Confessions of an Urban Principal
by Frank Murphy
Installment (5 of 8)
Today the kindergarten children started school. I love this day. It is our tradition that the entire school greets the new kindergarten boys and girls on their first day in the schoolyard. Immediately following the morning opening ceremony, I ask everyone to give the kindergartners a big round of applause. Then Valerie Marshal, one of our excellent special education teachers, leads the lower grade students in our Good Job, Good Job chant. It is a simple event, but we all enjoy it immensely.
As the lines started to enter the building, I asked the kindergarten teachers to wait with their children in the yard. I wanted a chance to greet the kindergarten children and their parents and to go over a few informational items.
It only took me a few minutes to review the essentials, like what time dismissal is and where the kindergarten lines exit the school. I introduced various staff members who were present in the yard. It was a low-key review of school procedures. When I finished, I asked if anyone had any questions. A parent who was standing off to the side of the group raised her hand. I didn’t recognize her. When I acknowledged her, she said, “I don’t understand why you are lecturing us. It doesn’t seem right to lecture us on the first day.” I was taken aback by her remark. She seemed to be looking for a confrontation.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t intend to sound as though I was giving a lecture. I just wanted to share with you some basic information while we were all gathered together.”
One of the other parents in the crowd called out. “That’s OK, Mr. Murphy. You are doing a good job”.
The parents started to applaud. Some more of the adults in the crowd called out, “You’re doing good.” The applause grew louder as did the shout outs.
“Keep up the good work.”
“Have a blessed day, Mr. Murphy.”
I replied, “Thanks for your support, I hope we all have a great year”. Again I’m sorry if anyone felt as though I was giving you a lecture.”
Their applause and remarks drowned out the angry noise of the one.
I was grateful to not have to endure a tongue lashing in front of the kindergarten children. My parents had rescued me.
Later, inside the building, the parent who accused me of lecturing to the parents appeared at my door and introduced herself to me. Her name was Ms. Yates. She had just moved to the neighborhood from another state. She offered her apology to me. She said she was angry because she had waited in the wrong place with her child for the start of school. It seemed as though she wanted someone to blame for her mistake. Her anger had to be released. The woman needed to ventilate and I was the target.
These simple acts of verbal violence are not uncommon in our school community.
Some of our parents, when they are angry, don’t respect social boundaries. They don’t concern themselves with the feelings or rights of others. Their thought process is simple. “I have been done wrong, my child has been done wrong and I’m going to scream and yell. No one is going to tell me what to do.”
You cannot reason with or easily calm such a person. You just ride out their storm and you repair the damage later. I am responsible for maintaining the safety of the school. I must calmly and forcefully deal with the people who are full of rage. The community looks to the principal to be in charge.
I knew that their attacks aren’t personal. They will act the way they do no matter who the principal is. I understand this. I have become good at letting their anger roll off my back. A few of these troubled people arrive each year.