Confessions of an Urban Principal/Some Kind of Valentine’s Day
by Frank Murphy
Installment 4 of 8
Yes, Meade is my own private roller coaster ride. Come Monday morning without fail, I find myself in the lead car as I start out on yet another wild ride. Dealing with the after math of the large number of suspensions from last week has kept me busy for most of the morning. It was well pass eleven, when I finally finished meeting with the parents of suspended students.
The remainder of my day was spent on administrative tasks. It was near three o’clock, when I decided to take a break from my desk. A trip to the schoolyard, I thought would be a welcome diversion. I almost made it out of the main office door before a call came from one of the eighth grade teachers. Arthur and Luis were fighting in the classroom.
I changed course and headed upstairs. The school police officer was close behind me. When we reached the room, the fight was already over. Luis had run out of the building. Arthur was picking up his things from the floor. I brought Arthur back with me to the office.
Over the years Arthur has seldom caused any trouble. But in the last few weeks he has gotten into trouble several times. Since Arthur was placed in foster care, I have received five discipline referrals on him. I was actually a little happy to see him misbehaving. It was almost like he was finally feeling free enough to have some fun, but that he was going about it in the wrong way. Getting into a fight was something new. Arthur has never been a fighter.
He has been doing silly stuff; wrestling in the hallway, running in the lunchroom, shooting rubber bands. This was the ordinary stuff of most kid misbehavior. Kids mess up. Normally their parents tell them to knock it off and typically the misbehavior ends.
Arthur was different. For most of the time he has been a student at Meade he has avoided trouble. Under Cindy’s rule, I guess he didn’t want to get beaten. Now without the threat of being whacked in the middle of night he is living more dangerously. I was happy for him, but I still had to maintain law and order in the school. This fight in the classroom demanded my attention.
Together we walked down from the third floor. Neither of us spoke. When we reached my office, I said. “Arthur, what are you doing? I have a problem with you fighting. I have a really big problem with you fighting in the classroom.”
“Luis hit me. I was defending myself.”
“Why would he do that? What happened before the fight started? What did you do?”
“I didn’t do anything, I didn’t say anything.”
“Come on Arthur, he just jumped you?”
“He was mad. He said I threw his coat on the floor. I told him I didn’t. It fell. He wanted me to pick it up. I didn’t.”
Arthur has never been much of a fighter. Luis has proven in a short time to be fast with his fist. I didn’t find it hard to believe that Luis was the aggressor.
My head was flooded with several waves of thought.
Luis jumps on Arthur and starts throwing punches. Arthur defends himself. Fists are flying. Furniture is being knocked over. The other kids egg them on. The teacher panics…
If I don’t come down hard on Arthur and Luis, then I will risk sending the wrong message to the other students. I need to make it clear to everyone that there are consequences for this type of behavior. If you fight, you are suspended. In order to maintain a safe and secure environment, I have to make it clear that the classroom isn’t a boxing ring.
I’m in a bind. I am hesitant to suspend Arthur. I don’t want his foster caregiver to have to take a bus ride to our school in order to reinstate him. The boy has only been in his new home for a short time. Why create any doubts in the caregiver’s mind? Would it be productive for her to start thinking that she may have taken on a troubled boy? There is no point in giving her reason to doubt the wisdom of her decision to shelter Arthur.
Then there is the problem of the district’s “zero tolerance policy.” Under this decree, I am expected to dole out specific punishments for certain acts. Extending circumstances are of no consequence according to the letter of this district policy. I was annoyed to find myself once again out on a limb. Watching out for Arthur is a challenging business.
“Arthur you know that fighters are suspended. What are you thinking? You put us both in a difficult position. I should suspend you but I don’t want your new caregiver to start thinking that you are a bad kid. I’m going to have to take care of this myself. You will have an in school suspension tomorrow. I will put you into another classroom. You will sit in the hallway during lunch and recess. I’m disappointed. I expect a lot better behavior from you.”
“But I didn’t start it, I swear.”
“You have been in trouble a few times in the last week. You’ve been fooling around with Lenny and some of the other guys. I want you to have friends and be happy but that doesn’t mean you create a mess in the classroom. When I asked your social worker if you could stay here, did you know why I asked?”
When he answered, I barely heard him.
“I don’t know.”
“Leaving your house was a very hard thing to do. I bet you felt very sad leaving your mom.
His head sank a little lower. He was starting to fill up with tears.
“You didn’t let her down. You have always looked out for her. You’re a good boy. But you shouldn’t be the one looking out for your mom. You should have people looking out for you. That’s why I asked the social worker to keep you in this school. A lot of people know you here. We are looking out for you. I don’t want you to go to a new school where no one will know you. You’re in a foster care house now where people talk to you. You don’t have to spend all of your time alone in your room. There are other kids you can talk to there. You like it don’t you?”
He smiled and nodded his head, yes.
“They are nice to me.”
“Okay, here’s what we are going to do. I’ll look out for you here in the school. Tomorrow morning you will come and see me first thing. Together we will work on getting you back on track. I don’t want to see you getting in trouble every other day. You are going to calm down. Do you understand me? ”
I didn’t want to push him too hard. He was engaged in his own emotional roller coaster ride. He needed some time to clear his head. I sent him home. I was out the door myself shortly after he left. Mr. Nottingham wanted to know where I was off to so early.
“I’ve got to go. I’ve things to do. It’s Valentines Day. I have to get home to my Valentine.”
Leaving the building I was drenched by a torrential rain. The drive home behind swishing windshield wipers was miserable. Even so I was still feeling the happiest I had felt all day. I was off the roller coaster at least for the moment.