Called to the Principal’s Office! Yikes!

[I first wrote this as a guest post for Kim Kirby’s Kingdom Civics. You should check out her archives, because she has some great articles in there!]

A Call from the Principal

Years ago I got an unexpected call at work from my son’s junior high principal. Not a good thing under most circumstances, and this was no exception to the rule. She wanted to tell me that my son might be upset and she called to let me know immediately rather than learn about it when I came home from work.

It turns out she had called him to her office to reprimand him. She said he was circulating an inappropriate petition concerning one of his teachers. I started to get an idea of the problem. He’d told us a few days before that some of the students were concerned with how this teacher was handling the class and we had talked about it with him in the days leading up to this phone call.

His idea of how best to handle it was to put the problem in writing and see if enough kids agreed so that he could then talk to her about it. He didn’t want to bother bringing it up with her if not many other kids were bothered by it. I didn’t know the details of his plan, but the general topic of a petition came up.

I listened incredulously as the principal told me that once she found out about it she pulled him out of class and into her office.

I listened in sorrow as she described him getting upset and teary at being reprimanded.

I listened in disbelief as she told me her main concern was for the teacher – the TEACHER, mind you – as she might get her feelings hurt at the petition being circulated.

I didn’t hear her say anything about students handling concerns in a creative and constructive manner. I didn’t hear her say anything about listening to my son’s intentions, or what he was concerned about in the first place. Nothing. The way she explained it, this conversation in her office was pretty one-sided. She spoke and my son sat there.

I said thanks, ended the conversation as quickly as I could, and prayed for my son.

The Bike Ride to Suspension

It’s been a while since I thought of that phone call. Then I read about a group of high school seniors in Michigan who decided to stage a massive bike ride to school as their senior prank on the last day of classes. Sounds innocent enough, constructive and creative even, right? Not to the principal. She told all sixty-four participants it was a dangerous stunt: traffic could have snarled and they might have been injured – “your brains could have ended up splattered,” she told them. She would not countenance it! They were prohibited from senior activities for the rest of the day and sent home. Some even missed a final exam.

Turns out the Seniors had more on the ball than she gave them credit for. They had contacted the authorities ahead of time to take care of safety concerns and rode with a police escort. Not only that, the Mayor even accompanied the students on their route to school that morning. The only ones not in the know were the school officials, but letting them in on it would have defeated the purpose of a rather creative – and rather responsible – senior prank, of course.

Cooler heads eventually prevailed. The suspension was lifted, teachers offered make-up tests, and the school district issued an apology complete with a statement from the Principal.

Waiting for All the Evidence to Come In

Jumping to conclusions is rarely a good practice – even if it is out of concern for the feelings of a junior high school teacher or the safety of a few dozen graduating seniors. And it really doesn’t work at my job.

One thing I tell jurors repeatedly throughout trial is not to form their final opinions or conclusions, but to wait until all the evidence is in, deliberate with all the other jurors, and then see if they can reach a verdict. In fact, this admonition has been adopted into a formal jury instruction that applies to all trials in my state. The wisdom underlying it goes back to a time long before California existed.

Through presumption comes nothing but strife, but with those who receive counsel is wisdom. (Proverbs 13:12.)

Don’t presume. Seek counsel and talk things over with others. Then come to a reasoned conclusion. It’s so simple, right?

I don’t know about you, but I see people around me and then jump to conclusions about them all the time, thinking I know what’s going on in their lives. But I don’t. That might hurt only me, except there are times when I then act on this utter lack of knowledge, this lack of reasoned consideration. That can lead to mistakes, big mistakes. So what should I do?

God’s wisdom still applies: don’t presume; get the facts; find someone to talk things over with. It’s simple, right?

So how do you do that? Please share your experiences here in the comments. None of us want to presume we have all the answers!

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12 Responses to Called to the Principal’s Office! Yikes!

  1. Kathleen says:

    I started a while ago to pray that I see others through His eyes. Not always, but often I find myself realizing that a person is acting a certain way because of a different circumstance in his life; be it pain, loneliness, hardships, abuse, or ignorance. While this doesn’t excuse bad behavior, it does help me to act in mercy and grace. It is especially difficult with people like the ones in Kim Kirby’s accounts, though. Unreasonable and power hungry, these peoples’ need to control others hurts. We have some coaches we are struggling with in this way. What to do? Pray. How? Only the Holy Spirit knows, so we pray and commit it to Him with willing hearts.

    • Tim says:

      Kid’s coaches is another area where we’ve had to pray and commit it to God too, Kathleen. Supporting the kids as best as possible along the way was tough but we made it through. I hope your situation straightens out soon.

  2. Jeannie says:

    Very interesting stories here, Tim. We so often presume yet can be totally wrong. I am sure at times that people make presumptions about my children, esp my son who is 10 chronologically yet about 4 developmentally: people stare, turn their heads, etc. A sweet old lady at church asked me, “Was he brain damaged at birth?” That took me aback. But I welcome opportunities to share the facts, and almost every time the person responds with “Oh, yes, there’s a boy on our street ….” or “My sister’s son is just like that …” Just sharing information can work wonders to break down boundaries.

    On a different note, I am currently writing a tween novel in which a girl is misunderstood by teachers, principal, and other adults, so I found your examples really helpful!

    • Tim says:

      Glad I could help with the writing project, Jeannie. And I completely agree abotu the wonders of sharing information. A colleague retired from the bench in Los Angeles told me years ago, “I’ve found that more communication is almost always better than less.” Words to live by.

  3. Aimee Byrd says:

    This has been a lesson that the Lord has been teaching this slow learner!
    I recently had a similar situation in the office for my daughter. It’s a shame. My kids go to three different schools–two have great administration. Of course the one that I had to deal with last week was the more difficult administrator. It’s hard for our children to see adults behave unjustly, but we had a good conversation at home about it. I also had to work on not being too quick to judge my daughter, the administrator, or the little girl (aka the perpetrator). They all could have handled the situation better.
    On a lighter note, our senior prank was way more dangerous and poorly planned…

    • Tim says:

      As bad as the situation was, that “good conversation at home about it” was such a blessing for our family.

      And about that senior prank, Aimee … I smell the makings of a great guest post for you to write and for me to host!

  4. Laura says:

    Great post Tim! I’ve become less and less judgmental and less likely to presume over the years, simply b/c of the school of experience! After so many times jumping to a conclusion that I later learned was false, I’ve learned my lesson. Hold your horses…there may be key facts you are lacking that could completely change your perspective. Slow down, ask some questions, wait, pray. Pray should be higher up there! : )

  5. Tim says:

    Isn’t it amazing how much we learn from school that isn’t on the formal curriculum, Laura?

  6. I recently listened to a young adult relative about tension with a sibling. So much in life revolves around communication and not forming judgments. Thanks Tim and others for comments which confirm we all – regardless of stages of life – benefit from being heard and from listening to one another.

  7. This was so good. I loved learning about that school with the bikes and how the kids actually took everything in good consideration and that the school authorities had to be the ones to apologize!!

    In my current situation where I lost a friend. . .she also was jumping to conclusions about things that she thought I insinuated because she didn’t decide to do any research on something I shared with her in person with my heart. . .only to have her completely disregard ME and just slam everything. . .and that is not good when people have all these thoughts in their head without really taking the time to LISTEN to the person talking to them and having a lack of compassion.

    If people stopped to ask questions instead of just having thoughts about something without really discussing them properly, everything will be in shambles and end up like sloppy joes!

    • Tim says:

      I am so sorry about that breakdown in the friendship, Victoria. You know I’m praying for restoration there. And I agree about discussing things properly. A retired colleague once told me that more communication is almost always better than less; I think he’s right.

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