family who mistrusts school? Any, a combination, or all of them, can play a role in the output of a child. But, if we look at an incomplete picture and make a complete judgement, how does that help the child? Doesn’t it just give them the wrong message about us and about education in general, because we’ve made a generalization that many not apply?

We tell ourselves as educators that we need to drop our baggage at the door prior to entering the building. The students need it, and we deserve to give them our best. Remember “exhibit A” (me): we don’t always model appropriate behavior. The motivations behind our poor actions may have no correlation whatsoever to what actually occurred. Who makes a scene covered in poop? This guy, who’s dad is in the hospital, and has bigger issues on his mind than his neighbor’s lawn.

So, the next time we’re ready to make a snap decision as educators, realize that even though we’re older, mature, trained, and passionate about what we do, we’re still human. As adults, we do things we later regret. We handle things poorly. And, children, their families, our peers make these mistakes too. At some point, with enough reflection, adults can figure out why they reacted as they did, and then choose how to move forward. Children don’t have the coping skills or metacognitive skills to understand why they make the decisions they do. Developmentally, their frontal lobe isn’t fully developed until their mid-20’s.

Heck, I could tell you some of the decisions I made in my mid-20’s.

But, I’d prefer not to.

Now, my Dad will be okay. He’s been transferred to another hospital. The surgery will be performed by a doctor who’s last name is biblical. According to those in the field, this man can part platelets. My Dad will have his stent put in, he’ll go home in a few days, and we’ll all move forward.

But for me, I have to move backwards, down the street to my neighbor. I have some apologizing to do.