Benefit of the Doubt

“Mom!” he yelled, bursting into the room. “Cutie has a hole in her bottom!”

“Son! That is completely inappropriate!” I snapped. “Plus, I asked not to be interrupted while taking this timed online quiz.”

“It’s not like that, Mom! Something else!”

He left the room and promptly returned with the cat, who had, in fact, something clearly wrong. Aborting the quiz, I rushed Cutie to the vet to discover she had a burst anal gland, uncommon for cats – which made perfect sense why it happened to one of mine.

I sent an apologetic email to my professor explaining why I quit the quiz, and that I was not asking for a second chance. I simply wanted her to know it was not because of irresponsibility. Nonetheless, she offered me a second attempt, which I appreciated, took, and aced. 

She did not have to do that, as the syllabus stated no make-up quizzes. Her grace made me feel trusted and respected.

As a teacher myself, many times I have received student emails explaining some dire dilemma that caused them to miss a test or assignment. I remember how I felt when my teacher believed me and allowed a re-take. And how many times have I cried to my Heavenly Father for help getting out of some predicament I got myself into, and He showed mercy?

I see these “dire dilemma” situations as chances to get to know my students and learn who they are and what their lives are like. It also directs my prayers for them.

But it’s a struggle to balance meeting my students where they’re at while upholding standards. I’m trying to show grace while helping them take ownership of their education, choices, and consequences. So, I pray for wisdom and reflect on how God treats me.

Knowing me personally, He meets me where I am, shows me tons of grace, and then leads me in the right direction. Does He allow me to experience the sting of poor decisions? Indeed.

But just as it is God’s kindness that leads me to repentance (Romans 2:4) and His grace that teaches me to say no to ungodliness and live uprightly (Titus 2:12), I have also learned that kindness and grace do much more good for my students (and children) than being hard on them. Life provides enough opportunities for them to learn things the hard way. Like God is with me, I want to be a source of kindness and grace to them.

So, while seeing them as God’s image bearers, getting to know them as individuals, and showing I believe the best about them, I choose to give students the benefit of the doubt. 

I may be giving another chance to someone who was irresponsible or lying. But unless there’s proof that’s the case, or it’s become a student’s pattern that needs to be addressed, I would rather extend grace to all than to mistakenly deny grace for a legitimate situation, even one as unlikely as a ruptured feline anal gland.

Holly Deal
Kennesaw State University