17. A TEACHER/PRINCIPAL’S PAST AND PRESENT TROUBLE

Dear Readers: The following story is from a young lady principal that I got to meet while taking graduate coursework to be- a principal myself. I have set this story on TWP’s blog with the overview of this young lady. This is her story but it could be any educator’s story: A story about a person’s progression from youth to young adulthood to mature adulthood while coming to grips with one’s own past as well as the past of someone else. In this story, all the names, as always, have been changed to protect personal privacy.

A TEACHER/PRINCIPAL’S PAST AND PRESENT TROUBLE

My name is Angela and I am currently a principal at a typical elementary school in a mid-sized district in a southern state. Of course, to be a principal, you have to be an assistant principal, and for that, you need a Master’s degree and extensive classroom experience at some level. While I have achieved my ultimate career goal, the road to a principalship had some unexpected turns and twists that nearly caused me to leave education all together. This story of mine is a cautionary tale that I have warned Renee about- and all educators may want to heed the pitfalls that can befall even the most careful professional.

This story starts when I was a 13 year old teenager who was a cheerleader, softball player, girl scout- you name it, I probably at least tried out. In other words, my youth was quite unremarkable. At least until I heard about a new “addition” to my cul-de-sac neighborhood. One afternoon on the way home from school, my mother informed me about some friends of theirs up the street who added a new member to their household. Passing by their house, a banner said it all: IT’S A BOY!

What did this mean for me? Nothing right away. But I was already bugging my parents about getting a job so I could have $$$, of course! A year later my mom suggested babysitting our neighbor’s new addition for spending money. I was unsure at first but then took to the idea because they were only a half block (4 houses) down the road.

So this is how I first met baby “Kevin” and did so well that his parents kept me as their permanent babysitter until I left for college. Some people just “click” well with small children and Kevin and I did so very well. Kevin was never a problem and on those weekends that I cared for him, I did everything from playing with him in the swimming pool (Holding him, of course!), indoor hide-and-seek, giving him his bath, tucking him in, and reading bedtime stories- just to mention a few. The only negatives I recall are a few “tummy aches” and an ear ache in which Kevin cuddled next to me holding a warm cloth to his left ear. (I was sooo glad when his folks finally got home that night!) It got to be where Kevin started to say “sister” instead of “sitter” which his parents and I had a good laugh.

Well, the laughter finally had to end when I finished high school and left for college. My babysitting money helped me to buy the car that I packed all my belongings in for that first drive to the university 40 miles up the highway. Kevin, who was starting kindergarten, was teary eyed but I promised that I would see him again and for him to be a “big boy.” Not only did I drop by to say hello a few times but once, his parents took him up for a football game and surprised me! If you could have seen him run towards me in that pregame crowd! I will never forget the hugs and questions about where I had been along with his quizzing looks at my sorority sweater. And the funniest look on his face was when I said that I was going to be a teacher.

My last two years of college, I worked as a parttime waitress at a seafood resturuant and when Kevin’s parents found out where- it turned out that Kevin’s grandparents ate there once a month on weekends. So one evening, I had a big surprise- A smiling Kevin and his grandparents to serve. Well, that became almost a monthly routine and we all looked forward to it- and the tip $$$ was good also.

It was the last of those dinners that I mentioned that my student teaching was nearly over and that I would graduate with a teaching degree. When Kevin’s grandfather asked where I was applying at for a teaching job, I mentioned several counties, including my home school district. When I said that, Kevin seemed to perk up a little and then his grandfather warned, “Kevin, Angela might be your teacher next Fall, so remember…behave yourself or…” We all had a good laugh at that but looking back, I should have seen a red flag ahead of me with the word “or.”

The job search passed quickly and I did end up at Kevin’s elementary school. When I got the class roster the day before school- guess what-Kevin was in my class. Looking back, I should have promptly transferred Kevin out of my class and into the other 4th grade class. I didn’t think about the possibility that Kevin might not regard me as a teacher- despite his grandfather’s admonition-and that became a problem for both Kevin and me.

Kevin was just thrilled about having his “ex-baby sitter-sister” as his teacher. At the start of that first day, I had to take Kevin aside to tell to refer to me by last name as all the other teachers instead of “Angela.” A grinning Kevin seemed to understand and I saw no other potential problem with having him in my classroom. But reading the standard classroom rules took an ominous turn when I mentioned that the paddle was a last resort when all other options fail to change behavior. As expected, the kids giggled as I held up the 13″x 4″x 1/4″ wooden paddle for all to see. At first Kevin just starred and then had to cover his mouth to keep from laughing out loud.

That was a sure sign of future trouble and like a snowball rolling downhill, things gradually got worse. I was a nervous rookie teacher who never really thought that I would actually need to use a paddle. Looking back, I now realize that Kevin understood that fact and slowly evolved into a”superbrat” and became the “pack leader” of a classroom of “brats.” My teacher-colleagues were supportive but they all told me the same thing: You may need to use the paddle if classroom misbehavior continues. Just like the TWP bloggers, I did not go into teaching to be a disciplinarian but was being given no other option by a child who I had known since he was a baby.

Kevin was not a bad kid but was becoming a bad influence on the rest of the class. My initial resistance to using the paddle was finally overcome one morning after he had already been kept in from recess for throwing paper airplanes several times earlier.

The final straw was when, after everyone had settled down after recess to do their reading, Kevin decided to chew some gum. Please note that while chewing gum was not allowed, whenever I caught a student doing so-I just made them spit it out onto paper and throw it away with recess sit-in only if it reoccurred that same day. But Kevin decided to chew a very large chunk of gum in a manner that the entire class could hear.

I was irritated and snapped,”Kevin, come up to my desk and spit it out!” as I held out a tissue.

“Yes, ma’am!” a grinning Kevin replied as he picked up my empty wastecan and spit the gum directly into it.

“Plunk” was the sound that reverberated around the room as Kevin and the entire class rolled in hysterical laughter- BUT I WAS NOT LAUGHING! (All I was thinking of was the gum-mess that required me to get a new waste can because of the sticky residue!)

I then reached into my desk and pulled out what I never dreamed I would ever do-my paddle- and grabbed Kevin by the left arm and escorted him out of the room. Kevin, whose back was turned to me, was startled and started to protest but I cut him off stating,”Kevin, you just blew it this time and your former waitress is about to serve up something you will NOT like!”

When we reached the teacher lounge, Kevin saw the paddle and pleaded,”Please don’t paddle me…We are ‘friends,’ aren’t we?”

I was almost inclined to just give a warning but Brenda, another teacher on break, concluded that Kevin had already had enough second chances and said,” I think, since he has already been warned several times and the paddle is out,…you need to use it.”

I nodded and sighed as I looked at a sorry Kevin and said,”Kevin, I want you to turn around and face the wall…bend over with hands on the wall…and be still.”

“Please don’t…I thought we were friends…” Kevin whinned.

“Kevin, I am your teacher now and the lack of respect you have shown me since the first week merits this…I am going to give you three… because, as your teacher, you owe me a certain level of respect… which you have not even tried to give…So…”

With that, I looked to make sure nothing was in the back pockets, took careful aim and swatted Kevin’s lower pant-seat.

“Smack” The paddle sounded as Kevin barely moved. I was only intent on stinging Kevin a little, just enough to get my point across. Not wanting to really hurt him, I swung again in a short stroke, flicking my wrist.

“Smack” This time, Kevin started to whimper and I felt terrible myself thinking, “I hope I never have to do this… ever again!”

“Smack” The last lick was given half-heartedly since I could hear Kevin starting to sniffle- and my own heart was starting to break!

As Kevin turned around, I knelt down to look into his reddened eyes. Before I could say a word, Kevin threw his arms around me, laid his head on my chest as he had done as a toddler and bawled. I then held him and started to cry myself. Only Brenda was able to take Kevin back to the room as I needed another five minutes to recover. As to Kevin, he came to me at dismissal to apologize and hugged me again.

“Kevin sweetie, I hated what happened earlier and still hurt about it myself …So, please…mind me from now on and lets put this behind us…o.k.?”

Kevin then hugged me-again- promising to be good and took off out the empty room to catch his bus as Brenda and another teacher walked in- both grinning as they saw the whole scene.

Kevin later told me that the paddling wasn’t nearly as bad as the one the previous year and that the worst part was his fear of losing our “friendship” which I tried to explain that I could be no different than any other teacher. Regardless, I had no more trouble with Kevin and he passed my class into the 5th grade. I did not see him much after that- then he went to Middle school and I lost contact completely.

My life as a teacher was typical: Lesson plans, parent conferences, grading homework, and of course the occasional paddling which was never more than a few times a year. After a few years, I got married and took a couple of years off with my first child- Kevin never was in the wedding guest list because his folks moved and I had no new address. During my maternity leave, I decided to take some graduate studies in education administration and liked it so much that I choose to stay in the program and become a principal.

In a chance encounter years later, my mother and I ran into Kevin’s mom at a shopping mall. When I heard that Kevin was about to finish college and become a teacher, I nearly reverted to my cheerleader days right then. It had been 12 years since I had taught him and in that time, I had completely forgot about the paddling. Kevin’s parents were never told by the school and Kevin did not tell them either.

I was just finishing my first year as an assistant principal at the high school and when I heard Kevin and “secondary education major,” my mind went into overdrive. I insisted that Kevin MUST apply in my school district and that I would “put in a good word” on his behalf. When Kevin’s mom informed me that he was applying in my district, I nearly left then to bug my boss, the principal, to hire Kevin.

Well, I did pester my principal for two months that summer- and Kevin was eventually hired at last! I was like a kid myself in enthusiasm leading up to the district’s banquet dinner that was for new hires at the start of the school year. But I couldn’t of been more disappointed. At the conclusion of the dinner. I tried to approach the athletic young man and his lady companion but was ignored like a stray mutt as they yukked with some other teacher-coaches.

“Kevin, darling…you better not ignore your ol’ teacher…or I might “spank” you!” I mockingly threatened while playfully swatting his rear. Everyone laughed except Kevin and his date-both looking at me with “daggers” in their eyes. Kevin just looked at me with total contempt and his date then snapped,”You are not funny whatsoever…Lets go, Kevin…I wish not to be here any more!”

I went from the high of seeing someone I helped to raise become a teacher in my school to a low of self doubt wondering what I had done to deserve such shallow treatment. It still hadn’t occurred to me that the past had a dark side for Kevin- the paddling I gave him.

The first few months were uneventful and rather routine except for the first payday when I gave out the checks. That first time I jokingly stated,”Kevin, don’t spend it all in one place!” Kevin just snatched the envelope from my hand and responded,”I know how to spend my own money!” and walked out to his car. Days later, I also had the displeasure of having to witness a Kevin-style paddling with a large paddle like what is described in TWP’s blog as inappropriate. After just two swats, I stopped Kevin stating,” Stop, Kevin…Thats too hard and I’m keeping your oversized paddle…We do not bruise around here, understand?” Kevin just rolled his eyes and replied,”I didn’t know that you turned into such a ‘liberal’!” As the student walked back to the classroom ahead of us, Kevin whispered,”You had your ‘fun’ a few years back…So stop being so protective of my students…o.k.?”

As Kevin walked up the hallway towards the classroom, I was numb and speechless and just frozen in place. It was then that the memory of what happened years earlier hit me like a bolt of lightning. I then resolved to have a heart-to-heart chat with my fellow educator- to try and salvage our professional and personal relationship.

A few weeks later, I got the chance since football season was over and Coach Kevin was looking for his paycheck at the office. Everyone else had left or was leaving and I was to lock up the building later when the janitors left. I was leaning against my office desk when Kevin stuck his head in the doorway and asked,”Have you seen my check, Angela?”

“Right here, Kevin…Got a minute?…Please sit down because I need to talk to you,” I implored as I handed the check to its rightful owner.

“Nah, I’ll just stand…I’m not your student anymore…” Kevin snorted.

“Kevin…please…we are educators now…and the past is in the past and has no bearing…” I pleaded.

“Yes it does… especially in light of your lack of respect for me at the dinner three months ago!” Kevin shot back.

“I’m so sorry about the dinner…I was just kidding around…Please believe me…I was overjoyed that a former student of mine was going to be a teacher at my school!…I am so proud of…” I pleaded again.

“How can I ever have your professional respect if the one thing you know me for is the paddling you gave me years ago?…Don’t say anything else…I’ve got applications active in other counties…The first opportunity…I’m outta here!” stated Kevin.

“Please…Kevin!…That was the worst day of my career…I hated it and…If it will make you feel better towards me…I am sorry…really sorry about what happened…I was a young teacher and didn’t know what else to do!…I know it wasn’t hard-I held back but…I have cared about you since you were a baby and that paddling hurt me too!” I cried out as tears started to well up in my eyes.

“Angela, I am not angry about the paddling- it was light and the worst part was feeling that I had lost you as a ‘friend’ but…after the dinner episode, I decided that we could never be educators in the same school after a past like that…So, first opportunity I get, I’m gone from here!” Kevin replied as he tapped me on the shoulder and left my office.

All I could do was to close the door, sit down at my desk, lay my head on the desk in my hands and cry. As I left the building later, I was devastated and had to take the rest of the week off. Kevin and I crossed paths only a few times after that day and he did get on at another county school with the best reference I could give him.

I am now an elementary principal and a very successful one as well. While I greatly dislike using the paddle, I do use it on occasion as a last resort and never abusively. My question to TWP’s readers is: Can professional respect exist between two educators like Kevin and me when there is a “past” that includes a paddling between the two?

NOTE: We at TWP will forward any constructive comments to Angela but remember- BE CONSTRUCTIVE!

 

TWO QUESTIONS

We at TWP have two serious questions for the “committed anti- corporal punishment” crowd: How come teachers in non-paddling urban school districts are four times more likely to be assaulted by their students than teachers in rural or suburban paddling districts? Also, why is the rate of student-on-teacher assault much higher today than in the 1950’s or 60’s when paddling was more commonplace in schools? We at TWP can’t hardly wait to hear the “anti’s” theories on our questions.

COMING NEXT: TWP’s COMMENTARY ON “A TEACHER/PRINCIPAL’S PAST AND PRESENT TROUBLE

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