Never Assume!

Some of you may know that I worked at our local newspaper, The Champion Post, for around five years. I was lucky enough to work with some wonderful people there and I also learned a lot of life lessons from some of my ‘more experienced’ colleagues. My boss was Roel ten Cate, and he taught me so many things about the newspaper game and life in general, but one of the most important things that has stuck with me is ‘Never Assume’.

It was one of his favourite sayings, and it annoyed me at first, but in time I came to understand why it was important and now I find myself saying it all the time.

In my first week on the job at The Champion Post, Roel received a complaint from a man I had interviewed because I spelled his name incorrectly. It was a simple name but the guy spelled it really weirdly. Roel just said ‘Never assume! There are nine different ways to spell John Smith! (or is that Jon Smyth?)’ I never quite believed that you can spell John Smith nine different ways but I took his point and from that day on I checked the spelling of everyone’s name, no matter how straight-forward it sounded.

I didn’t always get it right of course. One night I was sent out on the social scene to take photos of couples and families dining out together. I took a lovely photo of an older gentleman dining out with an attractive young lady about 30 years his junior. I dutifully checked their names and when they both had the same last name my suspicions that they were father and daughter were confirmed… as you can probably guess, Roel received a complaint from the happily married couple the day the photo was published… Never assume!!!

I have been on the receiving end of this a number of times myself. Most people assume that because I have worked in jobs that put me out in public a lot, and because I do shows with the M&D that I’m a very outgoing and confident person. As I was telling my senior English class this week, when I see people I know down the street my first thought is “Why on Earth would they want to talk to me?” so I tend to give them an awkward smile and nod and wait to see if they say something first. Over the years I have learned that a lot of people think I do this because I don’t want to talk to them and I’m a pretty rude and arrogant person. All I can say is, ‘never assume’.

‘Never assume’ is such an important concept for me now at PCS. I have learned that kids who struggle to focus, or have behaviour issues, or consistently get their work in late, often have other things happening in their lives that we know nothing about. I encourage staff to never assume that kids are simply disrespectful or lazy just because they want to be. Sometimes this is true, but so often kids are struggling with outside influences that affect their school work. The important thing for us as teachers is to ‘never assume’ but rather talk to the kids, ask them how things are going and offer to help where we can.

I reached out to the high school parents and students recently to reassure them that if they didn’t get through all the set work during the COVID-19 isolation period that everything would be ok. There will be no punishment, or kids repeating because they missed out on some work. It is not our place to assume to know what life was like for every family during that time – and it is not our place to assume to know what life is like for every family moving forward.

It is part of our nature as human beings to make assumptions about people. It takes time and intentional effort to change those habits and start asking instead of assuming. I sincerely hope that PCS can be a place where we NEVER ASSUME!!!…

Have a great week. Greg Ballantyne

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