We were about sixty seconds from the bell and the teacher walked into the hallway. The boys behind us asked if we wanted to look at the paper. I remember one of my friends shrugging and taking it. She passed it forward. Myself and another friend glanced a quick look before the teacher returned. Our first mistake: LOOKING.
Of course because we only had seconds and the same page, my two friends and I happened to memorize the same three answers. We must have done poorly on the rest of the test, because the teacher noticed our identical answers on those questions.
I grew up walking the straight line. Oh, I messed up. But I was wired for obedience. Yeah, I have legalist probs.
If my curfew was midnight, I was home at eleven. I was the girl who pre-read the entire chapter for 5th grade science. Nerd. My husband once said I was the kid that drove all the other kids crazy. My senior year of college, the girls in my sorority asked me to pull the alarm just so I could have one great adventure. Couldn’t. Do. It.
My Dad even told me once to loosen up and have more fun.
So the day arrives when we will get the test back. I had no idea what was about to happen.
Our teacher said we would be having a different kind of class that day. One chair sat in the front of the room. He called up one of my friends. The questions began. None of us were still quite sure what was going on.
We were on trial.
“Did you see any answers to this test prior to test day?” My palms start to sweat.
“Did you see any friends with copies of this test?”
“Did you know you answered some questions exactly the same way as your close friends?”
——–> I’m about to tell you why this was probably the best teacher I ever had. See, he knew me. He knew my character. And he knew, more than any failed test or report to the principal, what would BREAK me most was the loss of that character witness.
The entire class of my peers were listening and watching. The ones who knew I was the church girl. The Bible-study leader.
My turn came. He asked the questions.
I don’t remember exactly how we all answered. It didn’t really matter. Everyone knew.
Of course the others kids thought it was really funny. They didn’t really care if I cheated once.
My teacher didn’t call out the students who may have cheated regularly. He called out the leaders. And he said more in that choice than he could have said by talking to me personally. He applied discipline according to the student, and that is a teacher who changes a life.
He asked me that day in his own words and his own way how important my witness for Christ really was.
I could justify the fact that it wasn’t premeditated. I only glanced. I don’t even know where they got that old test. But then…I acted. I chose. It doesn’t matter how much or how little I cheated. I was as guilty as anyone.
I didn’t need that test. I could have stayed home that day and gotten my A. Amazing how we often succumb to temptation for that which will not pay the most dividends.
They say life is the total sum of your choices. This was only one of mine, and I’ve made many since. I can tell you they never again included even considering to cheat. In some schools you would be kicked out immediately.
After my trial, that teacher never said another word about it. He gave us back our test and life went on. I don’t know that I ever told him how that decision called me to account and changed the way I saw the power of every little decision.
I’ve just begun to teach my kids about choices. How every choice has a consequence. How you don’t get that choice back. The choice to take the drink. To get behind the wheel. To text while driving. To repeat the gossip…and be overheard. To show up late and lose that job. To give away what you can only give away once. Or to glance – just quickly enough to act on it.
I will tell my kids about my mistakes, mostly because I think GRACE is the best message of all. They need to see that as much as we want to do good, we can’t always BE good. I’m introducing the need for a Savior.
But also because kids today may need more than anything to understand and face real life consequences. They need to see from me that if they don’t do that thing I ask, I will follow through on discipline. Because in this world – you don’t often get the teacher I had. Mistakes can be the hardest teachers of all.
I’ll tell them I cheated and how I wanted to take it back, but I couldn’t. And then I get to tell them about a loving God who loves us just as we are, mistakes and all. He sees our potential – our call – our purpose…..just like that teacher did.
God sees the very best in us even when we cannot. This is one prior student who is thankful for a teacher who did the very same thing.