When you’re a teacher, you run into all kinds of people with all kinds of personal failings, weaknesses and traits you just don’t like. In those cases, it’s important to stay focused on teaching the subject at hand, without trying to fix the whole person – or worse yet, to give up on teaching them.
For example, suppose you’re teaching financial management at a public school in a neighborhood where there’s a lot of organized crime activity. In such a case, at some point, you’re likely to find yourself teaching an up-and-coming gangster the skills he needs to be a better gangster. Do you refuse to teach them and go ahead and cash your paycheck anyway? No. You’re not there to fix the person into something more pleasing to yourself; you’re thee to teach a skill and you’re ethically bound to do so.
This week I had a problem with a liar. She wanted to access her email, but did not know her password. She had signed up for the email account via a cell phone app, and no longer had the cell phone. Now, she was trying to login from a computer at the computer lab.
Since she’d never accessed her email any other way, this was the first time she had tried to access her email from anything other than that phone so she really needed to just know her password. She tried going through the service provider’s “I forgot my password” link, but was having no luck. That’s when she asked me to help her.
I guided her to the email account’s login page and told her to enter her User ID and password. She hesitated, so I asked her if she remembered her password and she replied that she did. So I told her to go ahead and type it in and she hesitated again – hovering over the login form with a confused look on her face. I asked her again, “Do you remember your password?” and she said yes. So, again, I told her to type it in, but instead she just sat there looking nervous.
This time I said outright, “You don’t remember your password, do you?”. She said emphatically that she did – but still wouldn’t type anything. Then, in a fluster, she showed me a message on her new phone that she got much earlier in the day from her service provider, instructing her on how to change her password. She didn’t know her security question or other information required to change it so that meant that she was doubly-stuck – not knowing her password and not knowing the answer to her security question.
Normally, this would indicate that she wasn’t really the owner of the account, and was trying to hack into someone else’s. When I pointed that out, she showed me a picture ID showing that she had the same name as the name on the account – swearing up and down that it was really hers, and that she simply didn’t know how to login.
She was certainly lying about something. I believed that it was really her account, but she clearly did not know her password – even though she kept saying she did. I don’t know why she was lying to me. Maybe it was because of some cultural standard; maybe it was because she was just being defensive, feeling foolish and ashamed to admit the truth.
Either way, it wasn’t up to me to lecture her about being truthful, because that’s not what I was there for. I was there to show her how to use a computer. So I just gave her a quick oral lesson about how to login, and told her how important it is to remember your password. By then, it was time for her to go to class so we parted ways.
Still, I felt like I hadn’t done my job. I was there to help her login to her email account, and I couldn’t do it. It wasn’t just because she lied to me – it was because I didn’t know how to evoke the truth from her.