Confessions of an Urban Principal
by Frank Murphy
Installment (6 of 8)
We had our morning line up indoors because it was a wet and miserable day. The cafeteria was noisy and smelled of damp clothes. At 8:30 AM, I saw the kids off to their classrooms. I headed for the main office after everyone exited the cafeteria. I caught a glimpse of Ms. Miller sitting on the on the bench in the hallway as I entered the office.
I was on the phone trying to get somewhere with the Personnel Department concerning a teacher vacancy, when Mr. Nottingham came in to my office to let me know that Ms. Miller wanted to see me.
“I’m tied up now, tell Ms. Miller that I’ll give her this afternoon.” A few minutes later, I could hear her shouting in the hallway. Later I learned that Devon had attacked Armand as their class went up the stairs from the cafeteria to their room. He punched Armand five times in the face and then he kicked him in the butt. The teacher had sent Armand to the office with another boy in order to get some ice for his face. When he arrived, his mom was there. As soon as she saw him she started to scream.
Mr. Nottingham sent for Devon’s mom. He had also sent for Devon. When the boy came down to the office, Ms. Miller went right for him. She repeatedly tried to question him. After several warnings from Mr. Nottingham, she still didn’t back off and it was necessary to remove Devon from the office area and send him to a nearby room. This was the only way to get Ms. Miller away from him.
When Devon’s mother arrived, Mr. Nottingham brought her into my office. I greeted her warmly,
“How are you doing? Thanks for coming in today. I sent for you because Devon was beating another boy in line. He was very violent. We are trying to figure out how to stop him from hitting other children. I was hoping to hear your thoughts on why Devon is acting this way.”
“I don’t know why he is acting any way,” she replied. “You should talk to him if you want to know why he’s doing something.”
“Talking to a nine year old about why he is attacking another kid doesn’t often work. Usually they say, ‘I don’t know.’ I find it more helpful to talk to a young child’s parent when the child is acting very aggressive.”
She replied. “I don’t know what the big deal is.”
“The big deal is that your child just punched another boy in the face five times. He kicked the boy in the butt. He almost knocked the boy down the steps. When the teacher went to stop him, he told her, “Fuck you.”
“That’s what you say but I didn’t see it. I don’t have trouble with him at home.”
“You didn’t have to see it. We are telling you what happened.”
“I don’t know if you’re telling the truth,” she said.
“ Your child assaulted another child. I need your help in figuring out what’s happening with Devon. Is there something that might have upset him?”
“I don’t like the way you’re talking down to me.”
“No one is talking down to you. I’m trying to figure out how to help your son in school.”
“That is your job. I can’t deal with what he does in school. I’m not here,” she responded.
“You are his parent, you are responsible for him.”
“I don’t like the way you are talking to me. You want to dictate what I do.”
“We aren’t getting anywhere. Let’s deal with Devon’s behavior.”
“You can’t dictate to me. I’m going to go down to the School Board, I’ll take care of you.”
“Do what you have to do,” I said. “I’ll give you the names of the people you need to contact if you are not satisfied. We have a serious problem. I am suspending Devon for two days and I am referring him to Saturday School.”
“I’m taking him home. You can’t talk down to me or dictate to me.” She rose from her seat to leave. When Devon’s mom opened the door that led back into the main office, she started to curse.
“Fuck you! You can’t tell me what to do.”
I asked her to leave. After a few more curses, she relented and with her son in tow, she left the building. The therapeutic support service aide, who stays with Devon during part of the school day, asked me if he could call his boss. We stepped into my office. He shared with me his observations regarding Devon’s bullying. It was taking place when the aide wasn’t with him. The amount of service he was authorized to provide was limited.
I asked if Devon was also receiving counseling and mobile behavior services from his mental health agency provider. The aide said he was, but it had not been very effective. The agency was having a difficult time with the mother. How she had acted with me was similar to her interaction with the agency staff.
I realized then that I needed to soothe Ms. Miller, whom I had left sitting in the hallway. I asked Ms. Sample to send her in to see me. Unfortunately, she had left in a huff shortly after I took Devon’s mother in to my office. Ms. Miller had taken both of her children with her. She was probably already home, making a call to the District office. I decided I would call her later in the afternoon and set up a meeting. I spent the remainder of the morning visiting classrooms.