Dear Terrence,

I’ve heard that a reputation is permanent, that once you teach people how to treat you — and we do teach others how to treat us — people will always treat you that way. Once people come to expect behavior x from you, they will always expect behavior x.

In my own educational experience, this certainly rang true. I had a good reputation; I was trusted among my teachers; I made sure I rarely got in trouble. As a consequence, I could easily ask to go to the restroom and roam the halls for a little if I so chose. And every now and then, I did so choose. When confronted by a teacher, I could simply make up a quick convincing story and move on. No one ever asked me for a pass because no one ever suspected I was up to no good, even when I was. My reputation saved me, and I used that to my advantage — especially during my senior year in high school, when my best friend and I sneaked off campus almost every day during lunch.

You, though, have the opposite problem. Even when you’re trying to do the right thing, you’ve taught most everyone — teachers and administrators — to doubt your sincerity, to suspect you’re up to no good. Quite frankly, you often were at the beginning of the year.

So now you find yourself in this dilemma: you’re at risk of receiving an administrative referral for something that, even if you did it, probably doesn’t really deserve that level of action, especially if, as you say, one more referral will get you expelled. But because of your reputation, there’s little you can say or do to talk your way into a less serious consequence.

You planted seeds that are now beginning to sprout even though you’re trying to prevent it. But the seeds are there; your reputation is set. No matter what you do, you’ll receive the short end because you’ve lost the trust of those around you. In fact, those seeds — your reputation — have taken such firm root that a teacher could lie about some encounter with you, could say you cursed her and walked away with a huff, and even if it’s all a fabrication, the administration would believe the teacher. Why? Because it sounds like something you would do. Let’s be frank: it sounds like something you’ve already done, several times.

So what can you do about it? The truth, at this stage in the school year, at this stage in your middle school career, is simple: not a whole lot. If you kick a dog every time you walk into the room, pretty soon that dog will get up and leave the room every time you enter; if you habitually deal with your frustrations in negative, disruptive, destructive ways, those around you will come to expect that from every counter, and their support for you walk get up and walk out with the hypothetical dog.

All that being said, there is some good news: you’ll be going to high school next year. (Let’s be honest: having already failed one grade, you’re not at risk of being retained even if you fail every single subject, which you currently are.) At high school, you get to start over. You get the great academic reset. All counters are returned to zero. Your reputation is a blank canvas upon which people will begin to paint their expectations of your behavior as you begin to teach them what to expect. In other words, you have a chance to start over and put it all behind you.

I hope at the very least you take that opportunity seriously.

Concerned as always,
Your Teacher in Room 302


2 thoughts on “Repercussions

  1. This was awesome. I’m an 8th grade special ed teacher myself, so my students are often well-acquainted with the administrative disciplinarians. I often give similar words of solace; 8th grade is a unique position where the effects of your decisions are only as permanent as you let them be. My horrendous freshman year of high school followed me around and haunted my college application process, but in 8th grade you can choose to reset in high school. Hopefully whatever happens to this student doesn’t discourage him to the point that he sees change as pointless/impossible. Awesome blog, I’m excited to read more!

  2. Many of the kids I work with, including this young man, are such fatalists that it seems change is all but impossible. Still, we plant what seeds we can.

    Thanks for the visit and comment.

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