“Mr. Vaudrey, I’m stuck on this problem.” Nathan waved me over during after-school tutoring one day in April 2011.
“Okay, let me have a look.” I said, leaning over his table.
“Ah,” I straightened and strode to the whiteboard, pulling a marker from my back pocket. “I recommend plugging each point into the function and seeing if they work. Three of them won’t work. The one left over is the correct answer.”
Nathan scrunched his nose and furrowed his brow. “That seems like going around the … the idea. Isn’t there, like, a formula or something?”
“Well, in this case, the line is the solution to that function, so you’re seeing which of these points fit inside the solution.”
Nathan leaned back. “Yeah, I get it. It just doesn’t feel like good math.”
I laughed, “Yeah, well sometimes in real life, you gotta try stuff until something works.”
“Mister Vaudreeeeee!” Natalie screeched, sprinting across the classroom with Jenny in tow. “Somebody took my pink pen.”
It’s January of 2008, my first year teaching. I am drowning in the flow of my responsibilities without the skills to paddle my way out. We just got back into class from a fire drill and Natalie is distraught.
“It was her Christmas present, Mr. Vaudrey.” Jenny states with a somber face. “It was a Gel Sparkle.”
“Okay.” I rub my eyes, deciding if this is worth my trouble. Deep in my psyche is a youth pastor, feeling the need to be liked by my students and wanting to play a little joke on the other students. I lean in close and say, “Watch this.”
“Alright, listen up!” I stride purposefully from my desk to the front of the class. “Whoever took Natalie’s gel pen, give it back or the whole class gets detention. I am not kidding!”
The irony being that I totally was kidding. I had no intention of giving anybody detention, especially if Natalie got her pen back.
This was an interesting time in my teaching career. I recognized the importance of honesty and the reward that had to be inherent.
- If Chris stole Natalie’s pen and gave it back, he took a risk and was honest. If I give him detention, he learns that it’s better to be sneaky and avoid consequence.
- If I give Chris thanks for stepping up and congratulate his boldness to take responsibility, I show him that redemption is more gratifying than sneakiness
Yet in this situation, I’m prepared to make an idle threat to the whole class in hopes that Natalie could possibly have her stupid pen returned.
Nobody produced the pen, and nobody got detention.
The students left knowing that I sometimes make threats where I don’t follow through. If I were a student, I would store that information for later. Perhaps when I get in trouble, I can point out Mr. Vaudrey’s inconsistency with “But you didn’t take away Adrian’s phone when he was texting!”
Later that year, two students had their pencils stolen during fire drills. I ignored it.
Ehhn! Ehhn! Ehhn!
The students looked up from their books as the fire alarm grabbed their attention.
“Alright, folks. Grab your pencils and head outside!” I shout over the siren and point towards the door.
“Pencils? Why are we—“
“No time to ask questions! It’s a fire drill! Get outside if you don’t wanna burn, child!” With eyes wide, I gestured dramatically toward the door.
The students smile, pocket their pencils and head out the door in a bunch. Once in the evacuation zone, I line them up and take attendance.
Back in the classroom 20 minutes later, a student asks, “Mr. Vaudrey, why did we take our pencils?”
I think back to Natalie and her stolen Sparkle pen and say. “Firewood. We don’t want to give the fire anything more to burn. Now, let’s talk more about Vectors.”