Tag Archives: school

Why Kids Misbehave in School

Five years into retirement and I still read school related articles from time to time.  Although there have been changes since I retired after 37 years as a teacher, coach, and school administrator, the articles I read prove some things never change.  Student behavior or misbehavior is one of those things that remains relatively the same year after year after year.   As long as there are schools, there will be kids who, for whatever reason, choose to be rebellious, defiant, disrespectful, and obnoxious.  Why?  Every year countless articles and books explore that question, but to date, no one has come up with a better answer than kids are human, and humans are impulsive, unpredictable, and make dumb choices.   Education discipline jargon changes yearly, and new enlightened gurus appear on the scene proposing the newest and greatest solutions ever conceived, but like the gurus before them, their solutions often prove ineffective and useless for dealing with negative student behavior.  The number of books published annually on this topic is a clear indicator there is not an easy answer or cure-all solution.  Education authors lay the blame for school discipline problems on bad apples, the teacher, poor parenting, peer influence, bullying, stupid choices, and academic difficulties, but the truth is school discipline problems are caused by all of the above laced with a healthy dose of animalism, humanism, and hormones.

If you follow Facebook, you will most likely be led to believe kids misbehave because they are mutinous little hellions, they come from bad stock, or they are simply BAD APPLES.  Fortunately, such reasons are rarely the case.  In my experience as a teacher and school administrator, I seldom faced a disobedient or rebellious student who was a pure evil BAD APPLE.  As a good friend often reminds me, “God don’t make no junk,” and tongue in cheek bad grammar aside, he is right.  All children have worth; it sometimes takes extra patience and prayer to find it in some, but they all have worth.  In my 37 years as an educator, I would say less than 1% of the students I dealt with for behavior problems were just plain bad, and even that handful usually went on to become responsible citizens as they grew into adulthood.

“It’s the teacher’s fault!” is the number one cry of too many parents when confronted by reports their child is misbehaving at school.  Many parents like to point at the teacher as the problem because they are frustrated themselves with junior’s behavior, or they are not adult or savvy enough to understand most teachers will do backflips or whatever it takes to avoid having a parent conference due to a child’s behavior.  Teachers want to be left alone to do their jobs, and there is maybe a 1% chance they will hold a grudge against a child, take revenge against a child, or intentionally do anything to a child that will ultimately result in a hostile parent conference.  Teachers have degrees for good reason; they are smart, and it is not smart for an adult, especially a professional, to create circumstances that result in extra work and stress.  However, teachers are not perfect, so it could be the teacher’s fault if a child misbehaves, but not likely.

Likewise, the number one reason teachers give for student discipline issues in the classroom is “poor parenting.”  Although, they rarely know for sure, teachers are often quick to blame mom and dad for the child’s disruptions in the classroom.  They see disrespect, rudeness, and defiance as traits of poor upbringing, and although there is some merit to such perceptions, there are often other influences or factors that are the real cause.  Parents, like teachers, are not perfect, but most of them do the best they know how to do when raising their children.  Like teachers, they despise parent/teacher conferences and would as soon get a root canal as attend one.  Both teachers and parents need to understand, student misbehavior in the classroom is the student’s fault; there is no one else to blame!  The student made the choice to be disruptive or lash out, and the student should be held responsible for his/her disruptive behavior!  It is important to understand why they chose to act out, but it is just as important, if not more so, to hold them accountable for their actions.  Consequences for poor choices is the only way to teach children to be responsible, caring human beings.

Although schools are much more aware of bullying today than a few years ago, it still happens.  In cases where a child is bullied by another child, we often think of the bullied child as one who withdraws within himself, isolates himself, or becomes depressed and even suicidal; we think of a helpless victim.  However, a bullied child can sometimes lash out.  As a defense mechanism, such a child can take on the role of the bully with his peers or even become a disruptive force in the classroom.  Such a child is not a bad apple, mistreated by teachers, or the product of parental malpractice; the bullied child takes refuge in the only protection he sees available to him – “if you can’t beat them, join them.”  By becoming part of the problem, the bullied child builds a wall of protection that shields him from further torment and provides some semblance of sanctuary.

A more likely reason for unruly behavior at school is peer influence.  When growing up, did your parents ever say, “If Susie jumped off a cliff would you also jump off the cliff?”  Mine did, and quite often!  If you are 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, or 18 the answer is “YES! You would follow Susie off that cliff!”  Middle and high school students are likely to try anything, regardless how stupid, if they think it might be fun, make them more popular, or get them noticed favorably by their friends.  Peer influence is more of an inducement for disruptive behavior than all the bad apples, vengeful teachers, poor parents, and bullying combined.

Sometimes students misbehave at school because something is out-of-whack at home.  Students from good homes with the best parents are not immune to behavior problems in school.  There are times when things go wrong in the best of homes with the most loving and caring parents.  In a world of shrinking commitment, children are often the unintentional victims of family quarrels over finances, infidelity, and divorce.   Such potentially life altering events in a family cannot help but ride to school on the shoulders of children who out of hurt, frustration, and feelings of betrayal and abandonment act out contrary to their norm.  In my experience as a school administrator, roughly ten percent of student behavior issues were the result of problems at home – not issues of bad parenting, but issues that threatened to tear the family unit apart.  Under such conditions, even the most even keeled child can break and lash out.

The number two reason for student misbehavior in school is stupid choices.  As smart and sophisticated as kids are today, they still make stupid choices.  It is no secret that teen elevators do not always go all the way to the top floor.  They are not only at the mercy of peer influence and pressure, but all too often, they are impulsive and empty minded.  Little thought is given to consequences for their actions.  For example, I still recall the stench of deer urine a student poured in a friend’s locker as a practical joke.  The books in the friend’s locker as well as the books in adjoining lockers were saturated and ruined with the stink.  The smell was so bad the whole locker section, approximately thirty lockers, had to be closed off and two classes had to be evacuated and reassigned elsewhere in the building.  On top of that, the student had to make restitution for a couple hundred dollars in damaged textbooks.  Was the student who committed the foul deed a BAD APPLE?  No, but he caused a major disruption of the school day just the same!

Finally, the number one reason for student misbehavior in school is by far the saddest – academic deficiencies.  When I was a high school principal, my assistant principals and I studied discipline data religiously.  We especially focused on students with habitual discipline problems.  We combed the data and reviewed cumulative folders looking for clues that might show how to best intervene with the student.  What we found was over fifty percent of students with habitual discipline issues were a grade to two grades behind, struggled academically in two or more core subjects, and could not read on grade level.  Academically, they had little hope for passing to the next subject or grade.  They could not keep up, so they disrupted class out of frustration and to cover up their academic difficulties – primarily, their inability to read.  If a child cannot read when he reaches high school, he is lost, and there is little that can be done to get him/her back on track.  Therefore, what else can a child do but act out and become a discipline problem?

During a school year, school administrators, especially at middle schools and high schools, will be confronted by discipline issues ranging from mean spirited to ridiculously stupid.  Except for a very few kids, they will find BAD APPLES are rare, and misbehavior is a human reaction to the cards life deals, or the result of stupid human choices.  Over time and with help, 90% of kids learn to deal with life’s ups and downs as well as learn from the stupid choices they make.  These kids move on to bigger and better things in life.  The other 10% is why principals, assistant principals, and guidance counselors earn their paychecks.  If they don’t give up on that 10%, ninety-nine percent of the time, those horrible little hellions are also likely to turn out all right and become productive citizens.  When that happens, teachers and administrators should write their own book!  They did something right, and it should be celebrated and shared with the world.

JL

 

©Jack Linton, April 18, 2018

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House Bill 957:  Same Song Different Verse

Does it ever end?  From Mississippi Senator Angela Hill’s bill to do away with the Mississippi Department of Education to Speaker of the House Phillip Gunn’s bill to bounce the MAEP education funding formula for a new less expensive formula, the assault on Mississippi Public Schools goes on, and on, and on.  Since 2013, to inform people of efforts in Jackson to weaken and dismantle public schools, I have written enough for a book on the plight of public education in Mississippi.  For those who have listened, I along with many others have written and warned about what is happening, and true to those warnings, the nightmares are becoming reality.  With little to no input from state educators, legislating and railroading changes to public schools that are not always in the best interests of children and teachers appear to be escalating.  In Mr. Gunn’s case, he has done everything from writing a new education funding formula to handpicking the man who could push his bill through the House to the Senate in record time.  Never mind the bill contains issues, and it is less than complete as acknowledged by the House Education Committee Chair.  According to state leadership, those are trivial things that can be worked out later.  Right, and we can believe teacher pay in Mississippi will be raised to the national average in the near future!  As for Mrs. Hill, buying into the reasoning behind her chaotic idea to do away with the Mississippi Department of Education makes about as much sense as conceding all government control to local independent fiefdoms, but maybe chaos is her end game – at least for public schools.

There is a little more rationality in Mr. Gunn’s proposal.  He argues the MAEP formula was written almost twenty years ago and has failed to keep up with classroom needs.  He is partially right.  MAEP became law in 1997, but what the public does not hear him say is the formula has failed to keep up with classroom needs because it has been fully funded only twice in those twenty years.  It is Phillip Gunn and his fellow legislators who have failed to meet the needs of the classroom – not the current funding formula!

Why should anyone with a lick of common sense believe a new formula will fare better?  Two maybe three years down the road, 2020 maybe 2021, we are likely to hear once again legislators cannot be held accountable to an education funding bill passed by a previous legislature – only then, they will be talking about the 2018 Legislature.  State legislators have successfully gone down that road before, so why should they stray from a proven path.  They won’t, especially when they have duped the public into believing public school educators are the bad guys and private and school choice hungry legislators are the saviors.

I do not suggest all legislators are at war against public schools; there are a few who stand by state educators.  Those few are the reason Richard Bennett, Republican Representative from Long Beach, was handpicked by Gunn as the new House Education Committee Chair.  As a colleague and friend, Gunn knew Bennett was not likely to be swayed to any degree by those few dissenting voices.  From day one, not only did Bennet blindly champion Gunn’s funding bill, he did all within his power to railroad the bill into law.  By his own admission, he has never read the MAEP formula, so he really doesn’t know if the new bill is better or not.  His job was to run Gunn’s bill through the motions and get it to the Senate quickly with as few questions as possible.

Thank goodness there were a few legislators in the House who asked, “Why the rush?” For Gunn and Bennet that was simple, push hard and fast, and don’t allow time for study and knowledgeable pushback that might delay the bill’s passage.  As Democratic Representative Jay Hughes of Oxford noted, the 354-page bill was filed Thursday, January 11; dropped to the House floor Tuesday, January 16; and passed on to the Senate Thursday, January 18.  In comparison to time frames legislators usually work under, that is a remarkable achievement.  Such swiftness and urgency are almost unheard of, especially with a funding bill that should be studied, discussed, and tweaked often prior to any vote.  Instead, Bennet asked the House to fast track the overhaul of the public school funding formula.  He told lawmakers they would have two years to work out any discrepancies or problems in the bill, so they shouldn’t worry about any issues – just pass it.  Does that mean once passed they can manipulate the law anyway they choose?  Of course, it does; they’ve been doing that for years.

This smells strangely of deeds that should be scraped from shoes before entering the house.  Why soil the carpet when it is simpler to clean the mess at the door?  For whatever reason, Mr. Bennett and Mr. Gunn have chosen not to do so, but Mr. Bennet has given his word they will clean up their act over the next two years.  He seems to think his word is good enough, but he has been in Jackson long enough to know better.  Teachers were given the word of state legislators in 1997, but legislators honored their word only twice over the next two decades.  Why should anyone who believes in and supports public education in this state believe Mr. Bennet now?  He is most likely an honorable man, but educators in this state have been bitten too many times in past years by legislators professing to be honorable men.  If you need a reminder of leadership ethics in Mississippi, think back to Initiative 42, and the boatload of mistruths used to confuse and divide the public’s support of public schools.

“We’re going to work through it,” Bennett said.  “This is not something cut in stone.”  Maybe so, but I for one will have to see it to believe it.  True, HB 957 may be an attempt by the legislature, as some have suggested, to apologize for years of inadequate funding and compromise with a formula that provides a watered down though more realistic funding formula in the eyes of legislators.  If that is so, House Bill 957 may be a bullet all educators have to bite and learn to live with at some point.  However, it does not make it easy when the process is surrounded by haste, isolation, and secrecy.  Trust means inclusion and respect, which is something public school educators have rarely received from state legislators.  It’s not easy to trust when educators have watched helplessly as other legislative promises that were cut in stone crumbled under them.

JL

©Jack Linton, January 20, 2018

The Continued Success of the Petal School District is not Luck!

Is the only constant in this world the success of the Petal School District?  I was blessed to serve twenty-five years as a teacher, coach, and administrator in the Petal School District, and it was a great school district before I arrived on the scene, it was a great school district while I was there, and it is a great school district today.  Recently, the state released school accountability scores and rankings, and the Petal School District was once again ranked in the top five school districts in the state (number one in mathematics).  No one was surprised because no one can remember when or if there was a time in its history that Petal was not ranked at the top.  The mark of a great school district, athletic team, or great business is the ability to sustain success over time regardless of who is at the helm or in the trenches, and the Petal Schools have done a remarkable job of maintaining success even when key personnel have changed.

In the past four years, the District has had two superintendents, changes in directorships, and multiple changes in school principals and assistant principals, yet, it has remained a top-rated school district.  That is amazing!  However, what is more amazing is the District has maintained its success even with the loss of some great teachers who have retired or moved elsewhere due to family and career decisions.  Common sense says for a school to be successful it must have great teachers in the classroom.  In fact, research supports a quality teacher in the classroom is the most crucial factor in the education of a child.  However, in an era of state and nation-wide teacher shortages, it is not easy to find quality teachers to replace outgoing quality teachers even for a school district, like Petal, with a strong discipline and academic reputation, so how does Petal do it?

Having worked in the school district, I am very familiar with the “movers and shakers” (great educators) among the teachers and administrators, but until recently, while browsing the District website I was unaware of the turnover that has occurred over the past four years.  The school websites are filled with new teacher and administrator faces at almost every school.  Most of the old guard is gone!  The people I always believed made the schools great were missing, but success marched on without them.  How could that be?  Maybe, there is truth to the adage, “One monkey does not stop the show.”

Before I retired, I often bragged, the key to my success at Petal High School was the quality of teachers that lifted me and the students on their shoulders and made what sometimes appeared impossible possible.  Although many of the administrators and teachers who carried me to success are now gone, Petal High School and the District continues to be successful.  That is not only a tribute to the recruiting efforts of the District, it is a tribute to the foundation on which the District is built.  Superintendents, directors, staff, teachers, principals, and school board members come and go, but the two constants, the two non-negotiables, that never change in the District are “everyone is accountable for learning” and an undying attitude that “ALL children can learn.”  These constants result in a successful school district year after year regardless who leads the way in or outside the classroom.

Faces change, but as the battle-scarred veteran teachers gradually move on to another phase in their lives, fresh faces arrive to grow into their shoes.  Like those before them, they pick up the banner of excellence, refuse to lower standards for themselves or their students, and rise above the crowd.  They do so because that is the PETAL WAY; the only WAY for a Petal educator!  Petal educators expect the impossible of themselves and the children they teach, they rise above their imperfections and the imperfections of their students and show them what may seem impossible is but a grain of sand in their shoe.  They lift kids – their own and the kids of others – on their shoulders and carry them – sometimes kicking and screaming – to heights they would never know unless their teacher sacrificed a piece of their life, their heart, and their soul to show them the way.

However, where does the district continue to find quality teachers who have the ability to pick up where the masters left off and walk in their shoes?  Contrary to widespread belief, good teachers are not a dime a dozen; they are few and far between.  They cannot be contracted through Amazon and arrive in the classroom in two days, so where are they found?  Maybe, there is a secret door hidden under a green moss laden bluff somewhere along the Tallahala Creek where teachers with iron nerves who do not know the meaning of “quit”, teachers with hearts of glass kids can look into and learn trust, and teachers with eyes that say, “I am here for you – take my hand” stand waiting patiently for their time to step forward and cultivate our tomorrow.  Or, maybe quality teachers are born somewhere off the Gulf Coast in emerald waters salted lightly with rock flour and wisps of dreams and hope.  More likely, there are no secret doors or emerald waters, only a one-time school boy or girl who grew up to be a teacher with dreams to save the world one child at a time, and was fortunate enough to find like-minded people in a place that has yet to give up on its children and their dreams – the Petal School District.

Yes, year after year, it amazes me how superintendents, directors, staff, principals, teachers, and even school board members can change, yet, the school district continues to not only be successful but thrive.  Working hard and smart with kids as the bottom line while plugging in a sincere love for them and passion for learning is a surefire formula for success, and that success becomes even more sustainable when everyone from the superintendent to the custodian understands everything a school district does is about kids.  “Doing what is best for kids” is what ensures success for the District regardless of who the superintendent or the teachers in the classroom may be.  When a school district asks, “What is best for the kids?” prior to every decision it makes, it cannot not help but be successful year after year.  That single question puts every decision and every action in the proper perspective for a school district.  It enables a small, underfunded (by the state) school district like Petal to succeed where others fail.  My hat is off to those who laid the foundation, to the old guard who remain as models of commitment and excellence, and to those brave new faces that are carrying on the tradition of Petal excellence.  My hat is off to the Petal School District for always putting kids first.  By doing so, the District will always be a success!  Congratulations, Petal educators for another successful school year! You deserve every accolade laid upon you!  Your success is not luck!  You work hard for your success, so take a few minutes to enjoy a job well done, then get back to work – the kids need you.

JL

©Jack Linton, August 24, 2017

20 Life Tips all Graduates Should Remember

The end of another school year, and a new batch of graduates are ready to take on the world.  Ready or not, they are about to collide with reality.  The biggest collision for most graduates will occur in accepting responsibility.  For most graduates, during thirteen years of K-12 school, responsibility has primarily floated precariously on the backs of family, friends, and teachers, who enabled them to taste and play at responsibility, but never really commit to it.  That will change dramatically after graduation.  Graduates will learn quickly the world is big, robust, and wonderful, but contrary to high school lore, it does not revolve around them.  Unlike high school, they will learn they are not the center of the universe.  They will come to understand that responsibility is not optional, but a prerequisite for everything of worth in life.  Along with learning to love and respect one another, it is the center piece that provides balance to the world in which they live.

Keeping life in balance is a full time job; therefore, to all graduates, I have a few tips I would like to offer.  Tips from an old guy who has been there is about as fair as it gets in life, so listen up:

20 Life Tips all Graduates Should Remember. . . .

  1. Life isn’t always fair, but it is still good;
  2. Don’t take yourself so seriously; no one else does;
  3. Make peace with your past, or it will screw up your present;
  4. If a relationship must be secret, you shouldn’t be in it;
  5. You are either living, or you are dying; the choice is yours;
  6. If you want to be a writer, write! Don’t talk about it;
  7. Don’t save the good stuff for a special tomorrow; today is special;
  8. Responsibility for your happiness begins with you;
  9. What other people think of you is none of your business, so leave it alone;
  10. Believe in Santa Claus and miracles;
  11. All that really matters in the end is that you loved;
  12. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up, and show up;
  13. If you don’t ask, you don’t get; if you don’t play, you don’t win;
  14. Life is not tied with a bow, but it is still a gift;
  15. Try as hard as you like, but the past cannot be changed – move on;
  16. A good cry is okay if you move on after it is over;
  17. The opinions of others do not define your reality;
  18. You miss every shot you don’t take;
  19. Surround yourself with people smarter than you; and
  20. Your most valuable asset is you; invest in yourself.

Congratulations graduates!  Your greatest journey is just beginning.

JL

©Jack Linton, May 21, 2017

Teachers and Administrators don’t Enforce Rules:   A Case against School Dress Codes!

 

Teachers who do not consistently enforce school rules are not always bad teachers or irresponsible individuals; sometimes some of the best most dedicated teachers in a school do not follow the rules.  Some teachers, like some school administrators, hate confrontation, and enforcing rules means confrontation with the student, confrontation with parents, possible confrontation with the administration, and often negative vibes from students as well as other teachers.  For some, enforcing rules makes their lives messy, uncool, or even unpopular.  Others don’t enforce the rules because they feel they have more important things to do, and then there are those teachers who do not agree with the rule, so they simply ignore it.

So, why have rules in school?  If so many teachers look the other way rather than enforce the rules, why should schools bother with rules in the first place?  The textbook answer is that rules ensure a safe and orderly learning and teaching environment, but do they really?  It can be argued that rules provide a fighting chance to bring order to the chaos; however, is that what educators really want?  No!  What teachers really want is for kids, parents, and school administrators to leave them alone.  For many teachers, rules are tools of convenience frowned upon as an inconvenience and waste of time that creates negative confrontations.  They see teachers and administrators who dodge the rules as the smart ones.  Maybe, they are right, and if so, maybe, rules are not needed in schools!

However, regardless of what some may think, there must be rules!  Rules are necessary to enable teachers to teach and students to learn.  Unfortunately, like all things, there are good rules and rules that are questionable or make little or no sense.  For example, rules dealing with dress codes most definitely fall into the questionable category.  As a former teacher and school administrator, I believe dress codes are necessary, but it has been my experience few teachers agree with me.  Very few teachers really care what students wear to class.  I say this because very few teachers write up students for dress code violations, and the ones that do are often ridiculed by their colleagues.  So why have rules, especially a dress code?  Why hold a student accountable for a dress code that five out of six teachers in the school day ignore?  What is the school administrator to do when the sixth-period teacher turns a student into the office for coming to class naked when that student attended five previous classes in the buff and not a word was said by previous teachers about exposed wingydings in class?  The only option the administrator has at the end of the day is to give the kid a hat and send him home.  Now, I am slightly exaggerating, but when it comes to dress codes, it is truly almost that bad.  I realize correcting a student for a dress code violation shaves precious seconds off teaching the test, especially when there is not a single question on the state assessment that deals with student nudity, unless, maybe, someone slips in a liberal writing prompt.

Over the years, as a school administrator, I developed and enforced more than my fair share of school rules including rules governing dress codes.  To this day, I have forty year old former students walk by me in the mall and intentionally pull their tucked shirttail from their pants with a wink (tucking shirttails was probably the most despised rule I ever implemented as a principal).  I was a stickler for rules, and maybe too much so, but I believed then, and I believe now if you have a rule it should be enforced.  I also believe using a rule for any reason other than its original intent (i.e., allowing students to break the rule as a reward) is counter-productive and sends a mixed message to students, parents, and the community.

Therein lies my issue with current dress codes in schools.  Instead of teaching a lesson or addressing a safety issue, dress code rules in many schools today have become a part of the school reward system.  If students exhibit good behavior for the month, if there is a big district game, if a student collects the most Popsicle sticks, if a student brings a dollar to school, and the list goes on and on, they are allowed to break the dress code rule on a specified day such as Friday.  For example, they are allowed to wear clothing such as jeans or apparel outside of school colors.  That may sound innocent, but if the rule was important enough to be created, it should be important enough to be enforced consistently five days a week.  If it is okay to excuse students from the dress code on a game day, as a fund raiser reward, or for any other excuse, why have the rule?  It is counterproductive to the intent and purpose of a rule to permit students or adults to break a rule as a reward.  I am not against rewarding students, but don’t reward them by allowing them to break school rules!  Schools always talk about teaching kids to be good citizens; how can teaching them it is okay to break rules be good citizenship?  We have enough rule breakers in our society without training more.  If it is okay to reward students by letting them break a rule, maybe that rule is not relevant and should be done away with for every day of the week and not just on special occasions.   If eliminating the rule for one day is not a problem, the odds are good it would not be a problem if eliminated completely.

When it comes to school rules, it is fairly simple.  If a school is going to have a rule, it should be enforced consistently across the calendar.  If a teacher signs a contract to work for a school district, the teacher should be up to the task of enforcing the rules of the district or look elsewhere for employment, preferably in another profession.  Enforcing rules is not a fun job for administrators or teachers, but it is a necessary job made more difficult when a rule is used contrary to its intent.  If a school ever finds it okay to allow students to break a rule, it is time the school re-evaluated that rule.  If wearing jeans to school is okay on certain days as a reward, then it is ludicrous to ban them on all other days since it is obvious jeans do not pose a threat to a safe and orderly school environment.

If a school rule can be suspended as a whole or in part as a reward, then the rule has little if any bearing on the orderly function of the school and should be eliminated from the student handbook altogether.  The purpose of a school dress code is not to teach kids that rules are made to be broken or to provide a cash cow for local clothing vendors.  The purpose of the code is to enhance school safety and student learning five days a week.  Giving students permission to break a rule periodically sends the message to adults and students alike that the rule has little to do with safety and learning – at least not every day of the school year.  The bottom line is enforcement of rules must go beyond convenience; teachers and administrators should enforce the rules (dress code or any other rule) or dump the rules!

JL

©Jack Linton, February 12, 2017

Future School

George Bentley, principal of PS227, stood behind the steel fiber reinforced window in his office and watched the chaos in the hallway.  He didn’t know which was worst, corralling the students into classrooms in the mornings or herding them off campus in the afternoons.  Both were dangerous for him and his faculty.  When the kids were outside their classrooms, school administrators, faculty, and staff remained behind locked doors for their protection.  Supervision duties such as hall duty and cafeteria duty were things of the past.  Such duties were simply too dangerous.  Venturing into the hallways during class breaks or before and after school without an armed escort meant hospital time if not worse.

All public schools were basically the same.  They were little more than holding tanks for the “have nots” and the unwanted.  Public schools in 2049 were the consequence of over thirty years of public school privatization and rampant school choice that literally syphoned the life from public schools.  Left segregated along socioeconomic lines, poor whites and minorities who were no longer the minority wandered the hallways stripped of hope and their value to humanity.  Simply put, public schools symbolized the new segregated America.

Unfortunate teachers not recruited by the Corporate, Arts, and Athletic charters and academies taught from the confines of chain link steel cages bolted to the floor at the front of their classrooms.  School buses were equipped with steel cages to protect the drivers and military-like sweeps through the buildings conducted by loosely trained assault teams known as STAF (School Tactical Advance Forces) were the norm in public schools across the nation.  This was school of the mid-21st century – a cesspool operated under the guise of education – holding pens for throwaway juveniles.

The Corporate Education recruitment poster on Bentley’s wall depicted students studying quietly and listening respectfully to a teacher walking freely about the classroom.  It was a throwback to a time when education held promise not only for the affluent and talented, but for less blessed children as well.  Unfortunately, the promise ended when America washed its hands of public schools, and politically and socially branded them a lost cause.

A book ricocheted off the window sending Bentley recoiling against the wall.  Embarrassed by his reaction, anger and helplessness flooded him.  He jerked around to face the window and slammed a fist against the glass.  The window shook, but thankfully the reinforced glass held.  Outside the window, a tall dark haired boy shouldering a bulky book bag stared at him from the hallway.   Laughing, he motioned for Bentley to join him.  Bentley knew better.  He pushed the purple riot button next to window to call for STAF.

A cute girl with long sandy blonde hair walked up to the boy and began shaking her finger in his face.  Bentley recognized her as a new student.  Her registration had caused quite a stir among the clerical staff and faculty.  Her parents actually accompanied her to register which was unheard of at PS227.  Now just as mysteriously, she was in the face of one of the most feared bullies in the school.  Both fascinated and alarmed, he watched as she continued to shake her finger at the boy who just stared at her blankly as a crowd began to gather around them.  He pounded his fists against the glass until she turned to look at him.  “RUN!” he screamed at the glass, knowing she could not hear him.

As she looked at Bentley and tried to understand what he was saying, the boy slid the bulky book bag from his shoulder and swung the loaded bag in a high ark above his head bringing it down hard against her left cheek.  Her knees buckled, and she dropped face first against the unforgiving floor tiles.  The crowd went wild cheering and giving high-fives.  Laughing and bowing to his audience, the boy stood over his fallen prey and rolled her on her back with the toe of his shoe.  Blood flowed from a deep gash above her right eye where her head hit the floor; her left cheek was red and swollen from the impact of the bag.  Mocking her, pointing and shaking his finger, he spit in her bloodied unconscious face.  Bending over her, he ran his fingers across her face, and then turned to Bentley behind the window and smeared his bloody fingers across the glass.

Behind the safety of the reinforced glass, Bentley clinched his fists in anger.  He took a step toward the door and grabbed the knob before he thought better and released it.  Where was STAF?  Someone had to do something.  The mob outside his window grew wilder.  Several girls stepped from the pulsating mass, looked at the injured girl, and spit on her before returning triumphantly to their cheering friends.

A tall thin Hispanic youth whom Bentley recognized as Roberto Salinto, a ranking member of the Doric Disciples stepped from the crowd.  Salinto spoke to the boy, and when the boy, encouraged by the crowd, said something back, he slapped him hard silencing the crowd.  The dark-haired boy swung his book bag, but Salinto stepped aside easily and drew a heavy silver chain from around his waist.  The chain whistled as it cut the air and slammed into the boy’s jaw dropping him unconscious to the floor next to the girl.

Salinto smiled at the crumpled body and knelt next to the girl.  Running his fingers in a figure eight around her breasts and up the slender slope of her throat, his hand stopped at the gold chain around her neck.  He spoke to her, but there was no response.  He jerked on the chain – breaking it free, and stood as four STAF officers stepped through the crowd waving Tasers.  The officers saw Salinto and froze; their eyes locked with his.  He stared at them coldly, and calmly walked pass them back into the crowd disappearing instantly.

The commanding STAF officer barked a command at the mob, and they took a step back.  “Gentlemen, we have five minutes to get this event under control, and get out of here,” he shouted.  “Check the girl, and see if she can be moved.”

An officer knelt next to her and felt along the back of her neck and along her shoulders.  When he saw her legs move, he snapped an ammonia capsule and shoved it under her nose.  She recoiled against the harsh burn of the chemical, and instinctively pushed his hand away.  “Give me a hand,” he called.  “There doesn’t appear to be any serious injuries.  The quicker she’s on her feet the quicker we get out of here.”

Another officer joined him, and the two of them helped the girl to her feet.  She wavered unsteadily for a moment clinging to both of them for support.  The first officer spoke to her, and she nodded pointing to the boy on the floor.  Concerned by the seconds ticking away, the commander barked orders to four more STAF officers arriving on the scene.  The four grabbed an arm and leg and carried the boy toward the front doors of the school where a black van emblazoned with “STAF” across its sides waited.

An alarm blasted!  At the far end of the hall a red banner could be seen over the heads of a second more organized group moving toward the event.  The commanding officer’s ear radio buzzed to life with the voice of the Advanced Warning Dispatcher, “Sir, the Disciples are on the move.  You have maybe a minute before your current event escalates.”

“Time to move,” the commanding officer snapped at his men.  Immediately, they began to ease back in the direction of the van keeping the crowd, now growing bolder with the advancement of the red banner, at bay with the threat of the Tasers.  “Is the girl hurt badly?” he said to the officers supporting the girl.

“She’s pretty banged up, but I don’t believe there’s anything broken or life threatening,” said the first officer.

“Then leave her,” said the commanding officer, “and get to the van.”

“But sir,” the first officer protested.

“I am not going to allow this event to escalate beyond Tasers, so drop her where she is, or a lot of people are about to get hurt, and hurt bad!  You know the drill!  We’ve got to move and move now!  You know the rules of engagement, so move!”

The two officers looked at the wavering girl for a moment, and sat her gently on the floor before breaking into a full run to the waiting van.  Left reaching, the girl struggled to her knees but collapsed as George Bentley accompanied by two STAF officers stepped from the office door into the hallway.  The Disciples broke into a run toward them.  The officers grabbed the girl and carried her through the door into the office with Bentley fast on their heels.  As he pushed the door closed behind him he met resistance.  A booted foot was wedged in the door preventing it from closing.  Laying the girl on the office floor, the two officers rushed to his aid.  Hands shot through the space between the door and the jam and pushed to open the door.  The space grew wider.  Seeing they were losing the battle, one of the officers stepped back and released the strap holding his rifle to his shoulder.   “Oh, God,” Bentley thought, “please don’t shoot.”

The officer flipped the rifle and slammed the butt end hard against the leather ankle of the boot wedged in the door.  The ankle snapped loudly followed by a scream and the boot vanished from the opening.  Bentley and the second officer drove their shoulders into the door feeling it crunch against the fingers clawing and pushing at the shrinking opening.  Finally, with a final push, the hands withdrew amid screams, and the door slammed shut.  The Disciples went wild rushing and banging on the door, and then as if on cue they stopped, gave each other a few congratulatory back-slaps and high fives, and walked away as if nothing had ever happened.

The STAF commander waited ten minutes for the students to disperse, and then moved his men back into the hallways and herded straggling students to class.  Bentley watched from the safety of his office mentally and physically drained by yet another confrontation, but thankful no one had been seriously injured or killed.  The girl most likely had a concussion along with abrasions and bruises, but given some time, she would recover – at least physically.  STAF’ had once again prevented a minor event from escalating into a major catastrophic event.  Once again they followed the rules of engagement, but it was only a matter of time before there would no longer be rules to play by.  He could only pray he was gone before that day arrived.

JL

©Jack Linton, December 4, 2016

Riding Tall in the Saddle

As a young principal, I wish someone had sat me down, unscrewed the top of my hard head, and poured some common sense into my empty skull.  I would have been a much better leader if they had.  I learned about leading through trial and error with, unfortunately, more error than I would like to admit.  I now realize what many of my colleagues and staff could have told me years ago if I had been more inclined to listen – I blew it as often as I got it right.  Looking back at those early years, I thank the good Lord in heaven for having a sense of humor and allowing me to continue to learn and grow – heaven knows I didn’t always deserve it.   However, leadership is a journey, and learning from your mistakes is as much a part of the journey as getting it right – maybe even more so.

I learned the hard way that leading people is basically the same whether you are motivating a class full of middle school or high school students, coaching an athletic team, or involved in leading an organization with hundreds of employees.  Leadership is about being prepared to lead, establishing and building a foundation or platform from which to lead, and sustaining a clear focus on the cornerstones that lead to success.  Leadership is about knowing when to build fences and when to tear them down.  Leadership is about leading, not controlling, and most of all, it is about understanding THERE IS NOTHING SACRED ABOUT LEADERSHIP.  It is a people thing that will and should change to some degree as often as the people may change.  However, this takes time to learn, and although I wish I could say otherwise, I was a slow learner.

Being a leader is hard sometimes rewarding work, but more often frustrating and tedious work.  It is never ending, and it is all consuming.  It is unfortunate, but when you take a leadership role, such as principal, more often than not everything else takes a secondary role in your life.  That is why it is so important to have a spouse and family who understand the commitment and sacrifices leadership demands.  A supportive spouse and family are a must, especially if they understand the rank order of family and work are more often blurred than concise.  Family should always take precedence over work, but there are times when for a leader to function effectively, his job may briefly take priority.  The leader, on the other hand, must guard against such moments of necessity becoming the norm; he must always remember relationships are about balance, and he must do whatever it takes to maintain the balance between work and family.

Although I never did it well, I learned balancing relationships is crucial to successful leadership.  It is difficult to move an organization forward if relationships are rocky at work or at home.  Leadership is the art of moving people toward a common goal, and that cannot be accomplished effectively without strong relationships both at home and on the job.  Although there may be nothing sacred about leadership, relationships are the glue that holds everyone and everything together and enables the leader to focus on leading.  Relationships are critical and must be nurtured and cared for carefully as well as tenderly.

Relationships can be scary, especially for a first-time leader.  Relationships take trust, and at first, trusting anyone other than yourself is hard to do.  Therefore, the young inexperienced leader tends to read, research, and pray – pray a lot – for a secret formula or magical spell that makes his job easy.  In the beginning, I knew such formulas and magic had to exist.  Everywhere I turned, I saw people in leadership roles that carried themselves with such confidence that I knew there was something I was missing.  They possessed a confidence to ride tall in the saddle that was magical almost majestic.   I wanted what they had!  Fortunately, after years of trial and error, I finally discovered that great leadership is the result of an uncompromising work ethic, perseverance, getting up when you are knocked down, and luck as well as maintaining relationships that cushion the falls and brush you off when you climb back to your feet.  It wasn’t magical at all!

As my experiences grew, I learned through osmosis and hard-knocks when it was okay to bend and break the rules, when to stand alone, how to pick my battles, and when to challenge and cross over established boundaries.  It probably took too long, but I finally learned the secret to leadership lies in the ability of people in leadership roles to do whatever it takes to make positive things happen around them.  Leaders make things happen even when it is not popular, and they do not compromise success by taking a wait and see approach; they are proactive.  In other words, leaders learn to do two things: they learn to build relationships with others and they learn to build a relationship with themselves.  They do that by developing an inner confidence and trust as well as confidence and trust in others.  It is that trust that gives a leader the courage and confidence to ride tall in the saddle.

JL

©Jack Linton, October 23, 2016