Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Fri 8/29/2003 3:58 AM
Random Thought: I Was Conned

I just discovered that last year I was conned by a student. Boy, was I taken in--big time. My response to her heart-rednering story had been dictated by my heart. I believed a clever and dishonest student who went to such great pains to pull a sting on me. I was set up. She had made false entries in her journal; she had others pretend to be someone else on the telephone; she had believeable reasons for missing class and not participating in the projects; she lied to the other members of her community who in support of her became unwitting accomplices; she lied to me. Like Jabez Stone, she had traded her soul. She had devalued and disrespected herself in quest of the holy grail of a lousy grade she needed to transfer. Too bad she didn't apply her energy to better purposes. I gave her another chance at another place. I acted with sympathy, understanding, and generosity. I had misplaced my trust. Some would say I was dumb to do it. She would sneer that I was a push-over. I discovered that she had duped others professors. That didn't ease the feeling of having been violated. I have to admit that I didn't like my life being invaded with a lie. It was like the feeling when our life savings were embezzled by a friend a few years ago. And yet, I honestly felt more sympathy and disappointment for her than anger towards her. I honestly am saddened for her and not for me. She hurt herself, not me. She lost her integrity, I didn't and won't. This lousy habit of deceit she is developing will come back to bite her in one way or another. That I guarantee.

Would I do it again? Would I give another student a second chance. You bet. I presently am, and their continued commitment to their promise is making it easier. I'm not pursuing perfection or waiting until I'm perfect at what I do and what I believe. I'm not waiting until for students to act perfectly as paragons of virtue before I risk making a mistake in judgement. What she did has bearing on me only if I give her permission to grind down my bearings. I cannot and will not. However tough it is at this moment, I won't let her have a bearing on another student at another time in another situation. I must take one person at a time without listening to the whispers of her ghost in my ear and without letting them push me over the edge into the black abyss of insulating preconception about and stereotying of "all students."

This isn't the first time and I'm sure it won't be the last. Whenever we extend our hand in encouragement and support, we take the risk of getting it slapped away--or bitten off. But, if I kept my hand in my pockets, I'd stop being a teacher. There'd be no relationship, no friendship, no connection, no hope, no faith, no belief, no love. I'd violate my promise to Kim and the nail polish on my right pinky would lose its meaning and be reduced to mere gaudiness. No, my hand will continue to out there. It must. Think how darkened I would be, how less my world would be, if I no longer set out each day to make it a "make a difference" day, if I no longer set out to lighten the life or brighten the day of a student. That horrible thought gives me strength to handle this without surrendering; I can rebound from disappointment. I'm not going to over-react. I'm not going to let her shake my faith. It's not easy. It's a challenge. It's tempting to take the easy way out of this and protect myself from the next time. Then, if I did, I might hurt some needy student just because I didn't have an emotional resilence, an inner strength to cleanse my inner self of some toxic feelings, and a bounce to rebound back from disappoint.

I think if I let her make me into a cynic that would be a far greater tragedy. I would be defeated rather than merely having lost. I would get stuck rather than sucking it up and moving on. I would choose to cling to dejection rather than merely accepting rejection. No, my skin is thicker than that. I'll trust the Chinese advisers to the Emperor, "And this, too, shall pass," and continue to believe truly that most students out there are good people. I refuse to become so suspicious of a student's plea that I refuse to help for fear of being fooled again. Surely, that would be foolish, for if I did, I'd have a bigger problem than being occasionally taken in. I am not going to let a coldness and distance creep into my soul and make me so cautious and callous that I will turn a deaf ear and blind eye to a plea for help. If my free-flowing kindness keeps a less than honest student in business, so be it. I can live with that. I can't live with being a person so on guard that my caring and compassion shrivels and puts an honest student out of business.

Ms Trombly, my high school secretarial arts teacher, would have told me to listen to my compassionate instinct to be empathetic and embracing, not to listen to any egotistical instinct to be outraged and disengaged. "Louis," she once told me, "learn shorthand, not shortcuts. They're not the same."

         Make it a good day.


         Louis Schmier      
         Department of History
         Valdosta State University
         Valdosta, GA  31698                 /~\        /\ /\
         912-333-5947              /^\      /     \    /  /~\  \   /~\__/\
                                 /     \__/         \/  /  /\ /~\/         \
                          /\/\-/ /^\_____\____________/__/_______/^\
                        -_~    /  "If you want to climb mountains,   \ /^\
                         _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -    \____

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