It wasn’t as if I needed the money, and later in the afternoon I thought twice about what I had done and returned the quarters and dimes when no one was looking. At least that’s what I thought.
My conscience got the better of me, and from then on, stealing wasn’t on my radar. It wasn’t a choice I would ever make again, and one childish incident at six-years old tempting the fates proved the lesson well.
My first grade teacher diligently taught the basics and there was no doubt about it that she maintained strict order in the classroom like the tight bun she wound her black hair into parted in the middle.
She had her students sitting at tables of four, and she would call us up to the front of the room – bird labels was the buzzword of the era - for a Dick and Jane reading lesson. I was a “bluebird” and how I hated being singled out to sit under my teacher’s nose with several others that I thought were way smarter than me. She would drill and drill us with sight words in her sharp piercing voice totally lacking any expression on her face. If she enjoyed teaching children, I missed it.
It was during one of the times when we “bluebirds” were sitting at our seats doing seatwork while she worked with “robins” or “buzzards” that I spied loose change on one of the desks. Somehow I was not intimidated enough and tried my hand at stealing lunch money from another student.
I left school and went home thinking nothing more about it until my father came home from work with a sober look on his face. I knew something was not right when he summoned me into the living room to sit on the couch. He informed me that my teacher had stopped into the store after school and said that she had noticed me taking someone’s money early in the morning, and after having second thoughts, I returned it before school was over.
I was furious that she would tell my father every little thing about me, especially something that I had solved on my own without her so much as talking to me and hearing what I had to say back. That was worse than the punishment I received from dad. I felt betrayed, and it put me on guard for the rest of the year, and the next year, when she became my second grade teacher.
Years later when I started teaching, I made a promise to myself that if a small incident happened and was corrected by a student under my guidance, it was left in the classroom between us. That developed a sense of trust and pride because we all make tiny mistakes growing up and learning to work through wrongs is a necessary part of maturation.
I am not sure that today’s parenting generation would go along with my theory. They are very much more prone to questioning a teacher’s handling of any situation.