Parking lot life-lessons

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a “cup half-full guy” but be forewarned that this post is not a super positive one.  I had an experience today that shook my faith, not in humanity, as I don’t want to overplay the experience, but I must say that it did make me very sad.  Current and former vice principals know the feeling of doing parking lot duty and the ups and downs that go with it (I like the chance to have a quick chat or a “How’s it going?” when I’m out there but I don’t look forward to asking people not to park in the bus lane, yet again). 

In preparation for this morning’s big field trip to the waterslides (close to half of our students were going) I had to cordon off more than the usual amount of the parking lot in order to accommodate the seven school buses arriving at our school.  Things seemed to be going well while I was out there until I noticed a man trying to park in a spot that was cordoned off.  I noticed him edging forward and, thinking that he was adjusting his line to back into a handicapped spot, I picked up the pylon that was in his way and started to edge backwards, out of his way.  As I was doing this, it became clear that he wasn’t going to stop driving toward me and he ended up bumping into the pylon that I was holding!  In disbelief I looked at a parent who was standing nearby only to see the same look of disbelief on her face. 

After the man had parked I approached him, calmly (I promise you I didn’t lose it), introduced myself as the VP and asked him what he was doing.  To be honest, I was quite shocked by his answer.  He said, “I’m late and you’re causing a traffic blockage”.   In other words, I had the right to nudge you out of the way because you’re making me late!!  I tried to explain to him that we were expecting seven buses which was why the parking lot had to be organized differently on this particular morning and he shot back, “Where are they then?”  I explained that the buses were running late but that they could arrive at any moment.  I also explained to him that his unsafe action would not be tolerated again and that he would not be welcome in the parking lot if he acted in a repeat fashion, to which he just harrumphed and walked away.  I just kind of shrugged it off in disbelief and went about my business. 

A few minutes later the disgruntled man returned and went at me again about causing back-ups in the street due to the changes I made in the parking lot with the pylons.  Ironically, today the traffic was actually much calmer (not as many back-ups into our school parking lot as usual) since many of the kids had been dropped off early for the field trip.  He finally got into his car and with his windows rolled up, mouthed some words at me.  Luckily I’m not a good lip reader.  Being a cup half-full guy, I moved on and headed out to supervise on the field trip. 

I didn’t really even think about this event all day (as there were many other things to consider when taking nearly 300 kids on a field trip) until we got back to school.  It turns out that the man had written an “apology” letter addressed to the principal, funnily enough.  After the first line of a backhanded apology, the rest of the letter basically outlined why I had caused his frustrations and how he was justified in doing what he did.  So, in sum, the man pushed his car into a plastic object being held in my hands and felt justified in doing so (as my changing the parking lot’s organization that morning was “making him late”). 

What infuriated me was not necessarily that he lost it on me, though I didn’t enjoy that experience, but that he took no responsibility for it afterwards.  When did we as adults decide to abdicate all sense of responsibility and what kind of example does this set for our kids?  Whenever I deal with a student in my office, the first sign I look for is to see if the student has realized what they’ve done, and if they genuinely feel contrite about it.  Then we move on to discuss how they’re going to go about “fixing” the situation.  I was saddened that this man felt no sense of remorse; in fact, he seemed to feel entitled to carry out his unsafe actions.  I was also concerned that, as a family member, he would have influence over one of my kindergarteners.  What I take away from this experience is that one of my goals as an educator should be to instill in my students a balance between their own sense of self-worth and that of others.  I’d like to teach my students to feel valued but not entitled.  It’s a lofty goal but one that I believe is well worth aiming for, especially after my experience today.

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