FEATURE — This week my house went back to school. Well, not officially. Officially, we did all of back-to-school things you need to do to go back to school.
We bought color coded folders, glue sticks and colored pencils. We filled in wardrobes with new shoes for bigger feet and shorts without holes.
We did the “meet your teacher, find your desk and locker” elementary-school thing. And we did the “follow the green arrows through registration and meet with your counselor to change your schedule” high-school thing.
We met new teachers. We hugged old teachers. We saw old friends. We roamed familiar hallways that looked like they too had grown a little wild in the hot summer sun.
We also reunited with our elementary school principal. But something was different about him. Yes, he still sports button up shirts with wild designs. Yes, he still has goofy bleach-blonde hair. And yes, he still wears a puka shell necklace.
But now he’s also got a tattoo on his left forearm. In simple script, it reads: “teach them well.”
My incoming third grader, who adores this principal, looked at the tattoo and didn’t say a word. Once clear of the school, he said, “Wow!” Then he paused. “That guy is really dedicated [to us].”
It’s true; that guy really is dedicated to his school and his students. And he’s dedicated to the principle he now espouses on his arm – both in word and in deed.
We learned that when my son was a first grader, within the very first week this man took over as principal of our school. On day two, he had an intense run-in with my son, who was accused along with a few others of throwing girls down to the ground on the field. The principal let the boys have it.
But the next day after some additional investigation, the principal determined he’d gotten it wrong.
Yes, some boys had been throwing girls down onto the field. But not all of the boys he’d accused. Between seeing the incident from afar and getting on scene, the crowd of players had morphed. He didn’t know the faces one from another; he grabbed whoever was closest.
Others in his position might have discounted the error because it was an honest mistake – the important thing is that he stopped a dangerous situation and protected his female students.
But not this principal. This principal went to each of the boys he’d wrongly accused and apologized.
I was present for the apology to my son. It went something like this: principals make mistakes just like everyone else. I made a mistake and I’m sorry. I should have done more investigating before I accused you of doing something wrong. I was scared when I saw that dangerous thing happening and I just reacted. But I’m going to do better in the future.
That apology made a powerful impression on my son, who used it as evidence when he lobbied his brother, who had left the school the previous year under a different administration, to give the neighborhood school another chance.
He used it to motivate himself when he didn’t feel brave enough to apologize to a friend when an apology was due.
To date, it has been one of the most important lessons of his educational career. And he’s learned a lot of math and reading and science.
Yes, teach them well. Teach the children well. That’s a lesson for us all – not just the principal with a tattoo telling him so.
Let’s teach our kids – this school year and the next and the next one after that – that’s it’s not all about getting straight “A’s” or never making a mistake. It’s about being kind, learning to forgive, admitting when you’re wrong, making mistakes and allowing others to make them too.
And it’s about always trying to do better next time.
Kat Dayton is a columnist for St. George News. Any opinions given are her own and not representative of St. George News.
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