Humans measure memorable milestones by their first occurrence. First word. First steps. First tooth (both to come in and fall out). First day of school (captured in film by emotional mothers for as many years as children will permit). First crush. First kiss, date, love (firsts certain to repeat themselves frequently in most lives).
Interestingly enough, we also account moments we most likely wish to forget in firsts. First speeding ticket. First fight (both physical and verbal). First loss (of a job or loved one or a game). First night of drinking till you puke. First lie that caught up with you.
As a classroom teacher, I have experienced many firsts with my students. Breaking up my first fight. First time I made a student cry (as well as the first time a student made me cry). First time teaching freshmen (and sophomores and juniors and seniors). First student to faint in my class. First student death. First student to thank me for imparting wisdom and encouraging greatness. These firsts, as well as others too numerous to list, line my memoirs with relationships and remembrances time cannot erase. But some firsts--the first time a student cussed at me, the first time a student plagarized a paper, the first time (or any time) a student came to school drunk/stoned, the first time a student brought drugs to school, the first time I discovered students being overly affectionate--cause teachers, students, and parents alike to wonder what in the world would cause a student to make such a negative decision.
I recently experienced one such first*. After the situation escalated and subsided, a student in class, who also witnessed the first, stated, "Welcome to our school. This place is messed up."
I spent much time this week considering this first--trying to to blot it from my brain--as well as the observant student's claim that "this place" might possibly be to blame. I refuse to blame the place for the student's actions. Nothing about the place where I teach welcomes, encourages, or condones such behavior. Assuming that the place has any culpability in that student's actions is absurd.
And in my opinion, it's equally absurd to assume his parents are to blame. I know little about his family life so it is completely possible that he lacks parental guidance and support, leaving him primarily responsible for his moral behavior; however, it is equally possible that his parents are conscientious, caring people who have raised him firmly yet lovingly, only to find that at 17 he, like many teenagers, is straying from their teachings to discover his own way in life.
Whatever his reasons for his actions, he made a choice--a choice he made for himself regardless of his parental influence at home and the character education program at school. A choice that was shocking to me and his classmates, but a choice where the blame lies solely with him. Parents and teachers do what they can. We model and prepare, but in the end, all we can do is set our children and our students out in to the world and hope they make the right decisions--decisions that will create a lifetime of memorable firsts instead of the forgettable ones.
*The details of the first are purposefully undisclosed as it is not the first that matters so much as what we learn from it.