HUNT COLUMN: Consider the pancake

Published 3:04 pm Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By Cathy Hunt
Retired Troup County teacher and current school board member

The following are not excerpts from real emails, but they are suggestive of passionate emails I sometimes get:

“My child has been treated badly by his teacher (or another student, or counselor, coach, principal, bus driver, etc.) and I want something done about it.”

“I am an employee at such and such school and we have a big problem that you guys need to fix right now.”

By this time, you might be wondering what on earth all this has to do with pancakes. Well, a friend, someone in the trenches in the school system, recently remarked to me: “I don’t care how flat a pancake is, it always has two sides.” And you know what? That is the absolute truth.

I wondered if that quote needed to be attributed to someone, and all I learned was that Dr. Phil had popularized the saying, but didn’t coin it. If you ever watch his show, you know that he stands firmly by that idea. If he has a guest who is railing against something or someone, he more than likely will interview someone else who has a different perspective or brings additional knowledge to the topic.

When board members get complaints, our protocol is to thank the person for reaching out and voicing their concerns, tell them that we will look into it, make sure all the other board members have the same information, and loop in the superintendent. He is our only employee (the rest of the system reports to him), so we expect him to investigate the matter (we can’t go to other employees and put them on the spot) and – this is important – tell us what he’s learned and ask our opinions on how to proceed. In many cases, he tells us right away that Central Office is already aware of the situation and that there’s much more to the story. He will seek additional information and then fill us in.

We will pass along our findings to the original emailer if we ethically can. If the findings include personal information about a staff member or student, we can’t share the particulars. There have been so many times that I have wanted to discuss the details with someone so they can better understand the big picture but confidentiality prevents it. So half-truths, conjecture, and disapproval continue to circulate, which is very frustrating.

To be sure, some of those who contact us supply us with true and important information which allows us to get something “fixed.” But I’ve had to say to too many people that there is more to the story, that I have to get other people’s viewpoints and gather more information, and that I wish I could report fully back to them but that I probably can’t.

It would be good for all of us to remember that when someone tells you a story, they’re only giving you the details they want you to know, and then you might fall into the trap of passing judgment on someone else you don’t know personally. You’re missing context, possible mitigating circumstances, and most of all, the other side of the story. The truth will be found somewhere in the middle.

In any pancake, there’s some good stuff between the two sides. I can’t imagine trying to avoid it when I partake!