I sometimes substitute teach. It’s a great way to keep up with what’s happening in the schools, give back to the community, and catch less of the “you’re an old man” attitude from my own, live-in students. It’s invigorating to be around all kinds of energetic, enthusiastic younger people doing their best to succeed. Good kids. It can even be a lot of fun!
What’s not so fun is the lying. I’m not talking about the let’s-trick-the-sub playful teasing – I get that. Shoot, I’ve done that. I mean the steady stream of white lies, misdirection, half-truths, cheating, and deception that just wears you down. It seems pervasive enough that it has become subcultural: students lie without even thinking about it, about the tiniest things, when they don’t even need to, when the truth would serve them better. Crazy. Now of course this is not everyone, and it’s not 24/7, but it’s plentiful enough to be of concern. Small things become big, young things grow older, students become masters.
So what to do? The popular attitude might be to close our eyes, hold on tight, and wait for things to stop moving. I use this approach with roller coasters, but the development of our youth is important enough to warrant a bit more effort. We should be courageous enough to insist on complete honesty (not TMI) from ourselves and those around us: those we supervise, those who supervise us, those with whom we hang out, everyone. We should reward honest behaviors, guide those who on occasion fall short, and walk our own talk.
Now a few words of caution. One, if ever you are mistaken about some perceived dishonesty, apologize quickly, sincerely, emphatically, and publically. Two, be gentle, kind, and firm when correcting. We all make mistakes, have bad days, and wish we could be better. Three, recognize that this is a difficult, lonesome path. You will not be popular for insisting on honesty. You will be mocked, maybe maligned, perhaps vilified, and few will come to your defense.
Still, the substitute is just insupportable.