Confessions of an Urban Principal
by Frank Murphy
Installment (4 of 9)
Today our Instructional Leadership Team joined with the teams from the other Temple Partnership schools for a daylong retreat. The focus was on our progress to date in implementing the math curriculum in our schools, improving student management, and refining our professional development plans. We had just finished a lively discussion regarding our math consultants when I was pulled out of the meeting by another Christie Sims problem. Barbara Henderson, of the regional office, had left a message on my cell phone. Dr. Rider had called her. Christie was alleging that we were suspending her daughter in order to harass her. When I called her back, Barbara had stepped out of the office and I had to leave a message. I assumed Christie was complaining about her daughter’s latest discipline referral.
Malika had disrupted her classroom the day before. She stopped all instruction by screaming out to her teacher, “You can’t tell me what to do. I can sleep if I want to sleep. You ain’t my mother.” When told she could wait for ten minutes before lunch to use the bathroom by the teacher, she left the room. “You can’t tell me what to do. My mother said I don’t have to listen to you. I’m going to the bathroom,” she said, and left the room without permission. She didn’t return until forty minutes after the lunch period had ended. She and two of her friends had been hanging out in the bathroom the entire time. I requested that all their parents come to see me. Christie brought Malika back to school and refused to discuss how to help her daughter manage her behavior. She stated that her daughter had been helping the custodian, which was why she wasn’t in class. The custodian denied this. Christie then stated that when her daughter was menstruating she needed to go to the bathroom frequently and that her teacher was being insensitive by not allowing her to use the restroom on demand.
Thinking back on all this, and with the news of Christie’s further complaints to the regional office, I had a difficult time regaining my focus at the Partnership retreat.
For almost two full weeks, I had had very little contact with my kids or staff. I was out of school for two days attending the Fall Forum. When I returned, I was swamped with management issues on Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday was the all-day retreat at Temple with The Partnership Schools Instructional Leadership Teams. First thing on Thursday, the principals joined The Partnership office staff for a walkthrough at Ferguson. I didn’t get back until late afternoon. Friday I spent at a principals’ meeting for the school district’s Central Region. It was a lot of time to be out of the building for a principal.
During the Wednesday retreat, I had to go back to the school for a brief time to make some calls regarding an important grant. Luckily, in the brief time that I was there, I was able to save one of my students from a disastrous situation.
I had just put the phone back into its cradle after many failed attempts to contact the Title One Director. From the outer office, I heard Ms Sample calling for the school police officer over the walkie-talkie. “Mr. G would you go to room 304.”
Mr. Nottingham asked, “What’s happening?”
“Arthur hit a teacher in the back of the head. She is very upset.”
Hearing that a student has hit a teacher is terrible news. Yet hearing Arthur’s name as the alleged attacker was worse news. Of all the eighth graders, Arthur was one of the least likely to get into trouble. His teacher was out sick. There wasn’t a substitute and we were covering from within using our own staff. The science teacher was covering his class in lieu of taking her prep period.
I said to Mr. Nottingham, “Bring Arthur down to see me.”
I wanted to move quickly to settle this. The teacher was not a “Quick Draw McGraw” in seeking disciplinary actions against students. I was concerned to hear that she was upset. It didn’t sound good for Arthur. I couldn’t comprehend the idea of Arthur intentionally hitting a teacher; it had to be an accident.