The Danger (and Joy) of Snap Decisions

don_t_judge_a_book_by_its_coverBy Sabrina Bong — In grad school, we were always told not to judge a book by its cover (or a student by their appearance.)

It was a philosophy that was drilled into us every day we were there, and all of us abided by it. When we were in the multicultural class, we discussed our biases and talked about how pre-judging a person could significantly affect our counseling abilities. By the time I graduated, I promised myself that I was not going to judge individuals during our first meeting. Relationships are not built in a day, and I was determined to respect that idea.

A few days ago, I broke that promise.

I was working with two students recently on some things they needed to have completed for class. One student worked diligently at the computer, fueled by the desire to attend the all-school incentive (we require that all coursework is complete before a student attends an incentive day.) The other student was more defiant. He refused to work. He swore. He left the office. It was a bad experience for both of us.

When I went to the teacher to report how they did, I told him that the one student had been phenomenal. I praised the student’s work and said I was impressed by him. Then, the teacher asked how it had gone with the second student.

“It could’ve gone better,” I said. “I don’t think he wanted to work with me. He was really defiant and said some pretty choice swear words at me. I think it was a personality clash.”

A few days later, the teacher asked, “Would you be willing to work with him again? I talked to him. He seemed more motivated today. If it doesn’t work today, we won’t have you continue to work with him.”

I considered this. It had not been a good experience. This student and I had exactly ZERO in terms of similarities and established rapport. Then again, I did not want to admit defeat. There are very few students that I cannot get along with. I felt like my pride and ability as a counselor was at stake. I decided to give it one more shot.

The student came down to my office a little agitated. The minute I noticed this, my heart sank. I was worried that we were just going to have a repeat of the other day. But then, he began to vent about all the things that were frustrating him: family troubles, school struggles, sibling rivalries …

This student and I, who had barely said more than ten words to each other the previous day, sat in my office and chatted for almost the entire class period! At that time, I learned some pretty important things:

1. My professors were 100% right (not that I ever doubted them!)

2. Kids who come off as “sassy” often have some sort of outside influence that makes them this way, whether it is an absent parent or financial difficulties.

3. Even students with an “attitude” can be incredibly endearing and sweet.

4. There is ALWAYS common ground. This student and I found out that we both enjoy t-Rex jokes.

I’ve learned my lesson, and I encourage you all to do the same!

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