It's been three days since I heard. I was descending my school's
stairs when my assistant principal stopped me. "I've got bad news," she said.
The sledge hammer of her words is now a thudding rhythmic pain. He died.
Pause. Pause. Pause. He died. Pause, pause, pause. He died. He died. He died.
The pounding makes my eyes narrow and my head shake as the truth of it,
unbidden, enters my mind. At work, my fingers lift from the computer's keyboard as his smile--broad and real; teeth straight
and white--comes to me. They scratch my forehead. Deaths of loved ones make me do that. I cover my face with my hands
and scratch my forehead.
I am bewildered.
Bewildered at this next and surely most awful thing to happen at that school. This? Really, this? Could
we not, years ago, have avoided this? His being called into the principal's office. "Already?" he must have said
to himself as he again made his way into that savage arena. "Already? Why, the school year has barely started.."
not have known that call for classroom coverage so that he, the union steward, could be present for another "Conference
for the Record" would be his last patient wait for another adult to take his place in his classroom. He'd again listen
to whatever trumped up charges the principal and his sycophants had documented against another teacher who'd said:"That's
a lie. I will not do/say/write that". He'd not known either that words like these would be his last to his beloved students;
"I'll be back soon. You be good boys and girls."
What made him stop at the door and look back in? What tug of children's eyes
on his back? There! His smile. His eyes. They speak: "Dear boys and girls. Good boys and
girls. Beloved boys and girls. I'll be back soon."
Mine is a state of disbelief. I cannot take in--cannot fathom--that he is
like being at church!" a delighted boy once spontaneously cried out as he and I presented a lesson together. His
turn, then mine. A duet. A performance. And a release for me; a fleeting feeling of freedom from the incessant
bondage of uncertainty our principal's sick leadership had created.
I did not want to leave that protective space--his and his students' fourth
to my school," I said two years ago. I'd called him from the school at which I'd accepted a position after my report
to the school district of our principal's bullying and violence. "There's a counselor's slot opening. Get out. You've
done all you can do there."
phone. A pause. "No. I am needed here."
I wish I were outraged. I wish I were beating drums and honking horns and
painting signs and picketing. I wish I were writing letters and organizing people and standing on rooftops with a megaphone,
screaming "THIS IS WRONG!"
I were "marching on Miami" and standing at the podium of my school board's meetings and saying, "Now whatcha
gonna do, huh? What's it gonna take to cover this up?"
I wish I were pissed off, angry, and vengeful. Wish I were filled with such
a lust for revenge that it carried my voice up and out of my vengeful belly and into the ears of others craving retaliation
for all of the lies and coverups surrounding that awful place. Wish I'd take those words to producers of TV shows and writers
of newspaper editorials, for his death--right there in the principal's office!--must be news worthy. There have been so many
of us bullied educators for whom he stood tall; for whom he spoke when we simply could not speak for ourselves; to whom he
offered the only solace and refuge we were to find in that house of horrors.
But I am not angry. I am not outraged. I am just sad.
My friend and my protector
There are so
many things wrong with the world. Wrong actions. Wrong feelings. Wrong places to be: born and living. Wrong.
I read somewhere that self
centeredness gets us better nights' sleep; that feeling people just plain suffer--wake up at night and fret. Self centered
people can more easily shrug their shoulders and say: "Oh well. What can I do?" about any number of atrocities
in the world; elderly abuse and bullying among them. When my two children are doing well--happy with school primarily--and
my husband is content with his job, then my two o'clock
in the morning wake ups normally focus on bullying; for children and for adults. I mostly write about bullied
adults in their workplaces,
but, most recently it's the abuse of the elderly that keeps
abuse is, of course, bullying of frail and vulnerable people. Adult children take things that do not belong to them.
They make doctors' visits and speak for their parents; visits that end with declarations of: "You-have-dementia-because-you-forgot-my
child's-name-so-you-may-not-ever-again-drive" visits used to move emotionally fragile people out of their beloved homes;
visits used to heave sighs based on ten minutes with family doctors--no battery of formal evaluations needed because that
doctor is saying and doing exactly what I need him to say and do!--and make plans that moms and dads may never return to their
homes of fifty and sixty and seventy years again because it would "upset" them.
Hell yes it's upsetting! Hell yes it hurts to climb stairs and see
that your children have taken everything from the upstairs and why wouldn't they do the same with the downstairs while you're
gone? Oh, it hurts to be deceived!
but s/he agreed!", those adult children might say. "See!? He signed the paper! He signed that it was his idea!
It says right here that she wants her dogs to go to a 'good home.'"
...and the dish ran away with the spoon....
Come back, dish! Come back, spoon! You two make me sick running
off that way! COME BACK HERE! WIPE THOSE SMILES OFF OF YOUR FACES!
...don't leave me alone with only my words and my wake ups...
My words now spill out; need
dreamt of an ear of corn last night; its silk protruding from its end. Soft is the silk. I smile. The silk is between
my thumb and index finger. It's soft like the silk of a baby's blanket. Then my surprise; then my horror...then their beefy
and callused hands grabbing the corn; dirty fingers and finger nails ripping husks. Straggling bits of soft silk exposed.
the soft and tickling corn silk. Ah! The brutal rip of the end of her independence.
"Boil that ear of corn, boys and girls! You got her now! Oh yeah!
you got him now.
spoon, if you had shoulders, you'd be shrugging them.
Go on then.
It's been eleven
years since I retired from a major airline and took up this "do-gooder" cause of school counseling. I was a flight
attendant. I worked hard. I loved it. Language qualified in French, Portuguese, and Spanish, I traveled
the world, danced salsa in places one would just not think salsa would be danced; ate foods pretending I'd understood answers
to my "What is this?" questions, and met people who, although one might think we'd have little in common, were
really just like me. They just happened to live somewhere other than where I lived. We shared laughter and smiles.
We'd sleep (if we were lucky on those cramped silver tubes with wings) and awaken in new places--both passengers and crew--jet-lagged
and exhausted, but excited; either to be home or to be a visitor.
I was paid to do all of that. Paid well. Paid to stay in superb
hotels, eat wonderful meals, visit places that this girl from rural Ohio would never have visited otherwise.
It was a good life.
I gave all of that up to "make a difference". "Life is
short," I said to myself when offered a full time public school counseling position. I'd spent a year in a temporary
slot at a local high school and was invited back full time. "If I don't do this now at 48, I will never do it,"
I thought to myself and so, with an opportunity to retire with 26 years of salsa dancing around the world behind me, I filled
in some paperwork, punched in numbers on a fax machine, and watched that paperwork "beep-beep-beep" its way (face
down!) through and out of the machine. I watched in fascination as I became a retiree of one job and a "newbie"
to better things!"
eleven years and I look back now because another retirement is, I believe, coming. I feel it. I feel the inner
push to get out of this oppressive place of public education. Feel the need to breathe. Feel the need to say:
"Get off of me layers of people--superintendents and school boards and directors and principals and governors and Bill
Gates/Eli Broads/Jeb Bushes--GET OFF!"
you see, I am at the very bottom of a heap of the "naked-like-the-emperor" people of public education and its reform...and
it stinks down here.
eleven years of being a public school counselor in a large urban and diverse district.
Looking back now at both of my careers--the one for which I needed only to have
a high school diploma and the one for which I needed a master's degree--I find, again, the inner mirth rising.
I made more money, had more
independence, felt more respected, had a more profound impact, more fun and more opportunities to contribute at the job that
required only a high school diploma. I slept better at night, ate better meals (mainly because those meals were prepared in
wonderful restaurants around the planet and the meals I eat with my current employment are meals I cook in my kitchen, but
"you-only-really-need-a-high-school-diploma" job, I participated in lots of special projects. I hired flight
attendants, trained them to be leaders, and worked as a liaison to management. I'd make my own travel plans, find my own transportation,
and "set up shop" all on my own.
was trusted. Didn't have to check in with anyone-just had to be where I was expected to be. My company knew I'd
do a good job. That's why they'd selected me.
had a different experience at my "you-must-have-at-least-a-master's degree" job. I make less money and have no independence.
I feel frustrated and disrespected. I have little trust in anyone of my district's leaders and my district's school board
for they have an agenda clearly different than what they say that agenda is. They say they care about children and then they
place violent principals in their schools. They say that employees must live ethical lives, but they themselves don't
live ethically, for--and again--above all else, they protect their principal friends, even with the irrefutable evidence of
the danger those principal friends bring to the teachers of those schools and the children those teachers teach.
I've had six principals in
my school counseling tenure. Three of those principals have been excellent and I will write about their excellence later.
Two have been abusive, bullying, and violent individuals--unpredictable, histrionic, petulant, and dangerous men; dismissive
and misogynistic. Downright scary.
principal was unavailable, ineffective, and rarely left her office. She'd raise her hand, for instance, and tell me
she did not want to know anything about any bullying case. Once I took pictures of graffiti that'd targeted teachers--it had
spilled from bathroom walls to the school's hallways--and again, I was rebuffed. So, yeah, I was frustrated.
As has often been the case,
it felt odd that I was seemingly the only one noting that the school's tumble into mediocrity could be laid at this principal's
office door. She was celebrated, literally, for being a queen. At her retirement, a throne was put on the school's
stage and red carpet laid out as she regally took her seat. It was, at best, perplexing.
I felt vindicated, though, when I was copied on a parent's email to my
superintendent. That parent's frustrations at my principal's inaccessibility, lack of warmth and, really, lack of leadership
was exactly how I, an employee, had felt.
had a principal threaten to write me up simply for introducing myself to parents (I'd done it without his permission--imagine
that!). I've had principals call me and "forbid" me to meet with community members wanting to partner with
our school. Imagine that. I've had a principal for whom I DID NOT WORK call me and ridicule and threaten me--put
me on speaker phone with others present--about my efforts to partner with my community's leadership and my community's public
schools to create a bullying prevention program for all of us. "You're not the only one who knows the police chief and
the mayor..." Imagine that...
regional leadership call me. I thought it was to thank me--how naive--but no: they'd called to tell me "I did not
represent the district." I've had directors of my district's "bullying and harassment department" (because
that's what it is--they bullying with the best of them) visit me in my office and call me on the phone--all to shut me down.
Their naked behinds are the first in the stinky heap; the first I want to GET OFF!
I've having a hard time pushing though and so, It looks as if I must retire
to get out and get some fresh air.
up: three excellent principals...and thank you, Jesus, I work for one of them now.
"I think this is
important: counselors really are not meant (in my opinion) to be the "ones implementing the curriculum". It
would be so powerful if every teacher facilitated a conversation weekly on character building/bullying prevention; empowering
for everyone...and keeps the teachers from passively waiting for someone else to do bullying prevention. Still, if at
the very least, counselors can get five lessons done for all students (virtually impossible), then, well, good enough.
But remember, we have district leadership stating it
is being done. Getting beyond that is a first and very big hurdle.
That's also where the
student case management code comes in. Each time I present to children, there is no code appropriate for bullying PREVENTION
work. There ARE codes for bullying events. They are "founded and unfounded" events--all after the fact.
So, I use the next best thing for my bullying prevention work---the
"group counseling" code. Obviously that's not accurate: I mean it's me presenting to a class-not group counseling!--but
it's the closest thing I've found.
Here's the point--and
it's important--the way to generate that all important DATA to hold schools accountable for their work in bullying PREVENTION
is to enter a specific code for PREVENTION work. We'd have hard numbers to look at. Those numbers would answer these
questions: How many students received the required prevention lessons? Which schools need a little assistance?
Administrators at all levels--principals, regional and district leadership--can sit around and discuss NUMBERS!!!!!
This is so simple and so potentially impactful--even at the state level. We need
codes to create the bullying PREVENTION DATA. I am truly surprised that someone at the district level stating it is being
done.....is enough. Anyway, those are my thoughts on that. Of course I don't know what goes into creating the
codes. I don't think it's a big deal. For instance, I know that when I facilitated the Alternative to Suspension program's
groups for the Parent Academy, a special code was created for that.
You may certainly use my
name with Dr. K. (and with anyone). Dr. K. and I have met. We've exchanged emails. I think I told you I like him
a lot. I would appreciate your letting him know that I am going to attend the Workplace Bullying Institute's training.
You are on target with bullying teachers and administrators. And it's not just that. It's this "just do enough
so we can document something" attitude that gets in our way as well...