Sobering Rush To Judgment

Oct 21, 2019 by

In one of its whimsical “Weird but True” tidbits, the New York Post recently included a teacher in Australia who allegedly hid vodka in a water bottle, drank it with a chaser with Valium, and passed out in front of her second-grade students.  There was reportedly a similar occurrence in the library.

Obviously this is no joke.  If verified, the teacher should be placed on administrative leave pending the completion of mandated treatment or perhaps fired outright.

But sometimes the perception of a teacher’s conduct, such as tell-tale intoxication is very different from the underlying truth that most people don’t care to know or have the means to understand. That’s true of both kids and adults who rush to judgment about atypical teachers who display some mannerism that signals they are vulnerable to the ignorance or heartlessness of others.

I witnessed this myself years ago when I intervened to help out a neighboring teacher who had lost control of her noisy classroom.

She knew her subject,, cared tenderly for her students and was almost notoriously hard-working. However she spoke slowly in a monotonous tone and slurred her speech although she made perfect sense.

It started with a few rumor-mongering kids. Before long, she got the school-wide reputation for being drunk.  Whether the students actually believed it or with thoughtless mischievousness picked up on it for its value as colorful gossip, with or without nasty intent, doesn’t matter.

Gossip is never idle.  Damage was done. Why did the teacher act that way? 

She was the sole-care-taker of her husband, a double-amputee who had been a distinguished  archaeologist and photographer who had formerly excavated historic sites. Their one child had died after horrific illness years earlier. 

The medicine my colleague was prescribed to help her cope with day-to-day pressures and resigned to intractable mental pain had affected her speech although anyone could understand it if they made the effort. 

The tell-tale signs of her therapy were irresistible lures to defamation. Such temptation is both unforgiving and unforgivable.

Distinctions between the Australian teacher, if verified, and the conduct of my former colleague would be lost to many observers. Both acted in ways associated with drunkenness and it’s not much of a leap for most people to conclude that therefore they must both have been drunk.

Isolation and shame are part of the price that victims of other people’s hasty conclusions pay.

Should there be repercussions for those who draw  and act upon hurtful assumptions? Can their consciousness be raised and break the barriers of insensitivity? How will they learn these lessons and who will teach them?

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