“I Am Not the Only One”
In the autumn of 1974, in my first year as school principal, a kind and gentle fifth grader named Davion was having trouble with some of the other boys in the class. In particular, Jeremy was becoming increasingly intimidating. The teachers intervened anytime they saw an incident. Jeremy had already been sent to my office once, and the teachers were beginning to talk to me about him. We felt that bullying was going on, but saw very few punishable offenses.
One day, Davion’s mother—a kind, thoughtful, single parent —came to my office to complain about Jeremy. I assured her that we had a policy of no tolerance for bullying or harassment. Any kind of physical or verbal violence was unacceptable.
She said, “I can understand people saying mean things to each other, but I have told Davion never, ever to be physically violent.”
I told her that we had the same attitude, but reiterated that I took an equally strong stand against verbal violence. I even told her about the new teacher who told her students that she has one rule: “Be kind,” and that the faculty and I were talking about making that the school rule.
“No physical violence,” she repeated. “It’s an absolute.”
I decided not to press the point, so I said that I wanted Davion to come and talk to me, and she replied that he was afraid to talk to me. When I asked her to encourage him to do it anyway, she bristled. “He shouldn’t have to.”
I said, “I know what you mean. But it is important for him to learn that he can find resources beyond you to help when he has a problem.”
“Look, I am not the only one who is upset. Many parents are talking about this problem.”
We talked for some time, she complaining and protesting, and me insisting that Davion come talk to me. Finally, she left my office unconvinced that her son would be safe, despite my efforts to reassure her. When I walked home from school that day, I went over and over the conversation, but my thinking produced no satisfying plan. I woke up at four in the morning with butterflies in my stomach and stewed on the problem.
As a 29-year-old, rookie principal I was always waking up before dawn with butterflies in my stomach over problems like this, and I had dozens to worry about. After all, in a school with about 250 students I had over 750 incipient relationship problems. I feared that all this worry was sapping my energy, and I couldn’t see that I was solving any problems, but I couldn’t help it. I just woke up before dawn and stewed.
If you had been my mentor, what would you have advised?
Tune in next Wednesday for how it turned out.