The Day I Broke Mr. Winter’s Rule
I was talking to a friend recently. She’s an experienced probation officer in a juvenile court working with delinquent teens on probation.
“Why don’t these kids listen to me when I tell them that if they fail to follow the probation rules there will be unpleasant consequences?” she asked.
“I take many these kids back to court for violation of probation hearings,” she said. “Sometimes their probation is extended and sometimes they get locked up in the detention center. Even though, I carefully go over the probation rules with them, the funny thing is that many of these teenagers tell me they didn’t believe it could happen to them.”
As I tried to answer my friend’s question, I remembered something that happened to me in the fourth grade. Mr. Winters was my fourth grade teacher and one of his rules was that you walked quietly down the wooden steps that led from the playground into our lower-level classroom.
I was well aware of this rule because I saw some of my classmates get punished for breaking this rule. I figured the rule applied to other children, but not to me. After all, I was a good student. I got good grades. I helped Mr. Winters by taking messages down to the office and doing other chores for him.
So, one day I stomped down the wooden steps making a great racket. Mr. Winters was waiting for me at the bottom of the steps.
“You’ll be staying in class for the rest of the week doing extra homework instead of going out for recess,” Mr. Winters announced to me.
“But that’s not fair,” I protested. “I was just playing around.”
“You broke my rule,” he said simply, but firmly. I knew there was no point in arguing further.
I found out that day that Mr. Winters’ rules applied to everyone – even me. I also learned he didn’t play favorites. It didn’t matter that I helped him clean the blackboards earlier that day or that he liked me. If you broke one of Mr. Winters’ rules, there would be consequences.
I never forgot the lesson I learned that day. And I never had to test out one of Mr. Winters’ rules ever again.
Maybe that’s the problem for many adolescents that my friend works with in the juvenile court. Perhaps these kids never had a Mr. Winters in their life. Nor did they have parents who set rules with consistent consequences. I have no doubt that for many of the teens who wind up on probation live in homes in which the rules and the consequences shift from day to day, depending on their parents’ whims or moods.
I’ve come across many parents over the course of my career who do not want their kids to be mad at them. Or they can’t tolerate the temporary anger – sometimes even the momentary hatred – that results when children are given a consequence when they break a rule or violate an established limit. Some of these parents who end up being permissive just want to be popular with their kids and often feel guilty when they hold their children accountable.
Fortunately, Mr. Winters wasn’t trying to win a popularity contest. He didn’t care that day whether I was emotionally hurt or that I might not like him for the rest of that day. He had the wisdom to know that teaching a lesson about rules and consequences was far more important than worrying about whether a student liked him.
Which is why my friend, the probation officer, has to be the person in a lot of teenager’s lives who finally says, “You broke the rules, now you have to pay the consequences.” If no one else is going to enforce rules and limits, she must.
It’s too bad more children don’t have a Mr. Winters in their life when they are young. If they had a Mr. Winters, then they would learn valuable lessons long before they became adolescents and before they were forced to learn one of life’s important lessons the hard way.