Every time a kid does something wrong we read their discipline file, update all their contact information, and print out their attendance, report card, and transcript. We do this in order to get the broadest picture of how the kid is doing before determining what disciplinary action is appropriate. But this is a very time-consuming process, especially considering the landslide of humanity and suffering that is at our door on a daily basis. Being a dean is an overwhelming task, there’s no way around it. Attempts to describe the challenges of the job have inspired many analogies over the years. You may remember Dean Flint’s classic “shoveling defecation against the tide” line. That’s a good one, but I always return to the old stand-by, “emptying the ocean with a tea-spoon.”
In the face of such hopelessness, I still put on my flight-suit, jump into my kamikaze plane, and dive-bomb these halls every day, hoping to pull out a miracle victory. What other choice do I have? The other choice is to give up I guess. To surrender. And, honestly, about every two months I’m tempted to do just that. But even though I sometimes have to dial down the passion a notch or two, I don’t give up. I don’t surrender. I keep fighting. Because I know that that little blue spark that still crackles inside of me is all that is keeping me from turning into another one of the ghosts that haunt the halls of Patriot High.
That sense of purpose and hope is all that is keeping my posture straight, my face flush, and my heart beating. And I know that the day that that spark dies and I throw down my shit-covered shovel in defeat is the day that my blood turns to ash and just blows away in the wind. And I will become a specter in this building for eternity.
But the kamikaze routine gets old when a safety-agent brings me a kid because he was cutting class and told a dean to suck his dick, and I check the kid’s vitals and see he’s 17 years old with 1 credit (they need 44 to graduate). I know him because I’ve already suspended him twice, broken up three of his fights, and I see him running the halls every day. Last year his mom promised to seek alternative educational placement for him, but here he is, going on 18, still acting the fool and spitting venom in our eyes as he does it.
It’s not even my job to deal with academic issues like alternative educational placement and transcripts and stuff. I’m a discipline guy, not a guidance counselor. But the more “problem” kids that we can get to graduate or pursue alternative options, like GED, the better the school becomes, and the easier my job gets. So it’s in my direct interest, as well as the rest of the school’s, to help get the persistent trouble-makers out of the rut they have dug for themselves in our building and into a program where they can progress.
But my morale sinks like a stone when I find an 18 year old with zero credits and a long disciplinary record, and no one except me seems to be trying to get this kid into another program. The guidance office is so bad that we are now forced to cc the principal to all our emails to them regarding troubled students or they won’t even respond.
I asked my boss why guidance doesn’t just compile a list of these over-aged and under-credited students and make it their mission to either get their butts into their classes and passing or into an alternative program somewhere. If we did that, voila, 80% of our major discipline problems would be solved, presto. He told me I should go tell the principal.
I found that frustrating. I am not administration. He is. I don’t advise the principal. And this stuff is obvious anyway. I shouldn’t have to point the principal’s attention to the fact that it is foolish to allow 18 and 19 year olds with 1 credit to continue sauntering around our building “like they payin’ rent” as the safety agents say. Not to mention that in over six years, I’ve never even spoken to the principal, save a handful of brief conversations about how I was late to work because my alarm clock broke, the trains weren’t running on schedule, or the moons of Saturn got in my eyes.
But instead of tackling these pressing issues like our burgeoning gang problem, or the house of horrors that is our halls, the principal has decided that her time and energy are better spent instituting a new policy that aggressively pursues teachers who take a sick-day on Mondays or Fridays. Vicki, our secretary, was fuming about this today. “I’m waiting for the day I get a letter like that! I’ll hand it right back to huh! Betta yet, I’ll teah it up in huh face! Oooh, I’d like to see huh try it! I work in a HELL-HOLE! And if I need to take off then I take off! How’s that?! Oh, I forgot to tell my body not to get sick on Mondays and Fridays! It didn’t understand me when I told it that! The nerve! Never mind the time she docked me because I was 8 minutes late! Who cares about all the times that I stay 30 and 40 minutes after the end of my day finishing paperwork, right? Oooh, she’s got a lotta nerve.”
Dean Jake stepped out of his office. He had just finished meeting with the father of a kid who had been accused of serial sexual harassment of female students. I had dealt with him and his dad last year because the Crips kept jumping the kid on the bus. His dad had been furious, not because he was worried about his son, but because “I don’t wanna get called up here because my son had to put his boot in somebody’s ass! And now he’s gettin’ arrested because he done stabbed these joke-ass niggas! We come from the murda cap son! Nah mean? D.C.!”
I had to give the kid credit though. He stood up to the gangsters and they eventually left him alone. I thought they were going to kill him for sure.
“I do my own thing,” he told me one time. He and his father both struck me as independent spirits, and people who could have gone places under different circumstances.
“He just wanna draw,” the dad had told me. “Like you, standing there. He can draw you easy. That shit on the wall right there? He can draw all that shit, perfectly.”
The son liked me for some reason. I think it was the throw-back sneakers I was wearing one day. “Them things is ALIEN!” he said. I guess that was some D.C. slang and it sounded like a compliment. But he had a dark side too. One time he challenged Dean Jake to a fight. He shut the door of the suspension room after everyone else had left, blocked it with his body, stood nose to nose with Jake, and said, “You and me, Jake. Man to man. I won’t tell nobody. Let’s go.”
Jake managed to escape that situation without violence, and he’s actually become close with the father and son since. “The father divorced his wife because she has a mental illness,” he told us.
“So sad,” said Vicki.
“And he has another son,” Jake continued. “Now regardless of whether you agree or disagree with what the father did, kicking the mother out, the son came at him the otha day with a gun. ‘You take care of mom! Do the right thing!’ the son told him. And the dad says to me, ‘I am doing the right thing, Jake.’ I mean, the man’s got two jobs. Working in a car shop, and he’s doing sheet rock on the side. He says to me, ‘Dean Jake, I can’t be responsible for her anymore. She’s bringing drug-addicts around the house. I just can’t do it anymore.'” Jake had a slightly sad look on his face for a few seconds. Then he just shrugged and disappeared back into his office.