Last week I read a news story where a college student said she’s been given an F in her course by a teacher because she was Muslim. When you read the story and see that she was scoring A’s on the tests, it’s hard to justify the teacher failing her. She stated that during the year he said a lot of inflammatory things about Muslims but since it was a course she needed she stayed in for the year, “knowing” she was going to earn a good grade.

assumptions

When they talked to the teacher he admitted she got that A but said she’d failed 8 other assignments. When she was asked about that she produced those assignments and most of them had received A’s. She’s suing the school and the school is investigating the claim.

There are often two sides to a story, but it doesn’t mean both sides are correct. I believe her story and understand it… because I’ve been there.

My freshman year in high school I went to a school off base in Limestone, Maine. I ended up with an English teacher who I didn’t get along with. I wasn’t anything I did; it was “what” I was that caused the problem. I know that because it wasn’t just me, but a couple of my other classmates who also had the same issues with this guy.

I had the same issue as the young lady above. I was getting A’s on the tests, B’s on assignments, yet I got a C every quarter that year… a 78 in each quarter; that’s almost statistically impossible!

It was so bad early on that my dad went to the school to see the teacher to find out what the problem was. The teacher told him I wasn’t turning in assignments; Dad showed him the assignments and asked which ones I hadn’t done. The teacher then said I was disruptive in class, but when pressed couldn’t answer any of those questions.

You could tell he wasn’t happy having to talk to Dad (I was there) because his neck and ears were turning bright red, but he knew better than to say the wrong thing to someone in the military. When we left, Dad said that I got a pass on getting that C for the year from this guy because he was a jerk (I don’t think he said jerk lol); if this had been a teacher on base he’d have had a lot more clout but where we were… enough said.

False assumptions about Betty Boop

You think this story’s about this lousy teacher, but you’d be making a bad assumption. lol It’s about what happened the next year of school, with another English teacher in 10th grade.

She was a pretty nice lady, but early on in the year I was bringing home C’s on all my assignments. I was getting A’s on tests, but I still brought home a C the first quarter. I showed Dad the tests and the papers, and once again he said he’d give me a break; we really felt like this backwater city was going to hurt my chances for getting into a nice college later on but what could we do?

Then one day the teacher wanted everyone to write a paper in class, without reference material. She gave us a topic and 45 minutes to write. I did my normal writing thing, because no matter the grades I was getting I was always going to give my best.

A couple of days later we got our papers back… and I’d scored an A! From that day forward, I almost always got A’s on my papers and I went from being a C student to an A student almost overnight. The teacher never said anything to me about it, but she was friendlier to me the rest of the year.

It was my own assumption later on that she must have had some carryover from the previous teacher, who I’m sure laid it on thick that I had to be cheating, and he also probably mentioned how my dad had come to visit him and how he’d stood up to him. Yet, by writing a paper in class, without reference materials and no way to get help from the outside, the teacher must have realized that I’d been doing my work the whole time.

I don’t know for sure, but the timing seems to fit. I was finally happy; Dad and Mom were happy. Justice was done; “truth will out” as Shakespeare said.

I learned an important lesson from that period that I’ve carried with me into leadership positions as an employee and working with others as a consultant. Even though I make assumptions and judgments about people and performance, like we all do, I never act on those things until I have conclusive and fair proof that I’m right… or wrong.

I also never let someone else’s belief in something cloud my own; I judge people based on what I see, not what someone else sees. I like to think that’s why I get along with so many people who do different things, with no regard to the position they might have. Positions aren’t a good indicator of what a person is; habits and behavior are.

As a leader, how do you handle your assumptions? Do you see yourself as fair? It’s a good way to guide your behavior towards others; at least that’s my assumption.
 

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