“Now will you tell me where we are?” asked Tock as he looked around the desolate island. “To be sure,” said Canby; “you’re on the Island of Conclusions. Make yourself at home. You’re apt to be here for some time.” “But how did we get here?” asked Milo, who was still a bit puzzled by being there at all. “You jumped, of course,” explained Canby. “That’s the way most everyone gets here. It’s really quite simple; every time you decide something without having a good reason, you jump to Conclusions whether you like it or not. It’s such an easy trip to make that I’ve been here hundreds of times.” “But this is such an unpleasant-looking place,” Milo remarked. “Yes, that’s true,” admitted Canby; “it does look much better from a distance.” from The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
I had a student who was a constant challenge, and I taught him for 21⁄2 years! Daniel came into my class with a reputation as a troublemaker, and in seventh grade he lived up to it. By the eighth grade, he was trying to improve, but he struggled to move beyond his past behavior patterns and others’ pre- conceived notions of him. The turning point in our student-teacher relationship came when I discovered he had a talent for drawing, and I arranged for him to do some artwork for a special project. I was amazed at the turnaround from a completely negative attitude in my class the prior year to a positive attitude. In fact, if other students tried to misbehave, he would tell them to stop and pay attention. By the end of the year, he asked to be on the school news- paper in grade nine, in part because I was the sponsor. Based on his reputation, our guidance counselor was reluctant to approve his placement, but I went to bat for him; and he was the best student editorial cartoonist I ever worked with.
The year Daniel went to high school was the year I left my public school teaching job. I returned home one day and received a call from one of his relatives. Daniel had been expelled because he had a gun at school. I remember not asking, “Why did he do that?” but saying, “Tell me what else happened, because I don’t think he would have brought a gun to school.” His aunt was surprised at my response and said I was the only person who didn’t assume his guilt. Another student brought the gun to school to shoot a third student, and Daniel took the gun away from the first student. When asked why he failed to bring this to the attention of an adult, he said he didn’t trust any of the teachers enough to go to them with the gun because they wouldn’t believe him, so he put it in his locker. When it was discovered, he was expelled.
I’m always reminded of Daniel’s story when I read my favorite children’s book, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. During their journey, Milo, Tock, and the Humbug end up jumping to the Island of Conclusions, which turns out to be a less-than-pleasant place. I jumped to conclusions about Dan- iel based on our first day of class together, and it took me two years to move past that and build a strong relationship. I regret the wasted time, because I could have made so much more progress with him if I had started our teacher-student relationship differently.
Have you ever jumped to a conclusion about a student or a situation? Did you later discover that you made an incorrect assumption?