Whenever an incident such as cheating or theft happened in the class, I always feel it is a sign of failure in the area of character development. A teacher has the responsibility to seize this teachable moment for teaching moral standards in class. It is not easy to deal with a case of theft because the school is not like a CSI crime scene investigator who can collect clues and evidence to prove who did it (although I would love to have some finger printing done, hehehe). What if we do know who did it, and then what? Do we have any way of knowing that this person would never steal again after the discipline? A thief would not stop stealing unless he has truly learned a lesson, thoroughly understands the consequences and, more importantly, is able to relate to the victim with empathy. It is my job as a teacher to teach the thief and all students and make sure that they have learned the lesson well.
In the morning of the last day of school, I gathered all the students to the carpet area right after the morning announcement. I told the class that, for the last 12 years, Santa always visited my class on the last day of school before Christmas break; however, I was very disappointed that Santa did not show up to bring each person a small package this year. I told the class that I finally figured it out why he did not show up because one of us had done something terribly wrong in the class! (I know it was a white lie about Santa, but I needed to build up the climax.) I revealed to them that VT’s prizes were taken from his backpack yesterday and it was clearly that someone in our class did it. The whole class was very attentive and waited to hear what had happened to their dear friend VT.
I explained to the class that two of VT’s prized toys were taken from his backpack. Those were the rewards for VT’s hard work and now all his efforts had been stolen from him. It was very sad that VT had to experience what I had been through the other day when my toy kit was broken into. Now he could truly understand how I felt then. I told the class that VT has been everybody’s best friend and how could “WE” do this to our best friend? I confessed to them that I was truly saddened by this incident. A few students raised their hands to express how sorry they felt for VT and how angry they felt about this incident.
When I saw the class had generated some discussion to show their emotions with empathy and justice, I went further to emphasize that I was glad that many people had shown concerns for VT and I was pretty sure that the person who did it must be feeling really terrible for VT as well. At that point, I announced to the class that I would like to give everybody a chance to write a kind note to VT to tell him how each one of us was feeling. I also hoped that this culprit would admit what he did was wrong and then apologize to VT. No one needed to sign their name on the note. Again, I reinforced what I have been preaching to the class, “We all make mistakes but it is not acceptable to make the same mistake twice.” It was unfortunate that this person made a mistake by stealing the toys. Now we were willing to give this person a second chance to correct his wrong with honesty. We hoped to see a note of apology from this person to VT. We just wanted this person to finally live up to his true feeling (of guilt) by admitting it.” (Gosh, I was really taking a chance, wasn’t I?)
We spent about twenty minutes writing the note before recess. After recess, the whole school gathered in the auditorium for carol singing. I took the opportunity and went back to my classroom to read those notes. It was very moving to read the kind words from the class but my heart was still heavy with what result might come out of this emotional experiment. Anyway, I went through all of the notes and finally I read the last one… “Dear VT, I am very sorry that I took your prizes….” Bingo! Thank Goodness, there is still hope on humanity after all!
After the class had returned from the Christmas carol singing, I congratulated the class on their kind words to VT which truly showed how caring they were towards each other. The most important thing was that the person who took the toys also admitted to his wrongdoing. Hopefully, he would return the toys to school after Christmas break and “quietly” leave the toys in a special box by the door. (I guess we will find out in a few days.)
In the afternoon, I repacked the small button toy and put one in each envelop of my Christmas cards to the students. Some of my students don’t celebrate Christmas, so I usually give them a New Year greeting card or an Eid greeting card for each Muslim student. The button toy was small enough to be packed inside the envelope. That was pretty much the only thing I gave out this year. Santa didn’t show up to deliver the special package, but each student at least got a small toy from me. (HO. HO. HO.) The most important thing was that we have received a special gift, an unexpected lesson on humanity- to show kindness and respect. Furthermore, I took the leap of faith on my students’ honesty and hope!
1. I noticed that VT’s parents were bidding on a toy “Cubic” at the silent auction before the concert. The Cubic was donated by me to the Parents’ Council for fundraising. I decided to bid on my own donation and later won the bid. I gave the toy to VT the next day as a present. I had a chat with him before I sent him home with the toy. He is a kind boy and I believe VT would not be discouraged or lose trust and faith on his friends after the whole incident.
2. Thanks to Debbie (http://www.wretch.cc/blog/debbyyssel) who wrote in her blog about how she dealt with the theft in her class. I merely borrowed her idea and added my emotional talk (plea) to the process. It is amazing what we teachers could borrow and learn from one another through blogging.
3. One student raised the question that I am always able to read everybody’s writing even though the note is anonymous. Well, I told them that if everyone prints neatly, it would be very difficult for me to identify their printing. The truth is that only one person would have to worry about being identified, isn’t it?
4. So, do I know who did it? Of course, I do! I am not going to say anything, but I will certainly be watching over this person from now on. No more nonsense like this!