Chapter Nine: May

23 May

Confessions of an Urban Principal/ Domestic Battlefields

by Frank Murphy

Installment 7 of 9

Whenever teachers and principals take a personal interest in the lives of their students and families, they face the possibility of being suddenly drawn onto a domestic battlefield created by warring parents.  Mothers and fathers who are no longer compatible with each other, can inadvertently reek havoc on their children’s lives.  Their sons and daughters are pulled in different directions as they find themselves caught in the middle of a nasty tug of war between parents vying for their loyalty and love.

The children of these shattered unions often vent their frustrations in a variety of inappropriate manners.  They might fight or be disrespectful to other children and adults. Frequently they are argumentative. Some children just completely shut down. Whatever the form their anger takes, it often ends up in a disciplinary referral to the principal.

I was reminded of this family minefield the other day when I talked to Gregory.  He is an eighth grader who was referred to me by his teacher.  He had been acting disrespectfully as of late.  Gregory was refusing to do his class work and was constantly arguing with the teacher.  The last straw in his recent string of misbehavers was when he cursed at her.  This is the first real trouble he has been into since his fight with the twins in the fall.

I met with Gregory in my office.  At first it was an awkward encounter.  He isn’t much of a conversationalist.  Getting him to say something, anything, is like pulling teeth.

“Your teacher tells me that you have been talking back to her for the last week, I began.    “She also says that your mother told her that you are being disrespectful at home.  You sound like you are angry about something.  I am concerned about you.  Who is making you angry, your teacher or your mom?”

He stood silently in front of me.  His eyes seemed to search my face for signs that I was being truthful in the concerns I expressed.  His gaze was unnerving but I didn’t let on to my discomfort.  I think he is a decent person who is trying to find his place in the world.

His eyes continued to scan me.  Quietly he said, “My mom.”

“So your teacher is like an innocent victim here.  You are letting your feelings leak out in a negative way. What’s up with you and your mom?”

Again the gaze of his eyes passed over me.  I must have passed his lie detector test, because he said, “she says things about my father that aren’t true.  When I tell her that they’re not true, she says I’m being disrespectful.”

“Do you talk to your father about those things?”

“We talk, but not about that.”

“You are angry because your mom says untrue things about your dad.  Her words hurt you.  You feel bad”,  I said.

“She won’t stop when I tell her to stop.”

“Your mother is angry.  She and your father are mad at each other.  This doesn’t mean that they don’t love you and your brother and sister.  They do.  Sometimes people end up not being able to get along together.  This is what is happening with your parents.  Your mom probably feels hurt and angry.   She wants to talk to someone about her feelings.  You are the person she chose to speak to.”

His eyes remained glued on me.  He seemed to suck my words right into his head.  There were tears in his eyes but none fell.

“You need to tell your mom that you don’t want to be caught in the middle between her and your dad.  Let her know that you love her and that you love your father.  You know that they have problems, but that’s between them.  Here’s what you can say:  “Mom, I don’t mean any disrespect to you, I just don’t want you to say bad things about my dad. And I don’t want to hear bad things about you from Dad.  I love you both.”

Gregory didn’t dismiss my suggestion.  He just stood quietly, weighing my advice.

“Anyway, you need to knock off giving backtalk to your teacher.  She isn’t doing you any harm and the way you’re talking to her isn’t right.”

Gregory assured me that he would be more respectful towards his teacher.




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