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Randy Doyle was swimming. Strong, rhythmic strokes. Over and over again. And with each stroke he felt better. With each stroke he felt more alive, more excited. He could hardly wait to get to the other side. But as he swam, the water grew colder and thicker. It became more and more viscous, like swimming in a pool of 10w30. The oil was everywhere. It stuck to everything. His arms, his face, his feathers. The more he tried to get rid of it, the more it stuck to him. He crawled out of the water and tried to run. It was so hard to breathe and he was being chased. At first he didn’t know what was chasing him. He was in a maze, a corn maze, no it was made of football players then the football players turned into percentage signs and he could see what was chasing him. It was the numbers 25, 35 and 45. Why those numbers he didn’t know. But they were evil. They had claws and sharp teeth. They were getting closer and closer. He tried to call for help but his mouth wouldn’t open. Finally it did and he yelled “Bunny, Bunny” over and over again. Bunny appeared dressed as a rodeo clown. He came right up to him. But instead of diverting the numbers away like a rodeo clown was supposed to do, he looked Doyle right in the face and laughed “Give it up” over and over again.
Doyle started to wake up. He was aware that something was different. The bed felt different. He was naked and he never slept naked. The room felt different. Still with his eyes closed he reached around the bed as if he was looking for something. His left hand stopped up against something soft and round. It felt good. He stroke it. Then came the voice.
“Morning, Tiger. Don’t tell me you’re up for another go? You know I am if you are.”
Oh my god thought Randy. I know that voice. It was Kathleen. He remembered being with her in the restaurant…Then the rest started to come back to him.
She pulled herself closer to him, kissed him on the forehead, the cheeks, the lips. He felt the warmth of her body. She was older than him, maybe by 5 years, yet she had kept herself in shape. He was starting to get excited.
At little while later, he looked at the radio-alarm clock on the night table.
“We missed breakfast. “
“I’m not hungry. Are you?”
“No, it’s not that. The keynote speaker was supposed to be there to discuss his latest book.”
“Who’s the keynote speaker and what is his latest book?” asked Kathleen. Then she added “And why should I care?”
“William Vandonkersgood. Author of ‘Reinventing the School: Tearing down to Build up’ and founder of the Phoenix movement.”
“Yeah, Phoenix as in the bird that rises from the ashes, not the city in Arizona. He believes that the whole education system is rotten at the core and can only be changed by tearing everything down. “
“So he’s an anarchist.”
“They never use that term. But they have bulldozed a few inner-city schools in New York and Philadelphia.”
“How do you get away with bulldozing a school?”
“Apparently they show up on a Sunday morning. The neighbours assume they have permission. Any way they do it in neighbourhoods that aren’t in the habit of calling the authorities. And they have official looking papers on hand if anyone asks.”
“What would he put up in its place?”
“That’s the beauty of it. He doesn’t propose anything. He thinks the new system should just rise up from the ashes of the old. It should be created co-operatively.
“Let’s grab something for breakfast before the first session.”
“Thought you weren’t hungry.”
“That was a few minutes ago. Now I am.”
In the coffee shop downstairs they went over the program for today.
“Let’s see what I should go to,’ said Kathleen as she perused the program.
“Didn’t you pre-register?”
“Of course I did. But I never go to these things unless they look good. Let’s see…
‘From Caterpillar to Butterfly’, ‘Making your Staff Do the Crap Jobs and Thank you for it’, ‘Literacy: ItsEverybodies Business’, hmm a couple of mistakes in the title. No irony there. ‘Liberation Teaching: Releasing the Inner Guerrilla in all of us.’ ‘The Hip-Hop Principal’, ‘No one fails: Modern Assessment andEvaluation’. What do you think, Randy?”
“I signed up for ‘Growing your Career from the Bottom up.’ I think I should go to that.”
“That’s sounds a lot like ‘From the Classroom to the Director’s Office in Ten Years’ I wonder what the difference is.”
“You know what sounds good ‘Fromthe Whip to the Jelly Bean Jar: a History of Persuasion’’
“I’m going to ‘When Teachers Go too Far: How to Deal with Unwanted Staff’. It sounds useful.”
“Do you have problems with your staff?”
“Look at the time. Tell you what, let’s meet for lunch and compare notes about the sessions.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
The big conference room was abuzz with conversation. 500 Principals in one spot all talking shop. 250 Principals telling 250 other Principals what they thought of their morning sessions. 250 Principals trying to listen over the din of 250 Principals all talking at once. Apparently some sessions were very good, some so-so and others a total waste of time. The session entitled, ‘Casting a Broad Shadow: How to Promote yourself to your Superiors’ was very well attended and seemed to be well worth it. ‘Building a Fair and Balanced Timetable’ drew three participants. Normally it would have been cancelled but apparently 35 people had signed up for it and 32 were no-shows. That’s the problem with going at 8:00 a.m. after a night of Principals cutting loose.
Eventually Kathleen and Randy found each other and found seats together, near the back and a long way from the head table.
“So where did you end up going?” asked Randy.
“What sessions did you go to?”
“I decided on ‘Military Techniques Applied to a High School Setting’ and ‘Speaking Their Language: Howto Rap with the Groovy Kids of Today’ ‘Military Techniques’ was good. It focused on the concept on dividing a staff into cliques who spend all their time and energy fighting each other and allow you to do what you want to them. I came away with several ideas I am going to apply when I get back to St. Kilda’s. The second one on the other hand was so bad it was funny. I think that the guy has been doing the same presentation since the 60’s. If we had listened to acid rock and smoked dope, it would have been a complete nostalgia trip. What about you?
“I’m just trying to picture you as a hippy.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, could I have your attention please. I would like to introduce the head table. On my right are Helga Overmeyer, Principal of Central Winneposis High School and Chairperson of the Conference Organizing Committee and Hugh Really, Past President of High School Administrators’ Association of Canada and on my left is Alma Ludwigshafen who is the current President of the HSAAC and who is going to introduce today’s keynote speaker.”
Polite applause followed as Ms Ludwigshafen walked up to the podium.
“I went to ‘Growing your Career from the Bottom’ like I signed up for. Then I took a page out of your book and went to something that looked interesting. ‘Keeping your Ambitions in Check. When the Guy You Work for Leaves Something to be Desired’
“Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to tell you the background of your distinguished guest. He was born and raised in Cinderella, a coal mining town in West Virginia. He attended many underfunded public schools where he earned marks good enough to win a scholarship to Duke University. There he met many students from vastly different backgrounds than his and realized the unfairness of the public school system.”
“What was ‘Growing your Career from the Bottom’ like?” asked Kathleen, who could barely hear the speaker at the podium.
“It had a lot of good ideas about the art of what he called sycophantism. How to play your cards right and at the right time. Whose favour you should curry and how. How to maximize your profile in the Board. I would recommend it to anyone with ambitions of going beyond the Principal’s office.”
“Throughout his career, first as a classroom teacher, then as an Administrator and finally as a Professor of Education at Slohand College in New Jersey, he has dreamed of finding a way so that every student will have an equal chance at success.”
“What about Keeping your Ambitions in Check?”
“Total waste of time. The guy giving the presentation had no idea of what it is like to work for a loser. I could have given a better presentation. I know what it’s like.”
“Ladies and Gentlemen, I give our keynote speaker: William Jefferson Vandonkergood.”
“Who is this guy again?” asked Kathleen
“William Jefferson Vandonkersgood. He’s really big right now. He founded the Phoenix movement which destroys old decrepit schools so that new ones can be built. He’s so big they call him the new Lewis Peacock who created the Oreo Nation and the answer to Jessica Froem. I have all his books and I am hoping to get his autograph.”
Louder applause than for Ms Ludwigshafen followed as Vandonkersgood stood at the podium and adjusted the microphone upwards.
“I thank you. I thank you very kindly. But please wait for my speech before you shower me with all this applause. Make me earn it.” The crowd drew quiet then laughed at his last sentence. “It’s true. I started out in a one-room school house.” His accent made ‘I’ sound like a two syllable word. “Well actually we would have been happy if it was a one-room school house. The rain came in through the roof (rhymed with boeuf), the wind came in through the windows and the rats did purty much what they wanted. And that was on a nice spring day. In the winter time we would fight to get into the outhouse, where at least it was warm. I could tell ya that we might of been poor but we were happy. But it would be a lie to say that we didn’t dream of going to a proper school, with a proper roof, with proper windows. You know what I mean, huh?”
“Now didn’t I go off to college and see that not everybody went to a school without a proper roof and proper windows . And that set me to thinking what can I do for all those Bobbies and Betties in schools like the ones I knew. I started asking anyone who’d listen why some kids go to fancy schools with all the up-to-date technology, with happy well-paid teachers who are dedicated to their jobs and other have to go to, well let’s call them crap schools, with no supplies and over-worked, underpaid teachers who quit teaching on average after only two years. I asked why in a democracy do we not have equality of opportunity and I am still waiting for a satisfactory answer.”
“One good thing from Keeping your Ambitions in Check was the advice he gave about ignoring your boss if he has nothing but stupid ideas. At Lord Byron last year Bunny, our Principal, started a initiative where students who misbehaved were no longer sent to the office. They were told to take a walk and be back in ten minutes. Well, that meant that instead of disturbing one class, they were now disturbing all of them. And kids would try to get kicked out of class so they could wander the halls. It got to the point where there could be twenty or thirty kids in the halls at the same time.”
“So Bunny gave up on the idea?”
“Hell no. I just told the staff to go back to sending people to me and I would deal with them. Bunny is out of the building so much that he is totally unaware. In fact when he is there he comments on how well the program is working since there is nobody in the halls anymore.”
“Now didn’t I say to myself: This is America. We all deserve to go to a good school, with happy hard-working teachers, new test books and everything else that some people think of when they think of school. But how were we going to achieve that. There’s so much red tape. There’s so much politics involved in educational change that nothing ever seems to change. It’s not about merit pay and it’s not about vouchers. Other countries seem to be able to reform their schools. Why not us? Well I looked around at our manufacturing industry and I started to see some parallels. American factories are old and rusted out. This is especially true in the North-East, which we now call the rust-belt. For the most part German and Japanese factories are modern and efficient. What do their factories have in common? Well they both had the piss bombed out of them during the Second World World. That freed them to start a new. That’s what we need to do with our schools.”
“Your Bunny sounds like a real winner.”
“You can’t imagine.
“Of course, we couldn’t start a war in order to get our schools bombed. And we certainly couldn’t bomb our own schools. Think of the headlines if ever the USAF bombed poor defenseless school children. I mean poor defenseless American school children. Still there ought to be a way to get the old run down schools torn down and shiny new ones built in their place.”
“Now I reckon that some of you have heard that I go around tearing down schools. These are only vicious rumours. Bulldozing a school would be illegal and I wouldn’t be walking the streets as a free man if this were true, would I? Now that is not to say that there aren’t a lot of schools crying out to be bulldozed. And I could probably give you all advice on how to hypothetically bulldoze a hypothetical school.”
“Then there’s the idea that the Board had that we should answer all phone calls in both languages. I don’t know about other schools in the Board, but none of the secretaries at Lord Byron speaks French and nobody phones the school expecting to speak French. It’s pretty ironic coming from a Board that takes the $3 million dollar French grant and spends it on anything but French. Anyway our secretaries didn’t bother with that one and to the best of my knowledge no one has ever noticed.”
“Now if I knew of a school that needs bulldozing and I can think of a few, the trick would be to act as if you’re part of an official action. Wear all the proper uniforms; have all the official looking papers. People will not call you on it. This is all hypothetical, right? If you do it at the beginning of a summer, then the Board has some time to decide what they are going to do with all those students and no school. But unfortunately the Board doesn’t always notice right away. I’m not sure what things all those Trustees and Admin people do, but paying attention doesn’t seem to be one of them. Somebody bulldozed PS 444 in the Bronx, that’s in New York, at the beginning of July and I guess no one noticed until the middle of August. “
“Now the idea behind bulldozing a crappy inner-city or rural school is that they don’t build schools like that anymore. They have to replace the crap with something good. Okay maybe not necessarily good but at least new. Did I mention that all this is hypothetical?
“Probably one of the more stupid ideas coming out of the Board is…”
“You mean apart from your evaluation policy.” Interrupted Kathleen
“Well, that’s a hard call. They’re both in the same league. Anyway the Board has this idea to integrate grade nine English and science. The same teacher would do both. And they only want science teachers to do it.”
“That’s a bit of a force fit isn’t it? What sort of activities do they envision?”
“I’m not sure. Short stories about amoebas? It wouldn’t be my first choice of things to integrate.’
‘Is this backed up by any kind of research?’
‘I doubt it. We don’t do research.’
You would think that all this talk about tearing down schools would be met by a lot of incredibility, shock even. Teachers and Principals are pretty much conservative people. Not the kind of people who destroy things. But something happens to teachers once they get out of the classroom; they don’t want to go back. And they will do most anything to make sure they don’t. From the perspective of a recently liberated classroom teacher there are no bad ideas. At least not those of their superiors. So maybe that’s why no one got up and walked out on this man who was proposing so much destruction. He was the darling of the educational establishment. Or maybe it was just because they were polite Canadians with an American visitor. Maybe most were still feeling the effects of last night’s “conferencing” in the hotel’s Blue Moon Saloon. Whatever the reason, 500 Principals sat there and listened to William Jefferson Vandonkersgood outline how to bulldoze an intercity school.
“Now what is important to remember about the Phoenix movement is that entire schools do not have to be torn down. You can start small. You can tear down interior walls. Make sure you know which ones are load bearing ones though. Or you might as well just bulldoze the whole thing anyway. Tear down the interior walls and see what that brings. Force everyone to rethink the school. I know what you’re thinking. We all tried ‘Open Concept’ in the 70’s. But did you really? Or did you just try to teach the old fashion way in a room without walls? I challenge you to redefine what ‘tearing down’ means. Rip all the pictures off the walls and let the students cover them. Throw out the textbooks and let the students write their own. Get rid of departments. Get rid of department heads. Fire the janitors and have the teachers and the students take ownership of their classroom. Fire the secretaries and let the students acquire the necessary office skills.”
A buzz had been slowly building as his ideas seem to advocate laying a lot of people off. But there was nothing in that buzz to indicate that anyone didn’t approve of these ideas. In fact wild applause broke when Vandonkersgood reached the logical conclusion of his argument:
“Fire the teachers and let the students teach themselves.”
“Bravo, bravo,” came the cry from a table near the front. “Give ’em hell, Billy!” yelled a voice on the left. “Show no mercy.” shrieked the middle. Many in the hall had risen to their feet and the mood swept through the room until nearly everyone was up and applauding. Vandonkersgood put his hand up to quiet the crowd, but it was apparent that he enjoyed the applause. he continued:
“Throw out the old military-based command structure in your school, put the Principals back in the classroom and run the school collectively.”
With that the crowd grew quiet. What did he say? Put Principals in the classroom? What kind of a lunatic was this guy? Let teachers decide things? What did they know? “Billy, you’re crazy!” cried a voice on the right. The man who went with the voice got up and stomped out. “You should be bulldozed” yelled the table up front and walked out collectively. Tables on the left started chanting “Kill Bill, kill Bill!” One by one people stood up and left the room. Vandonkersgood continued, raising his voice over the din of chairs moving and feet stomping.
“Why shouldn’t Principals go back in the classroom? It keeps them grounded in reality. It makes them take ownership of their decisions. I know what you all are thinking. It’s what I hear all the time at home. It’s nothing but Communism. But it isn’t. It’s like Hutterites or kibbutzim in Israel. Don’t. Don’t .’ The crowd was probably a third of what it had been at the beginning. ‘Don’t close your minds to new ideas. Try to think outside the box.”
It was fruitless. No one was listening any more.
“School’s have to stop being factories which produce docile obedient sheep. We need to question everything and everyone.” “Schools should not be an agent of the government, but an agent of change.”
Vandonkersgood surveyed the room and realized there was no point in continuing. “I’d like to thank you all for inviting me to speak to you today and thank you for listening.” Vandonkersgood ended without a hint of sarcasm in his voice. Alma Ludwigshafen got up and started applauding. A handful of the remaining Principals joined in, but it really was a pitiful amount of applause. Randy and Kathleen continued their conversation. Since lunch was being served immediately after the speech, most of the Principals who had walked out on the keynote speaker began filing back in, the rest went to the Blue Moon.
‘Science-English integration is just one in a series of ideas that I have to sell to the staff. They never want to hear it. I don’t particularly want to do it. But Bunny always leaves me holding the bag.’
‘How did he ever become a Principal?’
‘Beats me. But there are a lot of things about the Board that I don’t understand.’
‘Would you like the chicken or the fish?’
‘Addison! I thought last night was your last day on the job.’
As dippy as ever Addison answered ‘Well it was supposed to be. But Daddy was short staffed and asked me to stay.’
‘I’ll have the fish.’
‘Poor Randy. You know you shouldn’t have to put up with this crap.’
‘Yeah, but what am I supposed to do about it?’
‘Run the school as if you were the Principal. Would Bunny notice? Would he care? You know he might even by glad that he doesn’t have to do anything. The school will be better run with a Principal who’s there in the building.’
Addison was back with the food.
‘Okay that’s one chicken for madame and one for sir.’
‘Thank you very much Addison.’ said Kathleen.
‘I thought you ordered the fish.’
‘I did. But I assumed that she would get it wrong so I ordered the one I didn’t want.’
‘Yeah, me too. I guess we’re good problem solvers.’
‘That’s why you need to take control of your school.’
‘Just do it. If you don’t like Science-English Integration, get rid of it. Don’t like Potential Intelligence, get rid of it.’
‘’Whoa, there. Hold on a minute. That’s not taking on an absent Bunny. That’s taking on the Board.’
‘If you are half the man you were last night, you’ll do it.’
“I was good last night? I mean I was good last night, wasn’t I?’ Randy was feeling manly and powerless at the same time. It was one thing to be good in bed. It’s another thing to go against Board policy. ‘Why don’t we discuss this over dinner tonight? What sessions are you going to this aft?’
‘I don’t like any of them.’
‘Yeah, they all look kind of lame. How about Keeping Them on Edge. How to Keep your Staff Guessing your Next Move?’
‘I don’t know. Maybe Delegate, Alienate, Subjugate. You know I don’t like any of them. I think there’s better things to do with our time. How about my room in five minutes?’
‘Sounds like a plan.’
“Okay, Ladies. Listen up. We’ve got a whole new offence this and there are a number of plays we’re got to learn.” Coach Johnson almost sounded enthusiastic.
“You mean, Coach, we got more than the three plays we ran last year?” asked Scottie.
“Scottie, you know we had more than three plays last year.”
“In the playbook, maybe, Coach. But I only remember running three: First down run up the middle for two yards. Second down run off-tackle for one yard. Third down punt. Unless you’re counting the big double reverse trick play for the usual loss of ten.” he paused. “If we hung on to the ball.”
Coach Johnson stared Scottie quiet. Then he looked up at the hills that surrounded the playing field. With hills like that L.B.S.S. should have had a good cross-country team, if they had had a team at all. Scottie got the message and shut up.
“We’ve got a whole new set of passing patterns that the receivers are going to have to learn.” That news was greeted with a chorus of ‘yeah right’, ‘dream on’ and ‘whatever’ . Someone even said “don’t be a TQ, Coach.” Not knowing what that meant, Coach ignored it. The scepticism was merited . The Bengals’ passing attack was pretty much non existed.
“I hope none of the patterns go for more than five yards.” said Steve, taking over from Scottie. “Cooper can’t throw any farther than that.”
“That’s not true!” last year’s starting quarterback defended himself.
“Focus, please, ladies.” pleaded Coach.
“I had a 75% completion rate.” Cooper continued.
“You can’t count interceptions.” said Scottie, who decided he had been quiet enough.
“Enough! Cooper, Doornedorp, Mitchell. Five hills each. The rest of you, here are the new patterns you have to learn.” He took out a white board and started to draw arrows going across and up and down. It was all basic stuff that they should already have learnt. But the feeling had been why bother learning things that they were never going to use (not unlike their feeling toward French or math) . So hapless was the offence that few passing plays ever went off as planned. First off the linemen had to block well enough so the quarterback had time to find his receiver and throw the ball. Usually, as Cooper looked down field the next thing he saw was blades of grass after a Knight or an Eagles defensive tackle had driven him into the ground. If he managed to stay on his feet long enough to get rid of the ball, he wound whip it with all his force at the head of the receiver. Having a projectile rocketing toward your head usually turns on all the prehistoric survival instincts handed down from our ancestors. Bengal receivers were known more for their ability to duck and bat balls away than for their ability to actually catch them. A typical passing play involved the receiver ducking and an unsuspecting defensive player getting hit by the ball. The better ones had the reflexes to intercept the ball. The best passing play last year (in terms of yards gained and laughter created) came when Cooper threw the ball at Herman, an exchange student from Germany, who could think of nothing else to do but head the ball back soccer style. Skates had just picked himself off the ground when the ball landed in his hands. After the initial shock of suddenly becoming a receiver wore off, Skates raced down the field for a good forty yards. His career as a receiver ended when he tripped on the ten -yard line.
Why was this year going to be different? Coach Travis Kidd didn’t come alone. When he transferred from Chevalier he brought his star quarterback with him. Lane Oakwood had be raised to be a quarterback. His dad, Duane, had been a quarterback too, though not a very good one. His son was going to be one too. He had had Lane start school a year late so he would be that much older and bigger than the other kids when he was in high school. Lane had been taught to throw a spiral when he was three, the footwork of dropping back into the pocket when he was four, the pump fake when he was five. He could spell the names of passing patterns before he could spell his own name. Summers were spent at quarterback camp in places like Ohio, Oklahoma and Florida. By the time he hit Chevalier he could react to any defence the team showed. When there wasn’t an open receiver-and that wasn’t often- he could tuck the ball under his arm and run. He was the leading rusher on any team he played as well as the leading passer in any league. If he could have figured out how to throw a ball to himself, he would have probably been the leading receiver too. As it was he was credited with throwing and receiving a touchdown pass. In one game against L.B.S.S. last year he caught a ball that a Bengal lineman had batted down and ran it in for a score. But somehow doing it against L.B.S.S. made it seem less important.
When Coach Kidd accepted the job at L.B.S.S. he knew Lane had to come with him if he was going to have any chance at turning the Bengal program around. The problem with that was the league was pretty strict about athletes changing schools. There were basically two reasons that were acceptable. Being recruited wasn’t one of them. You had to have moved into the area of the new school. Duane Oakwood wasn’t going to sell his house on Twelve -mile Lake . He wasn’t sure about Lane changing schools anyway. As much as he respected Coach Kidd’s opinion, it just didn’t seem to make sense. But Coach Kidd had argued that there wasn’t anything left to accomplished at Chevalier. On the other hand being the leader of a program which turned itself around 360 would cement his reputation as a go-to-guy. As good as he was, getting a scholarship at a top American college was not going to be easy. He needed something extra.
The other way to make Lane a Bengal was to find an academic reason to change schools. If Kidd could find a program or even a single course that Lord Byron offered that Chevalier didn’t, then he could justify the transfer. He poured over the course booklets of both schools. It was pretty hard finding anything original at L.B.S.S. But eventually he found an advanced level modern dance course. Chevalier didn’t have any dance courses at all. The former dance studio had been converted into a weight room years ago.
It took some arm twisting to get Lane into the course. The teacher, Irma Cassis, saw herself as the next Isadora Duncan minus the scarf. She took dance seriously. She was only teaching dance until her own career took off. The fact that her career wasn’t likely to take off any time soon escaped her totally. But why was this jock without the proper prerequisite trying to get into her elite class? These were girls who had been taking dance since before kindergarten.
Kidd put forward a good argument. There were many parallels between the position of quarterback and the art of the dance. Timing, rhythm and footwork were all necessary elements of both. One could argue, he said and he did actually use the word ‘one’ that her girls were the greatest athletes in the school. Lane could really learn a lot from them.
She bought. She allowed Lane into the class without the necessary prerequisite. With that the league allowed the transfer. What did Lane think about being in the class? Coach Kidd would tell him later. There was no point in bothering him with academic details. After all the class wasn’t till next semester. By then football season would be over. Who knows, Lane, being a fifth year student already had most of the credits he needed, would he even still be at L.B.S.S. come January?
The Front Office
Principals think they run the school but they don’t.
In fact if you wanted to know who really is in charge, it’s not hard. When you walk in the door, any door, there are signs telling you where to go.
Would all visitors please report to the front office.
There you go, the answer to the question who is in charge: The office manager.
Everything passes through the hands of the office manager. If a teacher needs a personal day, the request passes through the hands of the office manager. If the cheerleaders do a car wash, the profits pass through the hands of the office manager. If the French department needs new textbooks (and they have since the 90’s) the purchase order passes through the hands of the office manager. Piss her off and your request goes to the bottom off the pile. Get on her good side and things will be done before you even ask.
At Lord Byron Secondary School it was always easier to piss Mrs O’Grady off than it was to get on her good side. It would take a few pages to list all the various ways of pissing off Mrs O’Grady. But here are a few highlights.
Give her a bank deposit consisting of unrolled coins
Phone her at home to say you’re sick at 7:14 (the cut off time is 7:15) giving her barely an hour to find a supply teacher
Ask her to type an exam when your handwriting is illegible.
Ask her to type an exam when it’s in a foreign language
Buy doughnuts for your class and don’t get her a coffee at the same time
Tell her she’s just a secretary
Don’t notice her legs
But near the top of the list of ways to piss off Mrs O’ is ask her to make coffee. The first time Principal Bunny did that he got nothing back but the silent treatment. No coffee, no explanation just silence. That day Principal Bunny was receiving Superintendent White who was coming to do a formal inspection of the school. Bunny wanted everything just right. LBSS was his first Principalship. He was only a few months into the job. He still had enthusiasm for the job. He still had the belief that he could go on to become Superintendent himself and maybe even someday Director. He wanted a pot of coffee ready for White’s arrival.
Mrs O’ didn’t do coffee.
Bunny didn’t seem to understand what he was asking. He repeated “Mrs O’ can you put a pot of coffee on?” His tone was pleasant enough.
“I’m sorry Mr. Bunny. No can do.”
“Just a minute and I’ll show you.” She said as she disappeared from his office. A few minutes later she reappeared and gently threw a document from GDSB’s Human Resources Department on his desk. “Turn to page 17.” She said “And read what it says under Office Manager.”
It was the job description. Nowhere in the three rather wordy paragraphs did it say anything about making coffee. After that Bunny made his own coffee. And he made coffee for all the secretaries. Apart from the duties of a Principal as defined in the Education Act of the Province of Ontario, he didn’t have a job description.
Coffee was just one of several battles.
Answering the phone was another. You would think answering the phone as was clearly a responsibility of a secretary. But a lot of parents phone the school before they leave for work and often that’s before 8 am. The secretaries start work at 8 but are often in the office drinking coffee and gossiping. And ignoring the ringing phone. If you want to phone the school before 8 am and talk to a live person, good luck.
What radio station was playing in the office was another. Mrs O’ listened exclusively to Radio 95, Easy Country, where boots are leather and hearts are true. Since the secretaries were all from the South Missachewopa area, they were all used to country, whether they liked it or not. But Bernie Lewindowsky, the night janitor was a throw back to the sixties. His clothing had changed little in forty years. He wore flowered bell bottoms and tie dye t-shirts. His hair and his beard were testing the limits. If Mr Cohen were going to do a high school production of Hair, he didn’t have to look any further for costume ideas than Bernie’s wardrobe.
His taste in music hadn’t changed either. Every night when he vacuumed and dusted the front office, he cranked the volume up to the max and moved the dial to Rock 107, whose slogan was Give me rock or give me death. Some would say it should be Give me rock and give me death . Others might say If you are going to put that radio station on, just shoot me now. The result for Mrs. O’ was that every morning she would turn on the radio, half asleep and expecting to hear the soft sounds of a slide guitar only to be greeted by the screaming cries of a dieing animal or how ever else you would describe an electric guitar playing acid rock. Mrs. O’Grady left at 4:00 each day. Bernie’s shift started at 5:00. She tried remembering to stay after work to tell Bernie to stop. But she would always forget and go home. She left Bernie notes but he was really good at ignoring them. She threatened to go to Bunny, but that didn’t scare him-Bunny didn’t scare anybody.
Bernie pissed her off by moving the desk chairs around. Mrs. O’s chair was clearly more comfortable than the other secretaries’ chairs. But every morning it was at some other desk. Some days it would already be occupied and the occupant would not give it up. It didn’t do much for office esprit de corps.
So if you wanted to pick a fight with Mrs. O’Grady, change her radio station, switch her chair and don’t forget to call her by her first name. Few people knew her first name and she liked it that way. The more people used her first name, the more people knew her first name. Mrs. O’ would do just fine.
Over the weeks ahead she and Mr. Bunny locked heads over a number of things. Her skirts were often too short. Mrs. O’Grady was a woman in her forties who kept herself in good shape and liked to let everyone know. Her preferred method was to wear skirts which left no doubt about the shape of her legs. If a student asked for a late slip, she would get up from her desk and slowly walk across the office to the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet where the slips were kept. In full view of the student, she would bend over and slowly open the drawer and would often linger as she went looking for the slips. A significantly higher percentage of boys were late to class. It might have been a coincidence.
This did not go without Principal Bunny noticing. For a long while he enjoyed the show as much as any male in the school. However the day that Trustee Fiona Lindenhauser came for a ‘visit’ changed his point of view. Ms. Lindenhauser was a veteran of the gender wars of the sixties. There are some historians who claim that no bras were actually burnt in the sixties. But if there had been, hers would have been the first to fry. She was dead against anything or anyone that treated women as sexual objects, as ornaments, as pleasure things…well you get the picture. No one would mistake her for a pleasure thing. On the other hand, she could have easily been mistaken for a member of a religious sect. Her hair was always in a bun. She always wore long skirts that almost went to her ankles. Her shoes were always sensible.
Now, it’s hard to explain what education Administration thinks about Trustees. By the power given them in law, it’s the Trustees who are ultimately in charge and therefore responsible for what goes on. Trustees are elected. They have a mandate from the public. Administration, especially Senior Admin is contemptuous of Trustees. Because Trustees are education amateurs, the professionals think they know nothing. They also think they can pull the wool over their eyes any time they want.
Ms. Lindenhauser was an unusual case. Her mandate from the people was somewhat in question. All Trustees have a somewhat questionable mandate as they are usually elected with a voter turn out of very less than 50 percent. Many trustees are acclaimed because no one runs against them. In Ms Lindenhauser case the public had turned out in full force with a voter turn out of well over 53 percent. And 89 percent of those voters had clearly made their choice in favour of Ms. Lindenhauser’s opponent, Clarence Underwood. Clarence had captured 4326 votes against 496 votes for Fiona. 56 ballots were spoiled. South Missachewopa was sure that Clarence was going to make a fine trustee. Unfortunately Clarence didn’t understand that Trustees were required to attend Board meetings, which was hard for Clarence to do. Clarence had moved to Fort Lauderdale twenty years ago. Sure, he kept a residence in South Missachewopa; he would have had to if he wanted to run in a local election. You could find him in the Township in the summer time out on a lake fishing, never in the Board room. But after a couple of years of not showing up to Board meetings, he was voted off the Board. That is pretty much automatic. At that point the Board can appoint someone or hold another election. As elections cost money and the Board was in a cost cutting mood (when are they not?), the easiest thing to do was appoint whoever was in second place. That’s how Fiona Lindenhauser, with about 10 percent of the vote, became the people’s representative from South Missachewopa.
Some people might have been hesitant about speaking up with such a weak mandate. Do Prime Ministers with a minority government shrink from leading? Do Presidents who have won the electoral college vote but not the popular vote lead from behind? Was Fiona not going to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity? You know she was.
Senior math at Lord Byron was an old boys club. If you thought that Barovsky was conservative, you were right. But old man Simpson, the math Head, who pretty much been here when the school was built was as old school as they come. He kept all the senior math to himself and he believed he was the gate keeper who decided who went to university and who didn’t. And by university, he meant Engineering. Anything else wasn’t really university. Engineering was for boys and only boys. Why bother teaching girls math if they weren’t going to be engineers? Girls who walked into his senior algebra or calculus class, were greeted with a firm and some what friendly “What are you doing here?” or a “You don’t want to be here.” . He then handed them a drop sheet to take to Student Services.
This went on for years, much to the shame of many in LBSS and for that matter the community of South Missachewopa. It was the first thing on the long to do list that Fiona Lindenhauser had written up as soon as she knew she was going to be a Trustee.
Bunny wanted to be liked. He really hated to say no to anyone. Saying yes to Ms. Lindenhauser meant that he would have to tell old man Simpson to stop being such a sexist. Old man Simpson scared Bunny. Ms Lindenhauser scared Bunny. Either way he was in trouble. The scared little creature that Bunny was, he wasn’t so stupid as to know that old man Simpson was a relic from the past. Bunny called him into his office and informed Simpson that from now on he would have the grade nine applied level math course. With all his expertise he would be the go-to guy in the Board. It would be a great career move, as his contributions to math education would finally be recognized.
A guy who has passed his retirement date by almost ten years doesn’t think about ‘career moves’ In fact with the image of three classes of somewhat less than motivated students, students who would rather be anywhere else than in math class, the only career move that Simpson could imagine was retirement . Retirement as quickly as possible. So Bunny’s little gambit had worked. He had placated Fiona Lindenhauser and pleased a lot of other folks at the same time. That should have put him firmly in Ms Lindenhauser’s good graces. But it could be argued that she didn’t have any.
Today’s problem was going to be the lack of strong female characters in the literature currently being studied in the English department. However as Ms. Lindenhauser walked into the front office, a boy had just asked for a late slip. The IT guy, the UPS delivery guy and a couple of other male students who just happened to be in the main office all stopped what they were doing and took in the show. Given an audience that large, Mrs. O’ lingered an especially long time. The male audience drifted off deep into their imaginations and then came back to reality. And that would have been the end of it. But Ms. Lindenhauser saw everything and the more Mrs. O’ dragged things out, the tighter Ms. Lindenhauser’s hair bun got till you would have sworn it was pulling the skin on her face. Tighter and tighter till you were sure her eyes were oriental. Oriental or not, her stare was deadly. It wasn’t so much aimed at Mrs. O’-she didn’t know she was a victim of male objectification of women-it was aimed at Bunny.
With all his attention diverted toward Mrs. O’s angled body it took a good while before Mr. Bunny was fully aware of the pain burning through his temple. But when he did he knew. He knew what it was. He knew what it meant. Still he didn’t divert his gaze away from Mrs. O’s protruding butt. He was no longer enjoying the show. But he dared not look Ms. Lindenhauser in the eye.
Ms. Lindenhauser had arrived in South Missachewopa in the early seventies. She had come with her boyfriend who was avoiding the Vietnam draft. He hadn’t stayed long. He went back to Ohio when President Gerald Ford offered draft dodgers immunity, though he left Byronville thinking the deal was a lot sweeter than it really was. It seems Ford had offered immunity to ex-President Nixon at about the same time. Larry wasn’t one to follow the news very closely. He didn’t realize that he had to do two years of community service and he certainly didn’t see why Richard Nixon didn’t have to do community service to get his pardon.
Up north of Byronville, near where an asteroid had hit millions of years ago, a bunch of similar minded people had started a commune. For the most part it was populated by pretty serious hippies. In the beginning, the commune had no running water and no electricity. On purpose.
A lot of draft dodgers were attracted to Heaven on Earth, including Larry and Fiona. Fiona took to the back-to-nature life style. Apart from growing its own organic vegetables, the community supported itself by making ceramic pottery. Fiona really enjoyed working there. Larry was another case. While following Larry was Fiona’s chief motivation for coming to Canada, not being killed in a wet jungle in south-east Asia was Larry’s. It didn’t take long before Larry started missing his toilet and electric light bulbs. So when Ford’s offer came along, he jumped at the chance and left.
If Fiona had followed Larry’s life after Heaven on Earth , she would have learned that he had completed his community service requirements on Wall Street. He was a gopher at Lehman Brothers. A gopher being a person told to go for this thing or that thing. Now a days they call them interns and in the 19th century they called them slaves. After his community service was over, he stayed at Lehman Brothers where he eventually made a name for himself-and a lot of money-in derivatives. And she would have learned about the FBI investigation after the big economic mess of 2008 and that no charges were ever laid.
Fiona didn’t really miss Larry. She was busy with her pottery and selling vegetables at the local farmer’s market. Over the years most of the hippies drifted away from the commune and the few ladies who were left got themselves hooked up to the electrical grid and had a well and septic tank put in so Heaven on Earth ended up being just another of the many hobby farms in South Missachewopa Township. But despite the addition of these comforts, Fiona never lost the idealism that brought her to Heaven on Earth in the first place.
One of those ideals was that women were not objects. Men like Larry, might only see them as objects. These men were uneducated and needed to be taught otherwise. It’s hard from the northern part of South Missachewopa Township to educate men and the many women who mistakenly thought this way. Change, if change were going to come, would have to start with the youth. We had to get to them while they were young and still in school. Running for School Board Trustee was clearly the way for Fiona to affect change. A change which was long over due.
Now local elections in South Missachewopa aren’t too complicated. For the most part the important thing is who among the candidates is the real deal. Real deal meaning for the most part who is most like me. The criteria for most inhabitants of South Missachewopa weren’t complicated either:
do they drink beer?
do they come from here
did their parents come from here?
do they fish?
did their grand parents come from here?
do they hunt?
Given those criteria did Fiona stand a chance? She didn’t come from South Missachewopa. She didn’t drink beer and she didn’t hunt or fish. Clarence Underwood drank beer. He hunted and fished and there were Underwoods in South Missachewopa Township since the beginning. It wasn’t that they didn’t like Fiona. She just wasn’t one of them.
If Fiona had believed in God, she would have said that it was Her will that she should be Trustee. And perhaps it was. But whether it was God’s hand or Florida’s sunshine that made her Trustee, it didn’t matter. She was Trustee and she was going to fix things.
As Mrs. O’ stood bent over at the filing cabinet the contained the late slips, she had no idea that she represented all that was wrong with our misogynous education system. If a pop psychologist had been available to comment at the time, he (or she) would have said that Mrs O’ was a woman fearing the on-coming years and wishing to stay young, to still be admired like she had been in the past. In short a classic example of the Candide syndrome. Fortunately, there was no pop psychologist available to comment.
Bunny, on the other hand should have known better. He had met Fiona when she was first “elected” and it was pretty apparent how she felt about things. Mrs. O’s regular show was hard not to look at. It was a lot like the TV in the restaurant that keeps pulling your attention away from your date. Your ever increasingly pissed off date. And your only defence is that the motion on the screen is involuntarily drawing your eyes to it. Or should that be “ the motion on the screen is drawing your eyes involuntarily to it”? Either way, your date is not happy and you would have been better springing for a classier restaurant without TV’s.
Poor Bunny. It was the old man Simpson affair all over again. He was afraid of Ms. Lindenhauser. He was afraid of Mrs O’. Only this time he just couldn’t get rid of one or the other. How to please the one without offending the other? The one a Trustee. Sure, in the real world Trustees had no power. But this one didn’t know. That made her dangerous, very dangerous. She’d go off shooting in all directions until some one got hurt and Bunny knew who that some one was going to be. He had to keep her happy.
No Principal with a functioning brain gets on the bad side of his office manager. He would have to have a death wish to do that. And if your office manager is like Mrs O’, that is even more true. Maybe he could give the job to Doyle. In his mind he could see how that conversation would go:
“Randy, you need to tell Mrs O’ to stop wearing such short skirts.”
“That’s funny, Tony. But seriously what did you call me in for?”
“I am serious.’
“Oh look, there’s a fight outside! I gotta go.” and off he would disappear.
Bunny didn’t have to imagine the conversation between Lindenhauser and himself. It was very real.
“Ms Lindenhauser.” they greeted each other formally.
“Enough is enough, Mr. Bunny. It really has to stop.”’
The voice inside Bunny’s head kept saying “play dumb, play dumb. Say ‘What has to stop.”But Bunny couldn’t do it She wouldn’t fall for that. She was a very smart woman and would see through his act. Instead he tried a different tact. “Fiona? May I call you that?”
“I totally agree with your line of thinking (not saying what that line was). We have got to put an end to this. But things are so complicated. And frankly I am lost when it comes to communicating with women. I have to find the right words to say to Mrs O. Fiona, could you help me with that? Say over dinner at the Chien qui fume?”
“Perhaps I could help you. Could you make it some where a little more vegetarian than the Chien?”
“You should pick then. I don’t know anything about vegetarian restaurants in Granite City.”
“All right. Green Eye Dancing Saturday night at 7. Should I pick you up?”
Not wanting to have her know where he lived, Bunny answered: “I’ll meet you there.”
“That went well.” thought Fiona.
“Whew” thought Bunny. “That bought me a few days to sort this thing out.” After Fiona Lindenhauser left, he called to Doyle, using his outside voice to get Doyle’s attention. Bunny wished they had an intercom.
Doyle had heard everything from the desk in his office. He was in Bunny’s office immediately.
“Randy, we need a strategy to handle Lindenhauser with.”
“You mean a strategy with which we might be able to handle Lindenhauser?” Randy Doyle had trained as an phys ed teacher, but he liked correcting people’s English.”
“Whatever.” Bunny had also been a phys ed teacher, but took no interest in grammar.
“What if …” Doyle thought out loud.
“What if we had the secretaries wear a uniform.? You know, one with dress pants or a more sensible skirt.”
“That’s a stupid idea. Where does the money come from? Isn’t their union just going to grieve it.”
“What if we kept Mrs O’ under wraps whenever Lindenhauser was here?”
“I dunno. Move her to the library. Put her in the book room? Give her a class to teach?”
“How do we know when Lindenhauser is coming? We need some sort of early warning system.”
“Like if she had a GPS device on her that we tracked?”
“Yeah, that would do the trick. How do we get her to carry a GPS device?”
Meanwhile, if there had been an intercom system in place Mrs O’ would have called in to say that Doyle was needed up on the second floor. There was a fight going on. A real one she said. She also said that she could hear everything that they were talking about and that she had a few ideas. Since there wasn’t an intercom system, she just raised her voice.
Doyle passed Mrs O’ . He on his way to reluctantly deal with the real fight on the second floor and she on her way into Bunny’s office with her solution to what she called the Lindenhauser problem.
“You don’t need to lock me up in the book room. She doesn’t need to wear a wire. Move the late slips to the top drawer. I’ll wear longer skirts for a while, until Ms. Lindenhauser finds something else to be upset about., like, for example, the lack of strong female characters in any of the literature the English department makes them read. You buy one of her pots for your office and have the cafe use her organic fruits and vegetables. She should be good for the foreseeable future. Oh and enjoy your date with her. Should I order you flowers?” She paused then continued, “And some for your wife?”
Principals think they run the school, but they don’t.