Monday, August 1, 2011

Best Boss

Best Boss
By Rob Watson

In my post on my First Year Teaching I described what had to be the worst long term experience of my life. The readers of this will be better prepared for the following if they have read that post.  My second year teaching was only a point or two, on a scale of ten, better. However, I closed that first tale on a happy note: my new boss (Principal) was the best boss I ever had. This should in no way be taken as a mark against the half-dozen or so other really good people for whom I was privileged to work over the years. (There were some bums in there as well.)

A couple of weeks after leaving my first teaching job, I was invited to visit my new school and meet Principal. He was a big man but not fat, Early fortyish, short salt and pepper hair. He had an outdoor look and moved like an athlete. He had a confident air about him. When he spoke his mouth took a distracting twist. He was a vast encyclopedia on the people around him. His judgement of these people was always direct and without error. When I spoke to him a few years ago, I found he still thought I had a good knowledge of my subjects. (I was exceedingly careful not to prompt an opinion of my classroom control skills)

Like my first principal, Principal handed me my books (6) from which I was to teach six different math classes in five periods. (unlike year one I had 2 1/2 months to prepare, instead of 2 1/2 minutes) He showed me to my classroom and gave me its history... An old music room that had been added some years after the main building had been built. He then carefully described a "situation" from the previous year. Two students had filed a law suit against a coach for physical abuse... they were paddled for bad behavior. The suit came to trial and the students lost.

Principal showed me pictures of these students and instructed me not to ever touch them... If they became a problem I was to send for him immediately. He then described other students and problems I should expect from them and how to best handle those problems. These sessions continued throughout the year. With his own four children in school, Principal had his own "information network". I never doubted that he got regular reports on me and all my successes and failures.

My one glowing success, the story of which went around the school like a grass fire in a Wyoming wind, involved a math problem. I think the class was Algebra. I had given a set of word problems for homework. Next day several students reported one of the problems could not be worked. I told the students to pay attention while I worked the problems on the board, then we would look at the one that could not be worked. I put the three problems on the board and explained how each should be worked. Then I worked each in  turn. When I asked about the problem that could not be worked... "It's the second one on the board."

Apparently, a group of the smarter students got together to do a "group study" on the problems the day before. They were unable to find a solution and went to the 8th grade math teacher (who also taught an advanced form of algebra to 8th graders... this was in the years before it was thought 'advanced' classes hurt the self esteem of those who were not in advanced classes) This man is an entirely competent mathematician. (I can only guess he had a brain freeze at the time) He was unable to find the solution.
Thus, the stranger and outsider out shined the here-to-fore math whiz. (and, yes, I am fully aware this was not much of a success)

One afternoon, last class of the day, a brain freeze of my own lead me into what could have been a repeat of the "monkey" incident of my first year. I was explaining problems on the board. The student directly in front of me had turned his back to me and was talking to the girl behind him. I picked up a foot long chalk board eraser and tapped him lightly on the ear. the residual chalk on the eraser covered the left side of his face. Before the class could stop laughing the bell rang to end the school day.

A minute or so later I was "invited" to my classroom door (located beside the stream of students exiting the building) to face an extremely angry mother. She was breathing fire. To condense the data stream, it seems she was concerned that I had, or could have, caused her son brain damage. My mouth was open but nothing came out... much to the amusement of the students walking past.

Out of nowhere, Principal showed up. He got between the mother and myself and completely shouldered the fight. I became, no more or less than, a casual observer... of a battle over my competency. Principal insisted I was competent and without flaw of any kind (which, I am sure, Principal could have had cause to doubt). As the fight raged on (much to the amusement of the students walking past) the recurring theme of brain damage brought me to my senses.

I judged this mother to be a sane and competent person who was just under stress. With that in mind, I walked back into the classroom and picked up the eraser that had hit the student. I walked back to the edge of the ongoing shouting match and began to flex, twist, and bend the offending object. (You see it was quite soft and flexible with no hard parts)

The mother's eyes caught this motion. She stopped in mid sentence and paused without comment eyeing the flexing eraser. Principal also paused. After several seconds she asked me if that was the eraser with which I had struck her son. My only spoken words of the encounter: "Yes, ma'am." Mother took the eraser from me and flexed and twisted it in her hands.

Mother handed the eraser back to me. She grabbed her son by the shirt collar, gave him a serious jerk and said "come on boy" and walked away without another word to me or to Principal. While this young man was large and tended to be troublesome, I never had another problem with him. Principal, much to his credit, never retracted a word he spoke in my defense, not in my hearing, nor that of my friends.

If my sources are correct Principal assended to the position of Superintendent of Schools for that school system. He later became a school board member, then school board president.

My wish for you, the reader, is that sometime in your working life, you have a boss like Principal. One who recognizes your flaws and uses that knowledge to guide you to a be a better professional. One who also has the strength of character to defend you against all detractors.

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