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Making Difficult Decisions

Education is one of the most emotionally draining professions a person can undertake, making it consistently among the occupations with the highest turnover rate. One source of the emotional drain is sometimes making choices that are best for students, even though they may be unpopular.

Once again I am extending my references outside film to the world of television. Ken Jenkins (Dr. Kelso) is the Chief of Medicine at Sacred Heart Hospital on the TV series Scrubs. Depicted as the primary antagonist on the show, this episode shines a different light on Dr. Kelso.

Episode four of season five revolves around Zach Braff (JD) struggling to write an introduction for Dr. Kelso at an American Medical Association event where Dr. Kelso is receiving an award. Over the course of the episode, JD learns that Dr. Kelso is shutting down the prenatal unit for underprivileged women. To make matters worse, Dr. Kelso enlists a rich patient, over a poor patient, in an experimental drug trial that ultimately leads to the survival of the rich patient and the death of the poor patient. JD is sickened when he sees Dr. Kelso whistling while leaving the hospital. He does not understand how someone whose decisions cause so much harm can find joy.

What JD fails to realize is that Dr. Kelso struggles with the challenging decisions he makes. Additionally, Dr. Kelso has reasons for his choices. Because Dr. Kelso opted to enlist the rich patient in the experimental drug trial, a large donation was made to the hospital which allowed for the resurrection of the prenatal unit. By being the “bad guy,” Dr. Kelso is able to bear the emotional brunt and provide an outlet for the hate that comes with the hardships of his decisions.

Principals make decisions that support equity which can alienate or upset different populations (students, teachers, parents, or the community).
In education, equity is ensuring every child has an equal chance of success. It does not mean doing the same thing for every child………….that’s equality. There is always an explanation for those decisions, but sometimes that explanation is one that cannot be shared.

A child lives in a dangerous neighborhood. In the past she has been a victim of physical abuse, because of where she lives. As a means of protection, her mother does not let her leave the house without pepper spray. Every morning before she gets on the bus, she takes the pepper spray out of her purse. But one day, she forgets. A student notices the pepper spray sticking out of her purse and reports it to administration. There are clear rules when it comes to bringing any type of substance on-campus that can cause harm. What should administration do?

A principal would be justified in levying consequences concurrent with bringing a weapon on campus. However, this principal is aware of the girl’s home life. He knows that sending her home for several days is the last place where she needs to be. By making the decision not to suspend the student, he knows that he will upset a lot of teachers. The teachers are unaware of the girl’s history of abuse and the specific dangers of her neighborhood. The principal makes an unpopular decision in the staff’s eyes, but one that he knows is best for the student.

An assignment is due on Thursday. The students have known about the deadline for several weeks. There have been reminders on the whiteboard, on the teacher’s website, and provided verbally by the teacher at the beginning of each class. The due date arrives and neither John nor Joan have completed it. Based on school grading policy, both students should receive a 0 for failure to complete the assignment

The teacher knows that John is homeless. Over the past few weeks he has moved from a hotel to an uncle’s house and finally to a shelter. The teacher has a strong relationship with John, who has been keeping her informed of his living situation. The teacher also has a strong relationship with Joan. Joan frequently tells the teacher about her swim meets and dance recitals that she participates in outside of school. The teacher decides to allow John a few extra days to turn in the assignment. The teacher informs Joan that she earned a 0 on the assignment.

Joan, and Joan’s parents, discover that Joan received a 0 on the assignment, and worse, another student who failed to turn it in received additional time to complete it. Joan’s parents are outraged and want to know why their daughter is being unfairly singled out. They threaten to go to the principal if Joan is not provided the same opportunity as the other student. The teacher holds firm in her decision, even though it means that she will most likely ruin her relationship with Joan and have to address the complaint with her principal

In both scenarios the teacher and principal made difficult decisions, which pitted a certain population against them. They were unable to share the justification for their decisions because they needed to maintain the privacy of the students they were advocating for. The principal and the teacher would make the same decision 100 times out of 100. But, that does not mean making it was easy.

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