Familiar faces

The other night, I picked up dinner at Taco Bell for Bekah. It was to-go (I generally try to avoid the drive through), and the kid at the cash register looked familiar. Since I didn't grow up around here, the only places where I could know a recognizable face are work and church. When he took my order, he confirmed my memory.

"Hey, did you used to work at...?" he asked.

I nodded my head.

"Still there?"

I nodded again. And I knew why his face looked familiar. He is one of those students you never forget.

In October/November of '05, I was teaching a night class that had several high school kids - this Taco Bell employee was one of those kids. It was a difficult class; it was split between school kids who were there because they had to have a job and adults who needed/wanted to work.

The future Taco Bell employee was in the class with two of his best friends. Individually, they were decent kids, but together they were tyrants - disruptive and rude during class, disrespectful of their coworkers. I had to give them corrective actions for their misbehavior and attitude. The worst came during a lunch break the last week of class.

A police officer stopped by my desk looking for one of my agents. The officers had completed a building wide search for the kid and could not find him. As his supervisor, I should know where he was at. I told them that the class was at lunch - the kid was probably off site. They let me know it was urgent that they talked to the kid - he had made a threat of bodily harm to himself or someone else - if he returned to class, I needed to call them immediately.

He returned from lunch an hour late. I called the officer, and all was OK; they found him and had a chance to talk things through. However, the kid didn't show up for work the next day. Another employee (also a high school student) told me that the kid had been arrested during school earlier that day.

Considering his performance, attitude problems, and his incarceration induced attendance issues, he terminated him. His friends finished class; one quit within a couple weeks and the other cleaned up his act and turned out to be a good employee.

Part of me is always curious about what happens to some of the employees after we let them go. For this agent, I assumed he would carry a little bitterness and anger toward me because I fired him. Surprisingly, I was wrong. Three years later, not only did this kid recognize me, but he remembered my name. When I answered his questions about my employment, he smiled.

"How are things going? Are you keeping busy?" He had a dozen questions. Then he gave me the back story that I normally don't get for former employees. He's back in school now - going to college for computer repair. He was upbeat, eager, and optimistic - a completely different person than I remembered.

I always hate firing people - it is my least favorite part of my job. Even in circumstances like this kid's where there is no good reason to maintain their employment, on some level I always feel bad for them.

This visit to Taco Bell was the highlight of my week. That kid's tenure in my class was a rough time in his life. It was good for me to know that what I knew to be a negative experience did not end up as dire as I imagined. All is well. Maybe I could learn a lesson from him.

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