Sunday, February 16, 2020

A Trip to the Principal's Office--Half a Century after Graduation

I sub in our little town--K through 12. I'm nice, I kid around, I teach all I can when I can, and encourage kids to apply themselves. I teach them the one thing they'll never get any more of is time. The little ones make me cards with hearts  and write stories about how I fight off the evil pop quiz monsters. The middle graders write, "Ms. Marlis is the best!!!" on the white boards, a standard and acceptable form of sucking up.

We do yoga, the starfish stretch, and for the more anxious kids we do "tapping." You can check it out for yourself: An anxious second grader with chronic headaches and stomach issues, who wanted only to be allowed go home, let me teach her to tap, and two weeks later ran to me on the playground all bouncy and bubbly to report it was working, and her mom and teacher were delighted with her improvement. (She's older now, so instead of running to me for hugs, we grin at each other and tap our chins in a private greeting.)

Just today I got an affirming high-five in the high school gym from one of the cool boys and the usual hug from another kid who seems to have made me his pet sub. You get the picture. I do okay.

So . . . when I got a call from the principal of one of the schools to come to the office to "talk," I was not only surprised, but as apprehensive as when I was a teen. Seriously? A formal meeting in her office?

The walk down the hall was reminiscent of other walks of shame more than half a century ago. Yes, I really did cut class, and yes, one day in 9th grade I really did not even bring shoes to school to wear, and so on. My junior-year English teacher explained that I was an A student doing B work and getting a C because I was so disruptive in class. But that was then, right?

When the principal smiled and asked me how I thought my subbing was going, the red flag shot to full mast and began flapping. Pretty well, I said. Was there a problem? Well, yes, in fact, there had been a problem reported . . .

When the 7th graders asked me if they could work with partners, I asked if they usually did, and they answered in the affirmative, so we partnered up. And, yes, it got a little loud. Enough so that I put two pairs in the hall to spread them out more. And so I didn't hear the heated exchange of insults between two boys in language that is not appropriate. As it would happen, some other students overheard and ratted them out.

Lesson learned: if it's not written down in the sub instructions, don't go there. Regardless of how many of the darlings insist it's really really okay.

A pleasant chat followed, and I said I'd get stricter with the kids. I wrote an apology to the teacher, who wrote a lovely "not-to-worry" email back.

And what I was thinking was how lucky they never found out that the H.S. band convinced me they could stand on their chairs if they'd memorized their parts. My first-born daughter, who teaches fourth grade, sent me a big MOM! text and talked about liability insurance. No students or horns were harmed, but I've made sure they keep their feet on the floor.

And I'm pretty sure the art students who waved and laughed at me through the window when they realized I'd locked myself out of the room did not pass that news along. Why would they give up the leverage?

And I'm truly grateful that the disgruntled boy in the fifth grade who kept insisting he wanted to work with a partner didn't tell his teacher that I told him--with a tad of frustration, I'll admit--that what I wanted was to go to a dance in a red dress and drink a beer, but that that wasn't happening either. (Who knew that beer--which echoed throughout the room in whispers--was a trigger word?)

In English class last week when I had received written instructions that no one was to leave the room for anything but a trip to the bathroom, I finally got them to word their requests to leave "appropriately" (I suspected such devilry as runs to a locker for a forgotten item or the refilling of a water bottle). I'm learning how to survive the system all over again. And now, when they try to tempt me into bending the rules, I just tell them I've already been to the principal's office and I'm not risking that again. It's given me quite a lot of street cred.


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