Chapter Nine: May

25 May

Confessions of an Urban Principal/ Zany Brainy Moments

by Frank Murphy

Installment 8 of 9

Within the twenty-two minute rectangle of dismissal, all has been peaceful for the last few weeks.  My dread had been unfounded that tougher times would accelerate as the warmer spring climate took hold.   The biggest trouble I’ve had to confront at the end of day has been the rush of students crossing in the middle of Gratz Street to get to a neighbor’s water ice stand.  The owner is the grandmother of several of our students.  She set up a freezer and umbrella in front of her row house.  For several years she has busily dispensed twenty-five cent cups of flavored ice to thirsty students in the warmer months of the school year.

Today there weren’t as many customers as usual.  Many of her regulars had run off down the street.   Somewhere further away from the yard there was a fight.

Later I learned that it had been Samuel and Isaiah who were the fighters.  Mr. Nottingham was dealing with the aftermath of their conflict when I returned to the office.   I decided to stay to steer clear of this problem for the time being.  I was disappointed when I heard Isaiah was involved.  I wondered what had happened to our agreement earlier in the day.  I was not happy with the boy. I resign myself to the fact that I will have to deal with him tomorrow.

When we did met the following day, I was still angry. It had only been a few hours before this fight that I had talked to him about controlling his temper.   Now it appeared as though he had been stringing me along with his line, “I talk to myself in my head.  I tell myself not to be mad.”

Through habit more than patience, I sat back quietly and listened to his latest explanation for his poor behavior.

“He was messing with my sister at lunch time.  He hit her.  My sister came to my classroom crying just before we let out of school.”

“Your sister gets hit at lunchtime and she comes to your classroom over an hour later crying to you.  What was she doing out of her class?  This sounds like a silly drama to me.” I responded.  Isaiah didn’t disagree.

“Isaiah, you don’t know what happened in the lunchroom.  You don’t have lunch during that period.  Jumping to conclusions and losing your temper is how you get yourself into these jams.  Didn’t we talk about you not getting into trouble just an hour or so before this fight?”

“It wasn’t like that Mr. Murphy.  I didn’t jump him or anything like that.  I tried to talk to him.  He was standing on the corner with his boys.  I went up to him and asked him if we could talk in private.  He didn’t answer me.  Like I wasn’t there.”

I thought over this comment for a moment before I responded. “Isaiah, you let Samuel get into your head.  You were trying to be sincere and straight up with him.  You wanted to peacefully set things straight concerning your sister.  He didn’t want to talk.  He acted like he didn’t understand what you were trying to say.  His responses made you feel stupid and embarrassed.”

I could see the light going on in Isaiah’s head.  He was nodding his head up and down in agreement.

“Samuel was playing with your head.  He was showing off for his boys.  Isaiah, he was trying to make you look like a fool.  You tried to talk to him. That was good. But you did it on his turf when his crew surrounded him.  You were by yourself.  There wasn’t anyone there who could back you up.  People play games.  You have to watch out for yourself.”

From his explanation I understood why he had gotten himself into this mess.  He wasn’t acting out.  It was a matter of protecting the honor of his family.   I gave Isaiah a lunchtime detention.  A suspension would have excluded him from the eighth grade trip.

I squeezed my meeting with Isaiah into the time just before I had to leave for the Zany Brainy excursion. The students who get to go on this trip are either the top readers in their classrooms, are on the principal’s honor roll, or are their teachers’ choices for best citizens.  In the year we inaugurated this event, fifty children were on this list to participate. Now in the third year of our Zany Brainy outing, the number has increased to one hundred and seventy students.

When we arrived at the toy store, each child picked out twenty dollars worth of merchandise.  I have recruited a variety of donors who provide the funds for this much anticipated event.  This year it took us two days to move so many children through the store.  I find that with smaller groups, the adults are better able to manage the children. The older children help out with the kindergarteners and first graders but there is still a lot for the adults to handle. Watching the children shop is a treat.  Every one of them demonstrated that they were thrifty shoppers who could get the most for their money.  Many of them bought toys for their younger siblings in addition to their own treat.  I was moved by the generosity they showed for their brothers and sisters.   It was a fun and exhausting excursion.

On the drive back to school, my head was filled with pleasant images of excited and happy kids.  With these thoughts still in mind I reconsidered my conversation with Isaiah. I had a revelation.   I realized that I needed to heed my own advice.  I shouldn’t allow people to get into my head.  People like Christie Sims and Judith Wilson have pulled me seriously off my game for most of this year.  I’ve allowed their personal problems and bizarre agendas to become far too much of a distraction for me.  In doing so, I’ve lost sight of all of the good things and people in my life.  Instead of letting them play with my mind, I need to focus more on the Zany Brainy moments.





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