I recall stopping in the middle of my sentence to watch Carlos fidgeting with something under his desktop with both hands. It occurred in my 6th grade Math class, and I had recently changed seating assignments to intentionally place some of the more troublesome students next to the model students who would ignore their attempts to talk. So, here was Carlos the troublemaker, sitting next to Destiny the model student – who was looking straight ahead. And, I simply stared at him.
He was so involved with whatever it was under his desk that he didn’t even notice that the class was totally silent and everyone was watching him. I quietly made my way to the front of his desk and cleared my throat to get his attention. He slowly looked up, and I asked him to place both hands on the desk. As he did, I noticed that he wasn’t holding anything, but there was a string or something coming from under his left hand. That was – odd.
He just smiled at me with his hands flat on the desk. When I asked him to turn his hands palm up, his smile went away. He gradually turned his hands over and there it was. A sewing needle and thread woven through the calluses of his left hand. Carlos weakly attempted a grin while he looked at me. Destiny continued to look straight ahead. I called the front office. An 8th grader office aide escorted Carlos to the nurse and the principal’s office. The whole incident took less than five minutes, and I got back to teaching – or so I thought.
Immediately after Carlos left the room, Destiny put her hand straight up in the air. I smiled at one of my star students as I asked her what she wanted. The short conversation we had will be forever imprinted in my brain – and it’s a story I continue to tell my classes every year.
“Mr. Baulch,” she began, “you need to send me to the principal too.”
“Why do you need to see the principal?” I asked.
“Well … why did you send Carlos to the principal?” she replied.
“Because he had a big sewing needle stuck in his hand that he shouldn’t have brought to school” I answered.
“Well … it was my needle. So you need to send me to the principal.” By this time, her voice had started to shake a little.
“Destiny,” I calmly began, “I’m not going to send you to the principal. Even if the needle was yours, you weren’t the one playing with it.”
“But,” and the tears finally started, “it was mine!” And then the longest sentence I’ve ever heard began. “My mom said a lady is always prepared for a clothing emergency and she told me I had to have a needle and thread in my purse and so I always do and I opened my purse to get my pencil and Carlos saw my sewing kit and he grabbed it from my purse and I was going to stop him but I didn’t want to disturb class and he played with it and you caught him and he went to the principal and the needle was mine and I should go too!”
“Destiny,” I said with a smile, “I appreciate your honesty, but I’m not sending you to the principal.”
With an incredulous look in her eyes she pleaded, “Well … can you at least give me a teacher detention?”
I just shook my head and replied, “No.”
“Well,” she wiped her eyes and sat up, “then I’m giving myself a detention for tomorrow morning. I suggest you be here at 7:45.”
I just smiled and nodded my head that I would see her there.
Destiny was the kind of student every teacher loves to have in their class. Honest. Well behaved. Motivated. Smart. Curious. A real treasure.
When I saw her in the halls during her 7th grade year, I noticed that she had started hanging out with some of the more troublesome students. I approached her and asked her if she would mind if I gave her some advice. She just smiled, hugged my neck and listened to my warning.
“Destiny,” I began, “you are such a nice young lady. But, this year I’ve noticed that some of the young ladies you associate with get in trouble a lot. That concerns me.”
“Oh Mr. Baulch,” she replied, “I’m okay. They’re just my friends. I don’t do anything bad! And maybe I can influence some of them to behave better!”
During her 8th grade year I was teaching 8th grade History. Even though we were both in the 8th grade hall, I rarely saw Destiny. I think she was embarrassed because instead of her being a good influence on them, she had been the one that was influenced by her new friends. She got in trouble a lot that year. So, even though I kept an eye out for her when I could, she was nowhere to be found. I guess I reminded her of the light she used to be, and that made her uncomfortable.
I heard things got worse in high school. It makes me sad. I sometimes wonder if I could have said or done something that might have had a more positive impact on her. Maybe I could have just quoted from the Bible and left out where I got the words. I don’t know.
So, I’ll tell you my friends. The Bible is clear. 1 Corinthians 15:33 says, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals.’” It was good to know then, and it’s good to remember today. Be careful.
** note ** – student names were changed to protect their privacy.