Friday, March 29, 2019

Stealing and Vandalism at the Elementary School

Every year that I've been a teacher, there's been a bit of stealing and vandalism at the elementary school. This is a typical childhood behavior. Little children sometimes see something they want and they take it. They also may play with and destroy something without thinking or perhaps express an angry or frustrated emotion by breaking or harming property. Typically we use the following rules to deal with this:
  • Never accuse a child of stealing or vandalism unless you have proof that a child has taken something or destroyed something.
  • Treat the situation as a learning opportunity
  • Talk to all students about taking each others' things, respecting property, and what this means.
  • Telling the bigger story about the impact of stealing and vandalism--how it actually more than the person who is loosing his her item or the place/objects destroyed. 
During my first year of teaching I learned this lesson well. Many items went missing in my room. One child was thought to be the stealer. Then a large amount of money was missing from my desk--book club money. My first instinct was to blame the child thought to be the stealer. A wise teacher next door reminded me never to accuse anyone without proof. I didn't accuse and later I found the money stuck far behind a desk drawer. Lesson learned.

Another time I found a child who no one would ever think would take a thing from anybody with his hands in my desk drawer taking a shiny object that he wanted to have. That surprised me. We had a good talk. I think we both learned a lesson.

As for vandalism, I tell the students how much money destroying property costs the community and their parents, the taxpayers, and I tell them that we could be using that money for really fun times and playful objects rather than spending it to clean up or fix destruction. They seem to get that message. 

As I write about this today, I'm reminded that talking up front about vandalism and stealing at the start of the year may mitigate the matter in days ahead. These are important childhood lessons.