Dr. Jonathan T. Jefferson
just·tice n 1: just or right action or treatment …4: the quality of being fair or just
Approximately a dozen years ago someone called me a “Justice Person.” It was the first, and only, time I ever heard that description. At that time I was agitated by the unfair treatment someone else was receiving. No, I don’t remember what it was in reference to, but in retrospect the description suits me well.
During the summer of 1999, when I was a teacher and high school cross country coach in New York, my superintendent refused to allow me to take my team to South Carolina for an invitational cross country meet. We were to be joined by two other local schools, and many college coaches were scheduled to be present. Initially, the superintendent stated that he did not want students missing school. I respected his wishes, and changed the teams travel arrangements so that our flight left after school on a Friday; instead of during school on a Thursday. Once again, the superintendent denied the trip. This time he stated that the student-athletes should run in the Empire State Games in upstate, New York. Now the justice person in me was awakened. We had fund-raised for this trip, so there was no cost to the school district. There was no high school cross country races in the Empire State Games. Also, college cross country coaches would not be there in mass evaluating talent. I suspected the superintendent had a less than ethical reason to deny my request. I could not prove this, but I wrote him a lengthy letter expressing my displeasure. Hence, one of the characteristics of a justice person is that they would never hesitate to confront superiors within an organization.
As a school district administrator in a public school district, I am able to observe many attributes of teachers within my department. There are those who routinely go the extra mile, others who smile at me joyfully while neglecting their teaching responsibilities, and still others with illusions of grandeur. All in all, they are no different than individuals in any organization. Recently, I was pleasantly surprised to find another justice person within my department.
Todd (name changed to protect the just) is one of those teachers who readily go the extra mile when asked. He does not request to be paid extra for his time, nor does he expect an exorbitant amount of time to complete less than overwhelming tasks. Todd contributes for the betterment of the school district, and the students he serves. How do I know Todd is a justice person? The requirements for being exempted from hall duty were very lax. This year his principal decided to tighten the requirements for exemption to make sure enough teachers were in the halls to assist with maintaining the school’s overall functioning. As in the past, teachers who were exempted for doing practically nothing in the grand scheme of things requested continued favorable treatment. The principal held firm, but did decide to allow two teachers from each department to have an exemption. Without conferring with their colleagues, two teachers from Todd’s department volunteered themselves for the exemptions. Todd, who has his hands full running one of his school’s clubs at no cost, asked his principal what criteria she used to allow their exemptions. Without explanation or provocation, Todd found himself on the defensive.
To Todd’s surprise, his principal stated that his department, physical education, does not have the same level of responsibilities as other departments. She actually said this to a man who works in the most dangerous area of her school, the pool, and has made dozens of lifeguard rescues over the years, trained countless school personnel in first aid and CPR, and taught hundreds of students how to be lifeguards. His principal was also oblivious to the fact that the PE department also conducted pre and post tests for Student Learning Objectives based exams. Why the criticism? Todd may never get an explanation for this as I have yet to hear a sound reason for why my team was not allowed to travel to South Carolina.
Unfortunately, the injustice Todd experienced only grew worse when he tried to have the matter of department exemptions addressed by his colleagues. Many of them agreed with him in private, and turned around to do everything possible to disparage the discussion at a department meeting. One who agreed with him acted as if he did not care, and made motion to exit the meeting post haste, another inquired why there was even an attempt to discuss the matter since it was up to their principal, and only one said he would love to be exempt as he exited the meeting. The rest remained quiet. Unfortunately, weak individuals put friendships and loyalties ahead of fairness and reasonable professional discourse.
Worry not Todd. There are other justice people out there who appreciate your integrity, fearlessness, and desire to do what is fair for all. Do not allow the frailties of others to determine your personal way of being.