What Would You Do?

Dear ISR, I’ve put myself in an unsettling position, so I’m writing in hopes ISR subscribers can give me some advice. Here goes:

On lunch duty last week, I saw a lone high school girl out on the soccer field who appeared to be vaping. Smoking of any type is clearly against school rules. Initially, I planned to issue her an office summons for smoking on campus. However, as I began to approach, the smell of marijuana was subtly wafting on the wind. She looked startled when she saw me observing her. I shook my head in disbelief and decided then and there to ignore the incident and simply walked past. I was glad she’s not one of my students.

Now what? Reporting her to school officials would entangle her in a drug-related offense and would serve no beneficial purpose, in my opinion. A report would also place both of us in a ugly, awkward situation involving potential parent/admin meetings and possibly even involvement of local law officials. Things could easily spiral out of control for this girl, her family, the school and myself.  

Jeopardising a student’s future over what has become a legal, recreational substance in many parts of the world seems beyond the pale. For all involved I feel I did the right thing. But, now I’m wondering what the consequences could be if this student relates the incident to her friends and word gets around. Should I simply deny knowing anything? Or…?

Advice or thoughts on my situation would be very welcome at this point. Thank you.

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51 Responses to What Would You Do?

  1. Anonymous says:

    You need to search your soul on this. I hope that at the end of that search you realize that you abdicated your responsibility to that child, the school, your profession, and the community. I hope that you find moral courage. I hope that see all the students in the school ‘your’ kids. I hope that you see that teaching is more than just a way to get a paycheck and a place to keep your nose down.

    If you come to the end of your soul searching and do not feel that you did wrong and at the least resolve to do the right thing next time, then you need to leave teaching.

    If your answer is to cover your rear at the expense of the students, community, and school. Then you are not an educator. You are an opportunist.

    If you lack the confidence in your school to do the right thing, then you need to leave that school, but you should not rationalize your fear. It is a crazy world, but it deeply saddens me that there are people on this forum that call themselves educators and would advocate this. To those people I say, please go home, I hope I never have to work with you.

    To you I say, I see that you are conflicted and you see that you failed this child. Learn from your mistake and come back a better stronger person. You can do it, your students deserve nothing less.


  2. Anonymous says:

    Not my country. Not my child. I would walk away and forget about it. Just pay me on time.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Anonymous says:

    If a kid was drinking codeine or sniffing glue, would you report it? What if it was alcohol? How about speed or crack. What about a student cheating on homework or in a class test? What about cheating in a public exam? Where is the line that you have personally drawn as to what you would report?

    You are not worried because she is not one of “yours”, would you consider reporting it if she hangs out with one of yours? What about if she was besties with one of your “friends” kids. What about if she was your own daughter’s bestie?

    You must remember that these are all people’s daughters and son’s and teenagers influence each other. You may very well have given this girl the cool factor to influence 1 or 2 others. If I were this kid if I were ever reported, I would use your not reporting as my defence. Mr/MS X saw me and did not even talk to me and so I thought it was okay.

    I personally would not like my own child in an environment where their teachers and peers condone the use of drugs in any form, especially in an educational setting. If my child was doing drugs I would want to know.

    I don’t know why you joined this profession. But for me, I do what is best for the student. Even if it may cost me my job. When I have done this, I have never lost my job and in more cases than not, it has resulted in positive change for the student and the school. in a few cases, parents, admins and students have thanked me (years later) for standing up to doing what was right.


  4. Spotted1 says:

    You have put yourself in an unsettling situation because you did not follow school policy and report it. Now, you are in a worse situation because it is after the fact and the student has had time to sort the story out and can argue against it. Unless there is video evidence, you are likely to be in a worse situation now and reporting her will make it a you versus her issue. And you are not going to come out well.

    At the time, you should have reported that she was vaping based on school policy. That you know. You don’t actually know she was vaping marijuana other than what you smelled. That is not concrete nor could you likely prove it. The administration can sort that out.

    You have a responsibility and duty of care for these issues. Not reporting these incidents will come out in the future and they sound like “well, teacher x didn’t report this why are you”. It makes it harder to enforce rules on campus.


  5. kf says:

    Cover your own a**. The school won’t back you up if the parents are powerful or blame you. Report that it appeared she was vaping but don’t try to determine what she was vaping based on smell. On the slight chance that you are wrong, you’ll land yourself in a pile. Only the facts – it appeared she was vaping. After that, it’s up to admin. You have done your duty without ending up in her pocket or making a big deal about something that could bite you in the a**.


  6. Beverly Gerbase says:

    The problem is that by not reporting it the girl now has your fate in her hands and after years of experience I know a kid will give someone up to save themselves.
    It’s a real problem overseas because wealthy parents often control schools and they will gladly demand the head of a teacher if they dare report their child has done something wrong – Thus better to never say anything.
    It’s a real dichotomy – what do you do? Damned if you do and damned if you don’t!


  7. Enrique Sanguino says:

    If you could talk to her at a neutral time (not when you are shocked by the emotions of the moment) and find out if she is aware of the consequences of smoking drugs. You may ask, not tell, and see what she comes up with. Naturally, she will expect you to do what many teachers supposed to do, to lecture, moralise, criticise, etc. but approaching to her in this way may give her the understanding she needs in order to make up her mind (or to be more careful next time). No one can control her behaviour, only she can. So it’s best to ask her instead of telling her. I’m sure she is intelligent enough to do what’s best for her, while you do your part in leading her to think instead of to avoid, only time will tell.


  8. Ben G says:

    You have a duty of care to report what you have seen . There is no question about your professional responsibilities to not report would be neglect of the students welfare and well being.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Kevin Shea says:

    I agree with your stance on marijuana, but could not more strongly disagree on how you handled the situation. I am a 25 year professional teacher and I know who cuts my paycheck, and I am very aware of my job description (hint: it is not to advocate for easier marijuana laws). In 25 years in classrooms I have learned that very few good deeds go unpunished. I did the exact same thing when I caught some visiting wrestlers outside sharing a joint. I made the mistake of seeing them, shaking my head in disbelief and going inside. The problem was the talking amongst friends, and in just a few days the kids in my school heard all about how I let these kids slide. Within a couple days I was with a union lawyer in the central office watching security video and fighting for my career. I swore up and down that I did not know it was marijuana, but lost my tenure and was put on probation for two years (later knocked down to one) for failing to do my job. It is a teacher’s job to enforce all school rules at all times, and no smoking is allowed on any campus in the state. Had I gotten into even a whiff of trouble while I was subsequently on probation, I would have been dismissed and lost my accrued benefits. I can rattle off at least ten stories where teachers got into trouble or even lost their jobs (and one who went to prison) for doing something similar. You may think you know better than school rules and national laws, but I am 100% sure you made a mistake here. You need to always CYA (cover your… self) as a teacher. I am guessing that each commenter here agreeing with you is likely a backpacking casual teacher or a retired teacher with a pension, and not a real professional in the heart of a career. Only a fool would jeopardize or even throw away a career by being cool to a student who, I assure you, does not want to be friends with you. You are not hired to make judgements like that, and I hope it doesn’t come back to bite you in the butt as it has for countless teachers over the years. If it does, I pray you are not in Indonesia or some other country with draconic drug laws, or getting fired could be the least of your problems.


  10. Anonymous says:

    You did the right thing by walking on by; criminalising children for something that’s legal in Canada and other parts of the world is just wrong. Regardless of where you teach, teachers are not the police and we should always act with the best interests of our pupils in mind. A discreet word with the parents would be more effective and puts people over policy.


    • Mary Jane says:

      Best comment here. So many Southeast Asia and Middle Eastern countries have the death penalty for pot. Use discretion and common sense depending on the country. It beats a student getting flogged, killed or a massive prison sentence.


      • Anonymous says:

        What ho Mary Jane! Mary Jane? Isn’t that? We should reintroduce flogging for such heinous transgressions. It would save on the cost of the rendition flight to Saudi and tick that Green School environmental box…now where is my policy folder…


  11. Annonymous says:

    This is pure negligence plain and simple – wether it was or wasn’t marajuana or wether or not it is legal or illegal in that particular country. Our role as teachers isn’t to decide which rules to follow its to guide students in the right direction. Not only did you not report it you ignored it and didn’t even talk to the child. Maybe that child does feel the need to smoke, not judging that, but why aren’t you looking for the underlying problem?

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with smoking weed, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore a kid doing it on campus.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. How can anyone comment when the country you teach in has not been disclosed. If it is a country that you are treated as a visitor and you need a Visa to teach there then that countries rules are what is relevant. . Having stated this the school can be a huge mixture of cultures and teach an International curriculum so your guide to what you should have done should be in your orientation manual or covered at training. Should none of these have happened then report it up to the person you report to in management.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. HT says:

    No, I want what’s best for learning and deterrents are sometimes needed. I work in a school where too many kids seem to be under the influence during the day and it’s frustrating seeing potential wasted. Neither the superficial slick suited admin nor the unhealthy teaching travelers could care less.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Anonymous says:

    I can t comment on the legal aspect but I’d feel responsible for health education. There is plenty of research about marijuana’s impact on the teenage brain. And I would also think “if this was my teenage daughter”….

    Liked by 1 person

    • HT says:

      Exactly. So what if it’s legal in Canada and California? That doesn’t make it safer. It can have appalling effects on the brain and I can’t believe how many here don’t seem to care.


  15. Dr.Steve says:

    You should have reported her for smoking and left out your suspicions about it being marijuana. This way, you would protected the student and yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Willie Nelson says:

    My mate Steve said that vaporized pot actually smells like burnt popcorn. Chances are, that smell wasn’t what you thought it was. It’s more likely to be something vaped that is nicotine based.

    Don’t fret it this time, but next time you need to take action and figure out what the substance is. Report if illegal in that country. Keep your hands clean.


  17. Tommy Chong says:

    Confiscate that cabbage!


  18. You just lost your job. The moment the student is eventually caught and reported, she’ll simply say that you knew and didn’t do anything about it. This isn’t a dress code violation. Most teachers carry their phones with them. You should have called for back-up from a senior teacher, a Dean of Students, or whomever if you did not feel confident enough to handle the situation on your own. You should have approached the student and engaged her while waiting for this other person to arrive. Charlotte Bronte once wrote, “Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth?” (Jane Eyre) I once got a job because the previous teacher did not report marijuana smoking by one of his sophomores who was a practicing Rastafarian in the States. So I know, you just lost your job.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Harry Balzac says:

      Pretty alarmist comment. What we do need is the context in this particular example. What country is it for example? Strict laws e.g Singapore, or lax laws like Portugal. Is the student a minor or over 18 years. It all depends on the context which is not given.


    • Kevin Shea says:

      You hit the nail right on the head: nothing alarmist about possibly throwing your career in the trash.


  19. Anonymous says:

    Maybe her smoking has deeper issues and it’s not just recreational. What if she needed a hit to calm down and get her bearings? Maybe to relax before a huge exam? Or she’s been crying about being bullied, or is a bully herself and would prefer to not be so anxious and ‘have’ to go bully someone? It’s wrong either way to do it on campus, however, like you said, it’s legal in so many places around the world and it could be helping her a lot as a medicinal aid. Perhaps try talking to her. Maybe she can’t open up to anyone, not even parents. Just a thought.😊


  20. Anonymous says:

    Having difficult conversations with students are “difficult” but part of being a teacher. But you have to think about it this way, this student could be reaching out for help by doing this and you could have passed on an opportunity to help this kid. Its easy for me to sit back and say you should have done this or should have done that, but in the moment the call can be difficult depending on the situation.This is a safety issue. You want to make sure this is not part of a bigger problem. Is the student self medicating, have a drug problem, or even suicidal. Probably the best thing that could have happened here is that you “bust” the student with a very careful explanation of why you are doing this. This conversation might include some sort of statement about you are doing this because your care. Hopefully, your administration makes sure the student is “ok” by having them see a counselor as part of consequences for her actions to make sure she is “ok”. I might check back with the student later depending on circumstances and see if they are ok.


  21. Jane doe says:

    Ask her where she got the produce and how you can get your own supply.

    Jokes aside. Nothing happens without evidence. I’m guessing the kid has taken the paraphernalia off site now and has had a big shock.

    Let it go and if it comes up again, say it smelt like candy floss vap. If you see the student doing it again report immediately


  22. HT says:

    Utter disgrace. If you were a colleague of mine I would report you for negligence. Young people should not be going anywhere near this substance and you should not be employed in a school.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Forrest says:

      Go work in Saudi Arabia. So instead of suspension, you can witness a student getting beheaded.


      • Beheaded says:

        I disagree with this teacher’s choice for many reasons. My question is, could a student attending an international school really get beheaded? Very interested in hearing back regarding this.


        • This is a provocative reply. Saudi Nationals and some others do indeed get beheaded in Saudi but if you work there legally and do your work professionally then this is an extreme suggestions and unwarranted on this site.


    • Walter White says:

      Hey, do us all a favor and look for a new profession.


    • Anonymous says:

      I agree with you HT. ‘Anymore of that defeatist nonsense and you will find yourself fighting in southern Russia!’ Ah, the good old days…


    • omgarsenal says:

      If I were a colleague of yours I would start smoking pot as well!
      you are a moralizing, judgemental and probably hypocritical ass kisser hoping to make principal HT…..good luck with that!


      • Ht says:

        I think you’ll find the most corrupt drug addled people in this profession are the ones at the top, and I’m not interested in going there.

        Pot isn’t as safe as what the media may say, especially for the developing brain, so teachers and admin who smoke it themselves shouldn’t let this influence their decisions regarding the well-being of young people.


        • I’m bored of this thread now, but before I head for the pub I’d like to share the following with nobody in particular. I worked in a school in Mexico City once. Most of the management were at best, functioning alcoholics and a hard core of the staff (including some of the management) would openly partake of the old Columbian marching powder during staff socials; then again, as a boy I remember with fondness that the majority of the better teachers in my own high school were proper old soaks. Happy days…


  23. Barb Gage says:

    I think you need to re-read your staff handbook and follow what it says about reporting. You also don’t say what country you are in or what their laws are. To me this is a problem and you need to pass it up. A guidance referral needs to be made. Different boards of Directors send Scool Directors will deal with a matter like this on an individual occurrence basis.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. omgarsenal says:

    I presume that the use of recreational drugs is not tolerated or permitted in the country you currently teach in and that you would normally enforce school regulations that ban the use of drugs,but felt that enforcing this one would be counterproductive to the student and yourself. Here are a few observations that are not as black and white as some of the above commentators have provided:

    1) As educators we have certain obligations we cannot abandon just because we don’t feel they are flexible enough or inconvenient. That said, everything we do with kids is ALWAYS a judgement call and should be individualized…to do otherwise is risking alienating many kids who don’t trust their teachers to be firm but fair.

    2) This young lady knew she was breaking a school (and maybe state) regulation but was willing to take the risk by doing so in public. You missed a good teaching moment by not stopping and asking her why she was smoking pot in public and failing to warn her that a repeat would mean she’s be reported to administration. Your comment that you were glad she wasn’t one of your students makes NO sense, as you cannot separate ¨your kids¨ from the student body in general….it is an illogical and dangerous attitude.

    3) Every student NEEDS to know that there are eventual consequences for their actions but also needs to kn ow that teachers and administrators can be trusted to have that student’s best interests at heart. You failed to pass either message on.

    4) You work in a High School so there is always the counselor or psychologist who you could have told, and they would provide a certain confidentiality to the student, once you identified her and they spoke to her. Next time, try that approach…I know it works as I was a counselor and school psychologist and had this type of referral happen very often.

    5) You seem to have a healthy load of self-interest in not ¨getting involved¨ and avoiding the messy business of accountability and acting on your obligations and convictions. However, when you got into this profession you made a conscious, informed and career advancing decision to teach. Nobody is judging you on ISR. We have ALL been faced with moral and ethical dilemmas during our careers but since teaching is a vocation, you need to immunize yourself from fear of retribution, retaliation or punishment for doing the right thing and learn to find a middle ground between ignoring an immediate issue and acting to alleviate or remediate it…..good luck!

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Vandsmith says:

    I’d at minimum have a discussion with student about the nonsmoking rule on campus, without reference to what they were smoking at all.

    Since you’ve already decided on a course of action, there isn’t much you can do about it. You should be vigilant and watch for something like that again.

    By the way, you don’t have to be someone who smokes pot to agree with what the OP was trying to do, which probably keeping lawful lunatics from putting this kid in jail for smoking.

    Good luck!


    Liked by 1 person

  26. Not again says:

    I feel for you and the position you have put yourself in. I imagine you, too, are a pot smoker and don’t consider smoking it an offense. Rules are rules and although your job requires you to enforce them, there are circumstances that dictate we bend the rules. I would say this is one of them, especially when the consequences for a minor infraction could become extremely server due to the addition of pot in the equation. This student knows that you know what she was doing and this should be enough to cause her to stop doing it on campus. What she does outside of school is really none of your business. If you catch her smoking again on campus then we can conclude she has a blatant disregard for rules and I feel you should then report her. Utter lack of respect for campus rules reflects a deeper problem that should be addressed.


  27. Robin says:

    What are you teaching the student? Rules are rules. Some rules are black and white.( Your opinion does not count when it comes to school rules. One of your responsibilities when you signed a contract with the school is to enforce the rules, also modeling responsibility, integrity, honesty, trust, respect, self-discipline, just to name a few. Why do you think the rules were made? You just proved to the student that the rules mean nothing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Anonymous says:

      Rules, enforce, black and white… I love your compassionate approach to education. We must all follow the rules. Remember 1984 is a warning, not a template.


  28. Anonymous says:

    You should report the incident. It doesn’t matter whether or not it’s legal or illegal in the country in which you teach, she’s in clear violation of school policy. Not reporting it could put your job in jeopardy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Anonymous says:

      May the gods bless you and keep you Sir! I agree with you. School Policy is what education is all about. By all means she should have her life chances ruined by a compassionate soul like your good self. ‘…she’s in clear violation of school policy.’ Superb! Personally, I wouldn’t feel my week complete unless I had used “policy” to destroy the life chances of one of my children. Thank the gods we have dedicated guardians of policy like your good self on the watchtower; why how else is education to survive or indeed, progress without rigid adherence to policy. I salute you!


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