On why I will never be a principal (pt. 1 of at least 2)

stressed-teacherThursday.

My day starts at 6:00 AM.  I wake up and, as I do every morning, grab my phone off of my nightstand and check my messages, notifications, and other digital distractions while I’m waiting for my wife, who gets up earlier, to get out of the shower.

I discover that my principal and AP are going to be out of the building for the morning, and that myself and another staff member have been named designees for the day– basically, it means I’m the principal until they get back.  (Important note: for the majority of this story it is necessary to remember that there is another adult who is working just as hard as I am for the entire morning.  At times we are together and at times we are dealing with different stuff simultaneously.  In other words, even though this post is going to be a mile long, this isn’t everything.)

I make sure to dress nice.

I get to work around 7:15 AM.  The office is already full.  There are already two parents with kids in tow, two or three kids at the counter, and another kid with his fists clenched and breathing heavy standing over in the corner with two staff members surrounding him and trying to keep him calm.  I point at him.  “My office, now,” I say, because he’s making a spectacle of himself.  The other staff members usher him away.  I speak with the secretary for a moment and determine that one parent is there because of a bullying issue and the other is needing a re-entry conference for a student who has been suspended.  These will be the day’s first tasks.  The three kids at the counter are there because of something connected to Swingyfists McBreatherson.

By the time I get to my office to drop off my laptop– a journey of perhaps 25 feet– it has already been determined that DCS needs to be called for Swingyfists.  Our social worker is called from his other building (which he hasn’t even gotten to yet) and another staff member with an administrative license and a counseling background is called down to help with him.  They’re in my office with the door locked.

I try to unlock my door– which has never been closed with me outside of it in the entire time that I have had this job– and discover that I was given the wrong key when they were handed to me and I never noticed.  I have literally never locked or unlocked my own door.

My assistant principal waves me over.  You’re not supposed to be here today!  She tells me that she is not, in fact, actually there and that I’m imagining her, and that she’s just picking up some stuff for the meeting she and the boss are going to spend the morning in.  She hands me a stack of referrals from the day before.  “These kids have been spoken to and just need to be told about the consequence of whatever they did,” she says, showing me where that information is recorded.  I need to call them down, tell them what’s happening, and then, depending on the kid and the consequence, inform parents, ISS, or our lunch detention supervisor to expect the relevant kids.

I get someone to let me into my own office.  Swingy is crying; everyone else is congregating around him.

Five hundred and sixty-five words in, and I’m just now putting down my bag.

I leave more experienced staff to deal with the DCS issue and call back the parent with the re-entry conference so we can get that kid back to class.  These are pretty simple; we go over whatever got the kid suspended, make sure everyone understands our behavior expectations, and outline consequences should behavior continue.  They are supposed to be fast.

Dad comes back with his two kids.  Two?  Sister is with the kid I have a folder on.  Whatever, I think, and go through the conference.  It’s pretty straightforward, actually; without context it appears that the kid either mouthed off to the principal while he was originally dealing with the issue or the referral itself is being understated.  My spiel basically boils down to “You’re being a shithead in class.  Stop.”

Dad does not say a single word during the conference.

I finish my bit and ask if either of them have any questions.  They do not.  I give the kid a paper he needs to give to his teachers to prove he had the conference (he can’t be readmitted to class without it) and send him off, expecting Dad and sister to get up too.  Neither of them move.

“Huh?”

Turns out sister was suspended too, this time for hitting somebody.  They didn’t tell the office staff they were there for two reentry conferences.  So I gotta go find her paperwork. On the way, I run into the 7th grade special ed teacher, who tells me that she’s pretty sure that the kid I just talked to isn’t actually supposed to be back until tomorrow.  I stop him before he leaves the office and double-check; she’s wrong.  I have the same conference with sister, except a bit more severely, because her suspension involved violence.  Dad still does not say a single damn word.  Off to class.

I call back the parent with the bullying issue and her kid, who turns out to be her granddaughter.  Here is the entire story: 1) Two weeks ago somebody’s phone was stolen; 2) That person thinks granddaughter stole her phone; 3) She didn’t; 4) other kid isn’t convinced.  At one point she threatened to call the police about it but didn’t.

Anybody in the same classes together?  No.  Are you being harassed about it by either the other girl in class or online?  Other than this Facebook message from a week ago, no.  Anybody threaten to hurt you or beat you up for stealing the phone?  No.  Are you getting hassled about it by other students?  Sometimes they ask if I stole the phone.  What happens when you say no?  They go away.  What happens when you walk past this other kid in the hallway?  Nothing.

I am going to spare you the bullying rant.  This is manifestly and clearly and obviously not bullying in any way.  Note that grandma isn’t prodding the kid to give me additional details; it’s not like she’s clammed up.  This is the whole story.

It takes half a damn hour to convince grandma that I’ll look into it but right now this is not a bullying issue in any way that I’m aware of.  Off to class!

By this point, Swingy and his cohort are out of my office; I know not to where, and I figure it’s not my business.

Eleven hundred twenty-six words; it’s probably just barely 8 AM.

We start calling the kids from the previous day down.  A few of them go smoothly.  “You fucked up.  Lunch detention.”  “You fucked up.  Go to ISS; stay there today.”  That sort of thing.  The few who I have to call parents for have no numbers that work in the system; the kids give me phone numbers and they don’t work.  (This is a major issue in schools in poverty-stricken areas, by the way; there’s a post that’s been rolling around in my head for months about phone service as a civil rights issue that I keep not writing.)  I can’t get ahold of goddamn anybody.

One pair of knuckleheads is brought down by their teacher, who gives me a note from a third kid about how the pair of knuckleheads and another kid have been threatening to beat him and his cousin up after school.  Knucklehead A and B are already in ISS for the day; that’s the reason we brought them down.  We speak with Knucklehead C and determine that he is only tangentially related.  We read the riot act to A and B and send them off, but– importantly– do not call their parents, because our thought is that the bullying issue (and this really is a bullying issue) changes the game a bit and we don’t want to have to call them twice.  We table this until after the real administrators get back.

MEANWHILE:  While I was dealing with the three parent conferences, Shithead and Shitheel have gotten to school, half an hour or so late.  Shithead and Shitheel are both eighth graders.  Shithead is Shitheel’s uncle.  Shithead, at fourteen, has gang tattoos on the back of both hands and up and down his arms.

They have arrived at school high as fuck, which is clearly apparent to everyone who interacts with them for more than a minute or two.  My counterpart has been waiting for our SRO (basically, the building cop) to get back to him about what to do while the kids cool their jets in ISS.  At some point around now, the SRO gets back to us: the kids are both to be searched for contraband.  If drugs are found, the police are to be called; if no drugs are found, the kids’ parents are to be contacted and the kids are to be sent home.

We pull Shithead and Shitheel from ISS and have them dump their pockets and their shoes.  Shithead is clean; Shitheel inexpertly attempts to hide two lighters in his hand.  Lighters, by the way, are an expellable offense all by themselves.  They are not drugs, though, so we don’t call the cops, but it does mean we have more paperwork to do.  We start calling parents and get ahold of Shitheel’s mother, who is Shithead’s sister.  She is with Shithead’s mother, who is also her mother.  They need to come get the boys.  They’re in Elkhart, apparently, so it’s gonna take a minute.  Fine; S&S go back to ISS.

Right around here, somewhere, is when we got the “SECURITY TO THE ART ROOM RIGHT THE HELL NOW” call over the radios.  My compatriot, who is in better shape than me, runs.   I do not.

The story: there has been some back-and-forth “your momma”-ing between two kids, which was started by Student A.  Student B, who I’ll call Shitheap, has knocked Student A out of his chair and started kicking him.  The two students were separated and pulled into the hall by the teacher and a para, at which point Shitheap broke away from the para and punched Student A once or twice more again.

Now, I know Shitheap.  Shitheap is one of the most cold-bloodedly remorseless kids I’ve ever encountered, and is badly in need of a psychiatrist.  I’ve watched staff members walk him though the consequences of his life decisions right up to the point where he gets killed in jail and he just shrugs.  This kid cannot be in school.  On a better day, I have sympathy for him.  Today– both in the sense of the story and right now as I’m typing it– is really not that day.  This kid has been enrolled in our building for something like fifteen days and has been suspended for over half of them, all of those suspensions for fighting.  He’s about to be put out for five more and this time I’m now pretty sure we’re going to expel him.

It might be 10 AM by now; this is the second expulsion-worthy offense of the day.

I cannot put Student A and Shitheap in ISS together, because Shitheap will attack him again.  (Remember, Student A started the verbal altercation and the insults; he just picked an incredibly bad person to insult.  He got his ass kicked, but that doesn’t make him innocent.)  Student A is bleeding from his hand and is complaining about rib and chest pain, so I send him to the nurse first, with instructions to the nurse to refer him to ISS until I can get ahold of a parent.  Shitheap is planted in my office.  I ask Shitheap if there is any point to talking to him about what he just did.

“Nope.  He deserved it.  Go ahead and expel me.”

Okay!

Another factoid about Shitheap: he came to us after being kicked out of– wait for it– an online homeschooling program.  I leave it as an exercise to the reader to determine how such a thing is even possible, as these things are notorious for being nothing but cash grabs that give no fucks about actually educating anyone.  His mother works at the closest Subway to our school, and has made me many sandwiches.

I try several numbers on his emergency card and his little sister’s (sister, incidentally, is an angel) before deciding fuck it and just looking up his mother’s work.  It’s close enough to lunchtime that she’s probably there; she seems to always be working whenever I go get lunch from there.  Weird fact: the Subway website has no idea that that restaurant is actually there!  When I call the number listed at another address on the same street, that number is dead.  I cannot get ahold of anyone for any reason today.

I don’t have time for this right now; I put our attendance secretary on the task of getting ahold of his mom and finding the number and go deal with something else that, right now, I can’t actually remember.  She finally finds Mom.  I fill her in.  She sighs, explains that she can’t leave work right now, and says that she’ll send his older sister to pick him up, but it may be a bit.  I say fine.  He’s already sleeping in my office.  Whatever, fuck it.

(Mom, incidentally, has eight children, only one of whom is causing her any trouble, and again: the sister is an angel.  Left as an exercise to the reader: how to support eight children on a job at Subway.)

Right around now two different things happen at about the same time: one, sister-mother shows up to pick up Shitheel and Shithead.  She goes back to a conference with my compatriot that leads to forty-five solid minutes of weeping and crying about how awful her life is and how she’s the only one in her family with a job and how awful it is that she can’t trust her brother to be around her son because of what a bad influence he is.

Again: A better me has an enormous amount of sympathy for and empathy with this woman, who is younger than me and has mentioned her two grandchildren, one three months old and one a year and a half, several times.  She’s apparently trying to get custody of them.  She’s in a godawful situation to be in.  I am, at this moment, unfortunately not that better me.  Luckily, my compatriot is better at this than me and he handles the majority of this conference, which includes referring her to our social worker to see if he can get her some help.

Right about now, a teacher drags down… Swingyfists McBreatherson!  He’s gotten into a verbal altercation with a girl in the hallway and she’s dumping both of them on us.  No punches thrown, just a bunch of yelling.

What the hell is he doing in class? I think to myself, and then figure whatever, somebody higher up on the food chain than me decided to put him there, and put it out of my head.  Keep in mind: other than knowing about a DCS referral, I have no idea what this kid’s story is, and I haven’t asked.

am smart enough, though, even in my current massively misanthropic state, to realize when a kid is having a magnificently shitty day, and this kid certainly qualifies.  I speak with him and the other girl.  This doesn’t seem to be a big deal, just a flare-up from one kid that the second kid didn’t decide to back down from.

“You two pissed off at each other?”

“Nah.”

“If I send you back to class, are there gonna be any further interruptions from you?”

“Nah.”

“Are you sure?  Because you’re going home if there are.”

I watch DCS kid very carefully when I say this.  There’s a brief flash of fear in his eyes, but it goes away quick.  I file that away for later.

I take them back up to class and talk to the teacher.  She’s aware of the situation from in the morning, and I tell her that my theory is just that Swingy’s having a shitty day, flew off the handle, and that the girl didn’t back off, but that it’s not going to cause additional issues. I ask her if she’s okay with me just putting them back in her class and she says she is.  Off you go!

Back downstairs!  I see the same teacher from the bullying note in the morning outside the office.  She has two more kids with her!  One, a tall heavyset kid (a sixth-grader an inch or two shorter than me) is bawling.  The other is a little shrimpy kid.  He is angry.

Short version:  big kid is a Jordanian immigrant, and neither speaks nor reads English very well yet.  Little kid has been picking on him– making fun of the way he talks and reads, poking him in the shoulder, shoving him, bumping into him, all sorts of shit.  The other kid finally snapped in the bathroom just now after the first kid shoved him while he was at the urinal and swung his arms behind him to push him away, at which point the little kid punched him in the neck.

The fact-finding part of the story takes twelve seconds, as everyone involved agrees that that was what happened.  I tell the teacher to write up the little dude, send him to ISS, and send the other kid to the nurse.  I turn around.  There are two high-school aged girls standing behind me in street clothes.

“Can we use the bathroom?”

I blink a couple of times.  Why do you want to use the bathroom in a middle school why the hell aren’t you in class what the hell is going on who the hell are you people anyway what the hell is happening oh wait I know one of you.

Incidentally:  that’s 3000 words.  It’s not noon yet.

And I have to go have birthday lunch with my mom, and that’s sorta a cliffhangery place to end the story, so this is going to be the end of part one.  I’ll try and give you part two later today.

Published by

Luther M. Siler

The author of SKYLIGHTS, THE BENEVOLENCE ARCHIVES and several other books.

12 thoughts on “On why I will never be a principal (pt. 1 of at least 2)

  1. The difference between the school you are at and the ones here are unbelievable. I am beyond thankful for this right now as I have my hands full attempting to get the princess to eat her veggies. Yup, one of my biggest concerns.

    And she’s in a accelerated public school here. Not a charter, I forget what they’re called.

    Either way, um…hug? Beer? Jim Beam? 😉

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  2. oh my goodness.. you have to wash, rinse and repeat tomorrow.. You’re a Saint…. for still working there… looking forward to part 2.. Take care and I hope you at least enjoyed the party…

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  3. Here is the thing, after everyone has said this about a kid and has pronounced him crazy, messed up, a danger, well looking at this society, guess who raised them, and yes the kid with a strewed up head is just that, so save the ones you can save, then save them. Oh by the way you should not be a principal because they are kids and they simply have not become adults because they need people who don’t think they are a,b,c, f up and etc and you curse too much. But good luck Dude

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  4. Hah, hah, hah! This is why I am not a teacher – (that’s the title of one of my blogs) I discovered while substitute teaching / getting certified that I would be contributing to the downfall of Western Civilization were I to participate in the monstrous institution known as public education. It’s ruined generations of American children.

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