My Turn: A bit of advice for Peggy Sinclair’s former students
Dear Mrs. Sinclair’s “student family”:
This must be a difficult time for you if you’ve been reading and thinking about your former teacher. It’s difficult for me, and I don’t know Peggy Sinclair nearly as well as you who spent a 180-day school year with her. Some of you are 37 years old, others at the tender age of 10 or 11 and all the rest somewhere in between. She touched a lot of lives!
My final year of teaching was spent at Broken Ground School, where I got to better know your teacher. I recall the enthusiastic cheers when Mrs. Sinclair’s name was announced at a school-wide assembly. I remember her fun sense of humor and how devoted she appeared to be to you, her students. She truly seemed to love being a teacher (and was loved by families of former students of mine) and implied she wasn’t anywhere near retirement in her thinking, not ready to leave the career she enjoyed so much.
When I first read about Mrs. Sinclair’s arrest in the Concord Monitor this spring, I was beyond surprised and hoping the police had made a mistake in arresting the wrong person. Shock, anger and sadness took turns occupying my heart. Recent events may have left you feeling the same way and wondering how she could have done this; or worse, how she could have done this to you.
Well, that’s one of the reasons I’m writing. She really didn’t do this to you. Perhaps her intentions were initially good and, over time, went sadly and terribly astray. Although we don’t have all the facts or know the whole story, it appears Mrs. Sinclair made some very poor decisions that may change the way you think about her, or leave you feeling
betrayed. That feeling is certainly understandable.
All of us make mistakes – young people, old people and all those in between. Parents, grandparents, doctors, lawyers, police, builders, social workers, accountants, reporters, meteorologists, religious leaders – people in all walks of life – and, yes, even teachers. Some mistakes, of course, are bigger and more serious than others and, as in this case, impact a lot of people.
Nevertheless, we can trust that genuine education occurs when we attempt to correct our mistakes and learn from them. And we can hope this will be true for Mrs. Sinclair.
When people make the news like this, it’s easy to jump to wrong conclusions and begin thinking the worst. It’s not our responsibility, however, to determine if – and how much – she’s involved in wrongdoing. This will be the task of our community’s legal system.
Until that happens, there’s something you can do for your teacher and our community. Instead of going with the flow of “bandwagon thinking,” you can draw upon the good things Mrs. Sinclair taught, at least up until (and even after) all the facts are revealed. When people say or write unkind things, you can respond with a favorite memory or special moment about something she said or did that made a positive change in your life. Sharing upbeat comments with fellow classmates on Facebook or Twitter may inspire others to do the same and discourage downward-spiraling discussions. After all, should the good accomplished during Mrs. Sinclair’s 27 years of teaching simply be erased by recent events?
You may find yourself going against the current of the “rush to judgment” approach of others. It may involve “thinking upstream” at times – with great perseverance – until your thought reaches a higher place where forgiveness and compassion are found.
You might feel like you’re in a mental tug-of-war, struggling between the best and worst of your feelings toward Mrs. Sinclair. But isn’t this “good fight” of suspending judgment and seeking compassion worth the effort – not just for Mrs. Sinclair but for showing our humanity?
Yes, Mrs. Sinclair is in trouble. But can’t the same be said about a society where forgiveness seems to be practiced less and less? We must never give up on each other – never stop supporting the “better angels of our nature” to which President Lincoln referred in a pre-Civil War speech.
I’m aware that taking on a thinking challenge like this is asking a lot. But isn’t something that appears to demand too much or seem “too hard” often a good thing to try? Especially when you end up being a better person for it? And if you become a better person, so does the neighborhood or community in which you live – because it will have one more caring, thoughtful individual in it: you!
I remember a school board candidate’s thoughtful response after being asked about excessive academic testing: “Every day is a test.” You can think of this unfortunate situation with Mrs. Sinclair as one of those tests – a test of how much room is in your heart to forgive and care about a person who cared about you. I hope you think as big as you can and pass it with flying colors!
(Larry Wolfe is a former teacher at Eastman and Broken Ground schools in Concord.)