Confessions of an Urban Principal/ Conversations
by Frank Murphy
Installment 2 of 8
Corey and Luis both erupted before their teachers had a chance to take the daily attendance. Corey was the first to explode. When his newest Therapeutic Support Aide arrived, he didn’t want anything to do with her. He dashed out of the classroom and attempted to leave the building. She chased after him. One of our own aides helped her to block Corey from making his exit.
Hearing his screams I stepped out into the in the hallway. I saw him struggling with the adults. He kicked over a bookrack then tore down a bulletin board display. The area around the office was in chaos. The counselor came to the assistance of the aides and after several minutes was successful in helping to calm him. Our attempts to contact his mother were not as successful. Today she wasn’t answering the phone. The counselor took him down to her office.
Shortly after Corey left, Luis rumbled into the office.
He wanted his memory book, graduation tickets and cap and gown. Luis demanded to go home. “I want to stay out of school until graduation day.” I could tell from the whine in his voice that there would be no reasoning with him. Whatever was bugging him had him acting like a six year old. His chest was heaving as he danced a spasmodic dance on twisting legs. His arms were swinging in every direction. Luis is a big boy, at least five foot ten and a good one hundred ninety pounds.
Some significant drama had unfolded in order to put him into this state. I told him to go sit outside in the hallway waiting area. His protests rolled off my back. I left him at the counter and headed into my office.
The inside of my office can be a hungry beast. It has a ferocious appetite that eats my time in big gulps. An hour or two gets swallowed there in a blink of my eye. I sifted through my e-mail, dealt with several phone calls and read my regular mail without a second thought to Luis’ tantrum.
I had just finished reading my mail when Nottingham popped his head through the door. “Murphy, I have Luis’ mother on the phone. I cannot talk to her anymore. You need to talk to her.”
“What does she want?”
“She wants us to send Luis to his grandmother’s house on Allegheny Avenue. He is staying there.”
“Why isn’t he with his father?” I asked.
“He fell off a ladder and got hurt. I’m not sure what is going on with them.”
“Why does Luis need to leave now?”
“His mother says some boys are going to jump him and it’s not safe here.”
“Who are the boys?”
“The same ones who were into it with him last week.”
“You mean those little boys. We already settled that with Luis and his father.”
“I know, but this lady doesn’t listen. I’ve explained it to her a dozen times.”
“Okay, transfer the call in to me.”
When I picked up the phone the woman on the other end started to scream at me.
“I want my son sent home. That school is not a safe place for him to be.”
I tried to explain to her that there was no threat to Luis’ safety.
“ I have dealt with that fight. The matter has been settled. I’ve met with all of the boys involved and their parents. It’s over.”
“My son has to take a bus at the end of the day to get back to his grandmother’s. How do I know he won’t be jumped on the way to the bus stop? Are you going to guarantee his safety?”
“Yes, I am. He will be okay. We will see to it that he gets home safely.”
“Are you going to walk him to the bus stop?”
We concluded our conversation with the understanding that Luis was going to stay in school for the remainder of the day. She asked to speak to him.
I put Luis on the phone. I listened to him as he talked to his mother. He didn’t say anything about the boys or the fight. “No, I don’t want to stay. No, I don’t want to… It’s too hot. There isn’t any air conditioning in the room. I want to go home. No! I want to go home. “All right…” “All right…” He hung up the phone.
His mood hadn’t changed. I could see that trying to talk to him would be impossible. I told him to go back to the hallway. There was much to do this day and I had already lost too much time trying to get started.
When I arrived at the office earlier, I had clearly mapped out my plans for the day. I intended to meet with several teachers during their preparation periods. Budget cuts and declining student enrollment has required me to make changes to the grade and room assignments of several teachers. I wanted to personally explain to each of the affected staff members why I was shifting their assignments. Grade assignments and room locations are very important matters to teachers. Changing them is a big deal. I had to talk to ten people. These were going to be difficult conversations. Starting off the day by dealing with the emotional meltdowns of Corey and Luis didn’t help me to get ready for the stressful day that lay ahead of me. In the momentary quiet of my office, I tried to clear my head so that I could focus on what I have to do.