The Unfounded Accusation

Not too long ago, I watched one of my male students pick up a package of four mini, sticky notepads that had fallen out of another student’s binder. I saw him pick them up, but then I stopped watching. Another student was telling me a story as we cleaned up for the next class. The next day, the student that owned the binder could not find her sticky notes. Without taking the time to think, I accused the male student of taking the package of sticky notes. Of course, he immediately protested his innocence. He was very upset.
For my part, I truly did not know if he had taken the sticky notes or not. I stopped watching after he picked them up. He could just have easily have put them back into the binder. He could have set them down on the bookcase and somebody else could have taken them. In a classroom full of students, anything can happen in those few minutes at the end of class.
As the male student got more and more upset over me accusing him of the theft, I got the class started on their lesson. I asked the male student to speak to me in the hallway. I told him how I watched him pick up the sticky notes. He misunderstood and said, “Are you telling me you saw me take them?” I explained again how I saw him pick them up. He said, “That doesn’t mean I took them!” I agreed.
I apologized to the student and we rejoined the class. As I was walking around and helping the kids with the assignment, it occurred to me that I had wronged the student twice, once for accusing him with no real proof and again when I apologized to him in private. I accused him in front of the class, so I should also apologize to him in front of the class. If I did not do it in front of the same kids I accused him in front of, it could lead to a lot of misunderstandings. The other kids could easily believe that I was in the hallway giving him detention for the theft or telling him I was referring him to a principal.
Realizing my error, I immediately apologized to the male student for my accusation. I explained to the kids why I was apologizing and how it was wrong of me to accuse him with no proof and wrong of me to accuse him publicly at all. I told the kids that I was working on being a good and decent person. I told them it had been a lifelong struggle. I told them I was trying, but even at my age I still made mistakes. Around the room, there was a chorus of things like, “Me too Miss Hahne!” “I’m trying to get good with God too!” “We all make mistakes Miss Hahne!” “It’s okay Miss Hahne.”
The kids immediately began to tell me stories of moral things they were struggling with in their own lives. It had nothing to do with the literature assignment we were working on, but I felt it was important to allow the discussion. Our literature assignment quickly became homework. I needed to listen as my 10th-grade students told me how they were trying to handle problems with siblings, parents, bosses, boyfriends, girlfriends, and friends. It quickly became clear that they were trying to handle their problems in a moral and understanding way, but they often struggled with figuring out what that way was.
I sat there and I realized something very important. Many of our teens today are truly awesome people. They are good, kind, decent, and truly compassionate. I have heard many times that kids today are a lost generation. I have heard that kids today walk in darkness because there is not anybody around to teach them a better way. All of that may be true when these kids are at home, depending on their family situation. I also believe that we can all help this so-called “lost generation.”
If all of us adults that deal with kids and teens everyday step up to guide and help them, they would no longer be lost. If we showed them by example and helped them ethically solve their problems, their innate awesomeness could only grow. If this generation stays lost, it is because we lost them. We have the opportunity to save them, so let us save them.

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