Sometimes to find our strength or define our morality, we are tested. The truths that emerge from these tests are sometimes surprising and revealing, not only to others, but to ourselves.
Several years ago, when I first started teaching, my class was celebrating a successful test average. They were permitted soda and cookies, and we played games revolving around the unit theme: The Renaissance. I was still new to the teaching world, but even then, refrained from calling our celebration a “party.” It was our miniature Renaissance Festival.
Several students brought two-liters of soda and sat them on a designated table. After some lecture and a quick quiz, we began our festival. I began to pour cups of soda for the students and proceeded to open a two-liter of Dr. Pepper.
Under my fingers, the plastic bottle felt tight, and that should have been a clue. When I turned the lid, it exploded up, shooting the cap into the air in a fountain of sticky, sugary pop. It seemed like the cascade of soda was never going to end and became a fight where I attempted to put the lid back on. This only shot streams of the beverage into my face and all over the table and ungraded papers. It slipped out of my hands and began to shoot sideways, across my pants and into the floor.
Finally, it stopped. The empty plastic bottle lay on the floor slowly spinning, a dead creature of destruction if there ever was one. The class became incredibly quiet, and then (of course) started laughing as I stood there drenched in wet sugar. It was dripping off me and into the floor, and I turned to face the 20 or so students.
In a very dry voice, I asked, “who brought the Dr. Pepper?”
To this day, I am surprised she stepped forward. A girl from the back carefully spoke up and said, “I did, Mr. Theodore.”
As I wiped off my face and glasses, I asked, “What happened? Did you shake this up?” I looked at the now empty 2-liter.
She stepped closer, “No, I swear.”
I asked again, “Why did it explode?”
“Well,” she said quietly, “I . . . accidentally dropped it on the stairs. I didn’t know you’d open mine first. I’m sorry.” She was sincere, at least she looked sincere through my soda smeared glasses. Just then, I remembered she had rushed in late to class, exasperated and apologetic that she was tardy. Her reprimand, because I truly believed it was an accident, was to get some paper towels from the janitor, and we both cleaned it up.
Although I went through the rest of the day with my shirt sticking to me, I appreciated my student’s honesty. I thought it took a lot of strength and integrity to step forward and admit what she had done.
She did not shift blame, she did not redirect, and she did not lie. And although an obviously horrible moment erupted (pun intended), she took responsibility. I have said this often in regard to teaching, if we can get the fundamentals of integrity down, then the context of what we are teaching will fall easily in line.
Of course, there is the possibility of my early teaching naivety, and the girl purposely dropped the two-liter to see what would happen in class. To that end, I learned another lesson: sometimes you got to roll with the punches.
Brian Theodore is a language arts teacher at Corbin High School and lives in Corbin with his wife, who is also a teacher at CHS. He can be contacted at Theteachersdesk.email@example.com.