Superintendent White was the second biggest dog in the pack that was Senior Admin of the Granite District School Board. Only the Director of Education was more Alpha than him But the position of Director kept changing hands. In the past few years the job had passed between Carl Holzbein, who had run off to British Columbia with an elementary teacher at least half his age, Angela Testaverdi, who had more or less been run out of town by the Trustees for suggesting that country kids weren’t getting the same opportunities as those in Granite City and Gilles Crapaud who had been running things for a few years now. Or so it seemed.
The reality was that White was running things as he always had. Sure the Director got the good office, the nice car and the bigger golden parachute when his time was up. But the Director’s position had become a lot like being the Governor General. You went to cocktail parties; you made appearances at important fund-raisers and you cut ribbons at important openings of new schools; well, you would if there were new schools to open.
Director Crapaud had arrived from Toronto. The Trustees, in a surprise move, had gone outside the GDSB for its current director. That had rubbed a few noses the wrong way. When a new director is named from inside the GDSB, a lot of people get bumped up the career ladder. If the director was a superintendent, then a principal is made superintendent, a vice principal is made principal and a department head is made vice principal. But when the Trustees go to another board for the new director, all that career bumping goes on in the other board.
Now don’t feel bad for Angela Testaverdi. When they run a Director out of town, they do it nice and gently. She got to keep her BMW, she and her husband got to go to two “conferences” in Las Vegas and Bermuda and she got a nice retirement gratuity. So don’t feel sorry for her. Could the Board afford all this? They just took it out of the French grant. After Testaverdi the next in line was Superintendent White. Now he would have to wait it out until Director Crapaud left and Crapaud was younger than he was. But Superintendent White wasn’t going to wait quietly.
A few years ago it was the dog plan. It worked like this. Put a big happy friendly dog in every Guidance Department in the Board. Students walk in with their problems and the first thing to greet them is a big goofy smile, a wet tongue and a whole big coat of fur just waiting to be petted. Who would care about their worries after that? And what a beautiful photo op. White next to a cute 15 year-old girl and an even cuter dog. That would make the first page of the Granite City Gazette-Times. And it did. Mind you anyone looking at it was going to pay attention to the girl or the dog and ignore Superintendent White, but the people who really counted would see him there and know who was responsible for the good PR.
Meleesa Cook walked slowly one day on her way to Guidance. She didn’t usually go to Guidance. It wasn’t because she didn’t have problems she could discuss with a counsellor. She didn’t feel right talking about her shyness with a stranger. But she was bursting inside. There was this boy that she liked, really liked. He didn’t seem to know she existed. She could talk to her mother about him, but what did her mother know about boys? She could talk to her father, but what did her father know about anything? Some of her friends went to Guidance when they had problems. Some of the girls at her school had a new problem every week and spent more time in Guidance than they did in class. She wasn’t friends with any of those girls though.
The cameras and reporters weren’t around when Meleesa, who was feeling a little more nervous than usual entered Guidance and was surprised to have a black lab jumping up on her. What was a dog doing at school? She didn’t like dogs, even the quiet ones. And this one wasn’t quiet at all. He was big and very excitable. An outsider might have said that here was one big ol’ friendly dog with a big ol’ wagging tail. Meleesa didn’t see it that way though. She saw paws as big as her face and a tail that could knock her right over. She screamed, the dog got excited and did knock her over, she screamed some more, the dog got more excited and you know that the only place this vicious circle is going to go is where she runs out of the room in tears and the dog pisses all over the floor.
Mr. Cook phoned the school as soon as he heard about the incident and demanded to know what the fuck the school was doing using dogs as guidance counsellors. Had they gone nuts? What idiot had thought that one up? Why can’t schools just do what they’re supposed to do? He was going to go to the press and see what they had to say about girls being attacked by school board dogs.
Bunny managed to calm him down and avoided the bad publicity but that was in end of the dogs in Guidance at LBSS. The program continued for quite some time at the schools in Granite City were perhaps dogs and 15 year old girls are less excitable.
Next came the obesity initiative. It hadn’t been his idea. The idea had apparently come from the phys ed head at Lord Byron, but he was quick to jump on the band wagon. When the idea proved popular, Tanker had been pushed aside and replaced with a more pliable newby. The obesity initiative brought in a lot of positive press and enquiries from other boards. Like most things in education it didn’t run long enough for there to be any measurable results. But of course that didn’t stop the Board from claiming victory before shutting down the program. Students who had lost weight were paraded in front of the camera. It was never really clear if it had been because of the program, in spite of program or the result of something altogether divorced of the program. In education you take credit for anything that appears to work and blame others for everything else. The most extreme case was the kid who had lost 48 pounds due to chemotherapy who was shown to the press as one of the success stories. They threw a baseball cap on his head to cover his lack of hair. Anything for good press.
But the obesity initiative was a cow that could only be milked so much.
So last year Phil White went looking for a way to hit the ball out of the park. He needed something big and bold. Something that would bring lots of positive press, would be associated directly with his name and would have all the appearances of being pedagogically innovative. After thumbing through some educational journals, Superintendent White came upon a brochure from the Colorado Institute of Learning. It was bright and glossy. It had colour pictures of good-looking, smiling students from racial diverse backgrounds having fun while learning. It promised great results. It seemed almost too good to be true.
So Superintendent White called the toll-free number and was impressed when it was Ken Smith himself who answered the phone. According to the brochure Ken Smith was a guru of evaluation. It was Smith who had invented the concept of Potential intelligence. And, for a small fee, he was willing to share the results of his research.
Superintendent White explained to Smith that he was looking for innovation, that he wanted to make a statement that would have a lasting impression and that he wanted to take the Granite District School Board in an entirely new direction.
Smith said that he had found his man. White had hardly put the phone down when there in front of him was the man himself, wearing a broad smile and a stetson hat. He had apparently got the first plane out of Colorado. Mrs Oliver, Superintendent White’s secretary showed him to a chair and set down herself. White wanted a written report of the negotiations.
“You bettya. We can put something together for you all. Our philosophy is that it’s not how smart you are that counts. It’s how smart you look.”
“I don’t get it”
“Are you the smartest person in the Board?”
“Probably not.” White forced himself to be humble.
“So why are you number two in all the Board?”
White thought about answering honestly. He was where he was today because he had kissed all the right ass, play golf-a really stupid game- with all the right people; because he knew how to take credit for the work of others. He had gotten drunk with the most boring people in the world, called them all by stupid nicknames and allowed them to do the same to him. He joined every committee going and lived by the rule of three meetings. It stated that if you had three places to be at the same time, you used each one as a reason to not be at the others and just went home early. It didn’t matter that you went to the meetings-nothing was ever accomplished at them anyway. It mattered that you had your name on the paper that the committee eventually would write. He had coached the right sports too. The ones like football that got plenty of good press. And here it mattered that you knew what you were doing, for it is a widely held believe that leaders come from the coaching ranks. Artsy-fartsy English teachers don’t make good leaders. Jocks do.
“Number two in the Board” how he hated being called that. Number two was the first loser. The silver medal is just a piece of jewellery. He was smarter than Crapaud and all the ones before him. He certainly worked harder than Crapaud. Hell, even the little statue of Buddha on his desk worked harder than Crapaud.
“You’re where you are in the Board ‘coz they’ll think you look smart. Don’t matter chicken’s teeth iffen y’are. Just so long as you look it. Now y’all listen up and I’ll explain how everything works. It ain’t rocket science, y’know.”
“You seem more like you’re from Texas than Colorado.”
“Oh yeah, that. Well y’all gotta understand that it might be called the Colorado Institute of Learning, but it’s located in Littletown, Texas.”
“Why not call it the Texas Institute of Learning?”
“Well y’all gotta understand that recent research has shown that people don’t associate ‘Texas’ with education very much any more. I dunno why that is. Colorado sounds a lot better. Any way lemme tell y’all about our research.”
“Go on, then.”
“Lemme tell all about P I Q.”
“P I Q?”
“Potential Intelligence Quotient. We judge students not by how smart they are, but how smart they look. Successful people look smart, whether they are or not. Y’all want to go to a doctor who hems and hawls. Even if he knows what he’s doing, he don’t make you feel confident. Who are the best politicians? The best bankers? The best lawyers?. As I say to my wife all the time: It’s not the meat, it’s the motion, baby!” And with that he slapped his knee.
“Y’all want success in life for your students?”
“Y’all want your schools to be the best in the country?”
“y’all want your parents to be happy with the job that the school system is doing?”
“Y’all want to be number one?”
Well, then lemme show y’all a couple of forms to fill out and we’ll git ya on your way to tomorrow. Now, y’ all will excuse me a moment.” he said as he walked out of the office. As soon as he was alone, Education Guru Ed Smith took out his cell phone and made a brief call: “Edwina, it worked like a charm. He bought it all, hook, line and sinker. It’s been a pleasure doing business with y’all. Got any other potential customers, like Phil here?”
About twenty minutes and $100,000 later, the Granite District School Board was on its way to the education nirvana that the Colorado Institute of Learning was promising. Now you might ask if a superintendent can just spend $100 000 like that without checking with the Director and the Trustees. Well he might not have the authority; but he does certainly have the ability. Neither the Director nor the Trustees were really watching what he did, so he did as he pleased.
After that followed a lot of training sessions for senior management, so they could get their minds around the idea that the kid who worked hard, did homework faithfully, studied for tests and handed assignments in on time was now the new delinquent of the school system. These training sessions couldn’t happen at the Learning Centre. The Learning Centre was full of offices and busy people running from point A to point Z. Anyway the Colorado Institute of Learning had a number of clients, mostly in the US and was running sessions almost constantly. Not in Colorado, mind you, or Texas. Hawaii seemed like a more appropriate place.
After Crapaud and White and their girlfriends or wives or whatever came back from being in-serviced in Hawaii, their assistants who also went to Hawaii, rented space in the best hotel in Granite City and trained the Principals and Vice-Principals. Now you might wonder how the Board Office became the Learning Centre at a cost of $3 million in renovations, which they didn’t take out of the French grant this time and yet there’s no space for Principals and Vice Principals to meet. You might wonder that and if you’re a tax payer in the area controlled by the Granite District School Board, you might want to phone someone in authority and demand an answer. Good luck with that.
Phoning the Learning Centre is an adventure and by ‘adventure’ I mean something you would do if you decided that your life was too good, you were too happy and you needed to feel like the majority of people who live miserable lives. If you enjoy frustration, please go ahead and attempt to connect with the appropriate person at the Learning Centre. First you’ll get a menu. Not a menu like in a fancy restaurant. You get a very mechanical sounding woman, who is on at least half of all phones in North America. Let’s call her Betty. I think you already know Betty. The first choice Betty will give you is press one for English and two for French. Why you are given that choice by the GDSB who by definition is an English language school board isn’t clear. Some Trustee obviously thought it was important for national unity. Perhaps Gilles Ducheppe and other Bloquistes have changed their entire view of English Canada knowing that the GDSB offers phone frustration in both official languages.
Now Betty will ask you if you know the extension of the person who you are calling. Of course you don’t. If you did, you would have dialled it. Don’t try arguing with Betty on this point. You won’t win. Next she will suggest that you punch in the first three letters of the person’s name. Of course the phone isn’t really good for spelling as each number has at least three letters. But Betty doesn’t give up easily. She’ll guess away until you find a familiar name or you give up. Betty must be hard of hearing because she says “I’m sorry I didn’t hear your selection.” an awful lot. Betty will also promise that you can talk to a real person any time you want. Don’t believe her. Of course you don’t know who to talk to. It’s not like there’s a Superintendent of Complaints. If you do get through to someone’s extension, they won’t be there. No it’s true. They are never there. Or at least they have taken a vow to never answer a ringing phone. You will be invited to leave a message in the voice mail box. But since they never answer their phone, their voice mail box is full. And you are kicked back to Betty who repeats “Thank you for calling the Granite District School Board. Press one for English et composez le numéro 2 pour service en français.” So there you are. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
You wanted to know why there isn’t room for meetings at the new and improved Learning Centre. The answer you would get, if you actually found someone to ask and this someone was prepared to tell you would be that there is in fact room at the Learning Centre, but that it’s nice to get out once in a while and hotels in Granite City are a good deal compared to those in the big city.
Principal Bunny loved the concept of Potential Intelligence. He thought that he would have done a whole lot better at school if he had been evaluated along Potential Intelligence lines. Bunny dressed well, spoke well and came across as a charismatic guy. If you can if fact be charismatic and at the same time afraid of people. In school, and especially at university he didn’t make every class or meet every deadline. It had had no effect whatsoever in his ability to do his job. Randy Doyle felt a little different about rewarding the lazy kids and penalizing the hard working ones. Doyle had always worked hard at school and on the job. He thought that so called ‘charming’ people got a free ride and this was just going to add to it. Why shouldn’t deadlines count? Why should kids get away with cheating or plagiarizing? Yet all this was part of Potential Intelligence. Oh well, he thought, at least I won’t be the one that has to sell it to the staff. Doyle looked forward to watching Bunny explain all this to the staff.
One of the students who should have benefited from Potential Intelligence was Jordan White, Phil’s second son. He could be best described by two expressions: gifted athlete and complete dink. As well as being middle line on the senior football team, Jordan played open side flanker on the school rugby team and was a champion wrestler. He had athletic ability to spare. As a linebacker he seemed to be a part of every tackle. There was a rage about him that on the football field or rugby pitch was directed and focused. He scored more points on interceptions than the team’s receivers did . When the team lost as it always did, the joke was that the defence hadn’t managed to score enough points. And by defence everyone meant Jordan. His coaches loved him, not because of who he was but what he could do for the team. Well most of his coaches loved him; his wrestling coach was a little afraid of him and was always glad when his bout was over and no one was hurt. Jordan was always on the edge and Coach Gillingham’s biggest fear that he would one day go too far and injure his opponent.
It’s hard to say what made Jordan a complete dink, assuming of course that dinks are made and not born. All the attention paid to him as an athlete since the age of six had certainly gone to his head. But there are a lot of gifted athletes who are humble, polite and friendly individuals. No one had ever accused Jordan of being humble or polite or even friendly. So it could have been that what made him the dink that he was, well was the fact that at school he got away with murder. Every teacher and every Principal that he ever had had realized early on who his father was. Even before he made Superintendent, it was very apparent that he was in the express line to promotion and it would be wise not to cross him.
Jordan had been recruited by several football programs, Queen’s, Ottawa U, Acadia among others. And by the University of Western Ontario. The Western football program had won six Vanier Cups and looked like a good bet for the next few years to come. Western was far and away his first choice. These days university players have to be good athletes and good students. Nowhere was this more true than at Western.
Problem was Jordan was not a good student. None of his teachers thought that he was smart and he spent so much time out of class-time he couldn’t afford to miss- that he never got good marks. And that was going to be a problem because as much as the football program at Western wanted him, he still needed to be accepted by the university admissions office. And his current marks weren’t going to do the job.
But what was the point of being Superintendent, if you couldn’t get your kid into the university of his choice? Years ago, when White wasn’t Superintendent White, not even Principal White just biology teacher White, the then Director of Education had come to White one parents’ night and asked what he had against his daughter, why he was giving her such low marks, why he wanted to ruin her life. White had been trying for several years to get into Administration. He was trying so hard that it had become a joke among his colleagues. They called him Brown nose White. There wasn’t a committee he wouldn’t join, including Status of Women and Aboriginal Education, even though as a black male, he was neither woman nor aboriginal. Even the Interdisciplinary Curriculum Initiatives. He never even found out what that committee did.
The Director’s daughter’s marks took a quick turn upwards and so did White’s career. The next year he was Vice-Principal at Chevalier.
Superintendent White didn’t see where things had changed. Jordan needed help in English and Biology. The other four marks weren’t going to be a problem. There were enough light courses on offer to give him a good average. Mrs Witherforce , his English teacher, was easy enough to influence. It only took one complaint to Bunny about a couple of essay marks. Could she justify such a low mark? Could he have them reassessed by another English teacher. When Witherforce heard of all this from Bunny, she could see the writing on the wall and just changed the marks upwards. She had always wanted to be in Administration.
Biology was another matter. He had Perkins for senior biology. Perkins had been around the block once or twice. He had seen all the games being played. He had seen the kind of people selected for Admin and he didn’t care what they did to him. They couldn’t touch him.
“He gets the marks he earns. Like everyone else in my class.”
“But he looks smart.”
“And I look rich!” which he didn’t unless dishevelled is the new chic.
“Things could get a little hot around here.” Bunny said without much conviction. He felt awkward about the whole thing. But White was good at putting pressure on his underlings. Bunny wasn’t the type to stand up to White or anyone else for that matter. Bunny liked being in charge of a school; he liked having an office; he liked the way people listened to what he had to say; but he really wasn’t a people person. At least not a people-with-a-complaint person. He wanted mostly just to be left alone. He really didn’t like dealing with all those problems that the students caused. Give them a punishment and the first thing they do as soon as they’re out of the office is phone their parents and start getting out of it. Sometimes they wouldn’t even wait to be out of his office. Take a firm stand with the parents and they just go over your head to the Board. If Bunny was afraid of students, the Board was even more afraid of parents. They always gave in to them. So what was the point? Bunny was really only happy being Principal when he wasn’t at the school.
“What exactly are you saying?”
“I think you understand me perfectly. Either the mark improves or…”
“Or what? Is that a threat?”
“Let me finish. Either the mark improves or White will be on my back.”
“Is that my problem? What is White going to do to me?
“Do you really want to find out?”
“Yeah, you know. I think it might be kind of fun to see where he goes with this.” Perkins was enjoying himself. “Tell him if he wants results he is going to have to talk to me personally.”
“Come on. Don’t make it worse than it is.”
“Worse for me or worse for you?”
The new day Mrs. P. informed Perkins that he had an appointment with Superintendent White.
“Four o’clock Tuesday.”
“Tell him I can’t make it. My mom is sick right now and I’m spending all my free time looking after her. Ask him to come here.”
“Oh I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
“I’d like to keep it quiet.” Perkins was a bit of a military history buff and he knew that the General who picked the good ground usually won the battle.
Sure enough, Tuesday at four o’clock White was there. Perkins was paged to come to the office. He phoned down instead and said he couldn’t leave the room as he was in the middle of setting up a lab and had a number of specimens about.
Begrudgingly, Superintendent White walked up to the second floor biology lab. The ripe smell of formaldehyde greeted him at the door. Throughout the room were fifteen or so dead cats waiting for dissection. Dressed in his old dirty lab coat, Perkins looked up from his front desk.
“Ah, Superintendent White, how are you?” Perkins wondered if it was going to be the carrot or the stick
His eyes started to sting. “Please call me Phil.” So it was going to be the carrot to start. “We need to talk about Jordan’s progress.”
“Oh, is Jordan your son? I didn’t realize.” Perkins lied. “Well it’s pretty easy to discuss his progress. There hasn’t been any. He started the semester slow and hasn’t changed.”
“Do you check homework very often?” White has looking for something to blame on the teacher.
“No, they’re in grade twelve. They’re almost adults and no one is going to make them do their homework next year. But he doesn’t appear to do it very often. Do you check his homework at home?” Perkins deflected the blame back.
“He’s very busy with football right now.”
“Too busy to come in at lunch for extra help?”
“There’s football meetings at lunch.”
“His choice. He gets the mark he earns.”
“How can we make this problem go away?”
“Well.” Perkins paused a moment before going on. “I’d like to go away to Montreal over the holidays. Stay at the Queen Elizabeth at Board expense.”
“That can be arranged. And my son gets an A?”
“Hold on. I’m not done. And I want a different hooker every night. Also at Board expense.”
White looked at him for a good minute. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”
“Damn right I’m serious. If this got out, it could ruin my career.”
“I don’t know how we can arrange that. I mean it’s not like they take credit cards.”
“The upscale ones do. Just get me your Board credit card and I’ll take care of the rest.”
“And for all that my son gets an A.” Half question half statement.
“A plus.” And offered him his hand
“Pleasure doing business with you.” With that Superintendent White left the room. A minute later Barovsky walked in and” was surprised by the formaldehyde and the cats.
“You’re not leaving these cats out overnight, are you?”
“I’m at the dentist tomorrow first thing. I’m showing a movie. Help me put these cats back in storage.” Said Perkins as he walked over to a camcorder attached to a tripod and shut the machine off. “Say do you know anything about posting to Youtube?”
Most teachers divide kids up into three categories. Where the difference of opinion lies is in what those categories should be. Mrs. Templeton would say there are kids who get it and therefore have a chance at doing science at university. Those who don’t get it and probably won’t go to university and those is the middle who should study geography. As for Barovsky, who was descended from Russian nobility, it was a question of social ranking. One should not hope to rise above one’s station in life. Children of doctors, lawyers and university professors could expect to become doctors, lawyers and university professors. Plumbers and other trades people should be happy where they are. Wishing to be something else would only bring disappointment. He included teachers in this category as by and large, he viewed his colleagues with contempt. (his case was different; he was only teaching until the family estates near Nizhny Novogorod were restored to their rightful owners) Then there was the third category: the masses, the uneducated, the ignorant, the stupid, the unemployed. He called them the rabble. He coddled the first group; he tolerated the second and he prided himself in showing disdain for the last.
Cohen, the dramatic arts teacher, sorted kids this way: The few good enough to appear in one of his productions; the several good enough to be stage hands; and the many needed to fill up the numbers so that he could remain a full-time drama teacher and not have to teach his other subject which was English. Most drama teachers think that way. Anything to avoid English. The difference between teaching drama and teaching English is night and day. No one forces you to take drama. English classes are full of people wishing they were somewhere, anywhere else. Drama is fun. English is something between sleeping on a concrete mattress and having your nails pulled out. Drama has almost no homework, and more importantly, drama has almost no marking. English has 2 000 word essays and they need to be marked. Full time English teachers are just walking and talking time bombs. The kids have to take the subject. They have to read long, boring books written by some dead guys. They have to write long, boring essays about those books and worse, the teacher has to mark them. Check the stats. The vast majority of teachers who are on long term disability are there for mental reasons and the vast majority of teachers who are have mental problems are English teachers. You have to be nuts to want to teach English. And if you are not nuts when you start, wait, you will be.
So Cohen would do anything to get out of teaching English. On the first day of grade nine, he’d tell the class that two drama credits were required to graduate. (in reality one arts credit is required). Even though the drama room had a no food policy, he would bring doughnuts every Friday. Being department Head of Arts gave him the power to decide what classes ran and what didn’t. Drama classes of 12 would be safe while visual art classes of 20 were closed. Grade 11 and 12 music were grouped together to make one class of 35. Anything to avoid having to teach English.
Ryan, the new guy, was going to save the world. His kids were going to help him do that, Just as soon as they understood the problem. So he only grouped kids two ways. Those who already knew that they were environmentalists and were ready to get to work and those who didn’t yet know that they were environmentalists. The kids in his class might have seen it slightly different. There were kids who were browners, suck-ups and geeks and then there was the normal kids. Poor Ryan, no one had the heart to tell him.
Roberts, who was only teaching science until some phys ed periods were available, grouped kids by how likely were they to ask a question that he didn’t know the answer to. As there was a lot he didn’t know, most students fit into the very likely category.
There were all sorts of ways of categorizing students. Murph, the rugby coach, would walk down the hall and mentally divide kids into forwards and backs, based on their body type. Miss Santino, the sweet young Spanish teacher who needed a boyfriend and spent way too much time thinking about it, would subconsciously divide the boys into hot and not categories. One time she became aware that she was doing that and turned beat red and tried thinking about her dog.
For all her faults, one thing good about Mad-as-Hell Tremblay was that she treated all students equally. She hated them all. If any of them had the slightest idea of what she called them or what she made them call themselves, they would have understood how much she hated them.
“Répétez après moi, les amis. Je suis nul.”
“Je suis nul.” came the chorus
“Nous sommes nuls.”
“Nous sommes nuls.”
“Madame, what are we saying. I don’t get it?
“Oui, mon petit. Il y a beaucoup de choses que tu ne piges pas.”
“Madame, we didn’t do any French last year . We just played games and did crosswords.”
“Je sais mes amis. Vous n’avez rien fait. Vous ne comprenez rien. Vous n’aimez rien sauf vos stupides téléphones cellulaires. Et vos Ipods. Vous n’êtes pas même pas capable de penser.. Bonne chance dans la vie.”
It mattered little that they didn’t understand a word of what she was saying. Any other French teacher would have had them hanging off the ceiling, leaning out the window, throwing split balls . Not Mad-as-Hell Tremblay. According to legend, she packed a mickey of whiskey and a switch blade in her purse. She used the mickey every day and she had used the switch blade on a few occasions. She had total control.
Randy Doyle, the vice-principal, had to be concerned about important things. Like were the halls empty during class time? Did we score well (or at least better than last year) on fire drills. Kids mostly fell into three categories: good kids, bad kids and the followers who could go either way. Ryland Hammersmith, in one of his sociology courses, more or less proved what kids have been saying for years. Reputation with teachers is everything. If they think you’re a good kid, one can get away with murder. A few girls with stellar reputations and the marks to go along, were asked to go out into the halls in the English wing and make as much noise as possible. Lyndsey Baggott who played the lead in last year’s production of You Can’t Get There from Here, set herself up at one end of the hall and started reciting Portia’s speech from The Merchant of Venice. At the other end of the hall, Kaileigh Streemtrubre went through the starting line up for the offence, the defence and special teams for both the senior and junior football teams, complete with their vital stats. Kaileigh was the third Streemtrubre in a row to be editor of the Leaping Lord, the school yearbook. Both Kaileigh and Lyndsey had scholarships lined up for next year at McGill and Dalhousie. This cacophony went on for a good ten minutes. Two doors were closed and a couple of teachers stuck their heads into the hall to see what was going on. No one said a word to the girls.
In the mean time, Scottie Van Doornedorp, who had been asked to seek educational opportunities elsewhere on more than one occasion. (seeking educational opportunities elsewhere is eduspeak for suspended) organized a card game in the math wing. He and his buddies weren’t there more than two minutes before Doyle was on him, sending him back to class despite his protestations that Hammersmith had given him permission to play cards in the hall.
The next day the boys and girls switched. Kaileigh and Lyndsey played cards for the entire period without a word being said to them. And Scottie and the boys tried yelling at both ends of the English hall, though there weren’t any speeches from Shakespeare. Well that lasted a minute, barely, before Mrs Noseworthy sent them packing. The next day a discussion followed in sociology about things like fairness, stereotypes and the importance of maintaining a good reputation.
“Man, Doyle is so jag.” started Scottie Van Doornedorp. “He kicked me out of the hall and like he didn’t care that I had permission to be there. What an SQ.”
“I think he’s kinda cute” said Honey-Leigh.
“Ooh, yuck. He’s a teacher. He’s not supposed to be cute.” retorted Buffy
“Can we return to the topic of the importance of reputation?” Ryland Hammersmith tried to reel the discussion back to where it was supposed to be.
“I like totally agree.” said Honey-Leigh
“Agree with what?” asked Scottie.
“Like your reputation is real important.” Honey-Leigh added. “If you sleep with your best friend’s boyfriend, you should not let people know or else you’ll get a reputation.”
“You should know.” came a voice from the back.
“Can we please stay on topic?” asked Ryland Hammersmith hoping to regain control
“What d’ya mean, you bitch?”
“Like I said. You heard me fine, slut. You should know ’bout sleeping with someone’s boyfriend.”
“Hey, you and Kyle were broken up then. It’s not my fault that you got back together”
“ Honey-Leigh, Brianna, I need you two to get back on topic.” Ryland Hammersmith, hoping to minimize the damage.
“Sir, we are so on topic. You wanted us to discuss reputation and we are doing just that. And her reputation is that she’s a slut who sleeps with people’s boyfriends.”
“Bitch” said Honey-Leigh as she got out of her seat and went straight for her throat.
“Cat fight!” yelled the boys in the back.
“Grrrrrrawl!” added Scottie
Ryland went for the phone to get back up from the office, but the receiver had been ripped off long ago. Breaking up a fight is one of the most sticky things that teachers have to do. First rule don’t touch the kids. And if you do pull one kid off the other be sure that you’re not just holding the one kid so that the other gets a few free shots. Second rule, is don’t touch the kids, especially if they are girls and you’re a male teacher. Despite all good intentions, a hand can slip. A boob can be grapped and the next thing you know the College of Ontario Teachers is phoning and suggestion you get a lawyer. So what are you going to do? Ask for help from the class? Ain’t going to happen. They are enjoying themselves and don’t want the show to end. Yell at them to stop? At this point their ears aren’t working. Phone for help? Well we saw how easy that is.
After several minutes of “Please stop”, Ryland ran across the hall and got Miss Delpeca. All of five feet tall and 95 pounds, Luisa Delpeca had a diaphragm and knew how to use it. Having done drama productions all through high school and university, she had done a hundred thousand breathing exercises. Out of her tiny mouth came a roar whose origins were from deep inside her. The boys at the back stopped cheering. The girls who were watching stopped screaming. The combatants stopped in mid blow and looked for the source of the noise.
Luisa took advantage of the relative calm to utter two short words: “Office! Now!”
The two girls, sufficiently cowed, packed up their books and headed to the office. Miss Delpeca looked up at the six-foot two-inch Hammersmith with a glance half full of contempt and half full of disbelief and said: “It’s okay I got this. Just keep an eye on my class while I’m gone.” and followed the girls down to the office.
Now the girls had picked a good day to have a fight. For a change Randy Doyle was out of the building, gone to an in-service at the Learning Centre. On his way in to Granite City, Doyle couldn’t remember if today’s topic was Motivating the Under-motivated, Living with Asbestos or Five Really Good Habits of Really Good Administrators. It didn’t matter. It was a day away from the school. A day away from chasing kids who didn’t want to go to class. A day away from the dagger stares of the teaching staff who wanted desperately to take marks off for being late, to give zeros for work not handed in and fail a kid who gets caught cheating, who wanted to evaluate the way they always had. They blamed the new Potential Intelligence program on Randy and not on the Learning Centre people who were really responsible.
And it was a day away from doing all the work of the Principal and not getting any of the credit for it.
It was also a free lunch.
On the other hand, today was exceptional because it was one of those rare days when Anthony Bunny, Principal Anthony Bunny was actually in the building. He wasn’t at Yoga and the Modern Administrator. He wasn’t at You and your inner wicka. He wasn’t at the Learning Centre pretending to have all day meetings with Superintendents who were not even there. Having found no excuse to not be at school, he had to actually be there. He had thought of calling in sick.
“Who has October 2?” asked Perkins who ran an office pool where the objective was to predict when Bunny would appear for the first time that school year.
“I do.” answered Mrs. Templeton “How much did I win?”
“You again! You won last year! It’s fixed!”
“You gotta know your principals. So Perkins, how much?
“$76.54. Are you going to take me to dinner?”
“I might. What are you proposing?”
“Le Chien Qui Fume, this Saturday night.”
“76.54 wouldn’t buy you an hors d’oeuvre, there. Are you paying for the rest?”
Miss Delpeca arrived at the office with her two detainees in tow: “I need to see Doyle.” she said curtly to Mrs P
“Not here.” said Mrs P without looking up from her magazine.
“Alright, then Swift, I guess.”
“Not here, either.”
“Then who’s in charge? Noseworthy, again? Or it is Benthover?”
“Nope, it’s the big guy.”
“Bunny? He’s in the building?”
“In flesh and blood. Should I get a camera? Call the press? Declare a national holiday?”
“Call America’s Most Wanted? Anyway I need to talk to him? Is he free?”
“I’ll check. Mr Bunny, are you free?” She called out to his office without aid of an intercom. Bunny was sitting at his desk with his feet up wearing one of those sleep mask they give you when you fly first class. He was listening to ABBA’s greatest hits on a cassette tape playing in his Sony Walkman. The fact that it was the self same Walkman that he bought while at university is a testament to Japanese engineering. And a testament to the frozen state of affairs with Bunny. In direct opposition to the geriatric nature of his listening device, was the catalogue from Creative Innovation that he had been perusing. Creative Innovation billed itself as the leader in Educational Technologies. They promised all kinds of positive results for schools who bought their tablettes, their smartboards and their laptops. Principal Bunny had close to $30,000 to spend on technology, but he had to do it today. Well, actually he had until the end of the month, but he wasn’t sure if he was going to be back in the building again this month.
“Give me a minute, would you?’ He just couldn’t decide between a bank of the SmartBoard 6456i with turbo drive and a class set of Orange’s 797 tablette nouvelle. Both were just so ….
“What I have can’t wait!’” Miss Delpeca burst into the room and interrupted Bunny’s electronic wet dream.
“Lisa, good to see you again” responded Bunny when he had fully returned to reality. Luisa Delpeca motioned with her head as if to say, “Don’t use my first name, there are students present.”
“What can I help you with, Lisa?” Bunny continued, oblivious to her gesture.
“I broke these two up.”
“They’re a couple?” asked Bunny.
“No, I broke up a fight between the two of them. In Mr Hammersmith’s class.” she added as if to say “I don’t really have to be here.”
“You got this? Cause I really need to go back to class.” and she left without waiting for a reply.
“Well, well.” said Bunny, turning to the girls “Why don’t you two tell me about it?”
“That bitch called me a slut.” said Brianna
“That slut called me a bitch.” added Honey-Leigh
“Well, you are a slut.”
“And you’re a bitch.”
“I’m gonna rip your eyes out.”
“I’m gonna make you eat your own face.”
“Girls, please stop.” Despite Bunny’s less than stern admonishments, Brianna was on Honey-Leigh in a flash. Bunny continued to try to get them to stop with a series of ‘please don’t’ and ‘stop please’. But the hair pulling and face gouging continued unabated until Mrs P’ walked into Bunny’s office and ended the fight with: “You two should be ashamed. I’m calling your mothers.” This was no insincere threat. Mrs P being a grad of LBSS knew both their mothers, had been to school with both their mothers and continued to bowl with them every Tuesday. Their mothers had baby sat her children and she had baby sat Brianna and Honey-Leigh.
“Sorry, Mrs. P. Please don’t call my mother.” said the girls in unison.
“Well, what is this silly fight about?”
“Nothing” said Brianna
“Just a boy.” said Honey-Leigh
“Not Kyle, I hope. You know he is really not worth it.”
“Tell me about it! I’m going to dump him. You want him Honey-Leigh?
“Hell no, Brianna. He’s too jag for me.”
“Now, you two, go on now, get back to class.”
“Thanks, Mrs P
Bunny, who should have invited the girls to seek educational opportunities elsewhere for at least three days, just sat there and watched Mrs. P take care of the whole thing.
Principals think they are in charge, but they’re not.
Administrators and Principals probably sort teachers in the same way that teachers sort students. Categories like compliant and non-compliant or useful and useless, clueless and not clueless come to mind. As for teachers in the useless or clueless categories you’d think that Administrators would do what they could to get rid of them. Well, they don’t.
The public image is that teachers’ unions will fight tooth and nail to keep a member employed. Any member no matter how bad they are. But the truth is that they don’t have to. Admin never makes them We all have had a teacher or two who, when all is said and done, should probably have picked another profession. And Principals will recognize them easily enough. Principals will take action to get them out of their school. But they won’t get them out of the profession. They will do what they can to have them made surplus to the school and therefore transfered to another school. Sometimes they will make trades with other principals. You take our dud and we’ll take yours. Sometimes they’ll give the guy such a lousy timetable that he’ll see the writing on the wall and find something else to do.
Warren Pettitfour had been at Lord Byron for several years. He wasn’t especially happy doing what he did. He could have looked for another school-heaven knows there were lots of people who would be glad if he did-but he just never seemed to have the ambition. The devil you know and all that… He had started in English. But the marking seemed to overwhelm him. He was always behind and never able to catch up. Stuff would stay in the trunk of his car for days, then the days turned into weeks and the weeks into months and then…Well at some point it was just easier to make up a mark; use his professional judgement. And, you know, if he had always given them higher marks than they deserved, no one would have complained. But there was always some smart-assed kid whose behaviour was worse than his ability and Warren would use marks to punish him. Do that often enough and a parent will complain to the Principal that the mark is too low and where did it come from anyway. Next thing you know the Principal is asking to see the mark book and Warren has to make up a whole set of marks and it starts getting to be more work than the work he was trying to avoid and he can’t keep up the charade and the Principal has to fix things with the parent. And Principals don’t like to be made to look foolish Well the end result is that the Principal starts looking for a place to put Warren. But nobody else will take him so where can he hide him?
Wilberforce, the head of the English department, managed to farm him off to the Social Sciences department. But it wasn’t cheap. Wilberforce had to give up her south-facing, away from the road corner room, which had been in the department for decades. (When she moved out she found projects with newspaper clippings from when the Leafs last won the Stanley Cup and you know that wasn’t yesterday) and all the tech grants that Wilberforce got were transfered to Social Science. Hammersmith had no idea where he was going to spend this tech money. But he wasn’t going take Warren for nothing.
After a few years they couldn’t stomach Warren any more. History assignments not marked aren’t significantly different from unmarked English ones. But who would take him? Student Services? Would you want him advising students? Co-op? Would you want him dealing with employers? If Ryland Hammersmith was going to unload Warren Pettitfour the price was going to be high.
The Co-op people weren’t at all interested. Social Science had nothing they needed.. They didn’t need a classroom, even if it was the nicest one in the building. And if you don’t need a classroom, you don’t need a lot of technology. Guidance people were pretty much in the same boat. You couldn’t suddenly turn him into a French teacher. Hammersmith was desperate. Couldn’t English take him back? No way was answer from Wilberforce. They had paid their dues.
Hammersmith went to Bunny and begged. He pleaded. Social Science wasn’t like English. They’ve got to take English all the way through. Warren was driving kids out of their courses. Sure, he didn’t get to teach the senior ones. But a lot of students felt very unprepared to take senior social sciences after taking history from Warren. He was good for numbers in other subjects, but deadly for social sciences. Bunny wasn’t totally unsympathetic. He said he would shop him around. Other schools might jump at the chance to have a teacher with that much experience on their team.
Once Hammersmith heard the word team, he knew it was hopeless. Bunny has speaking eduspeak and was only trying to placate him. Ryland told himself that while he had to continue putting up with Warren Pettitfour, he at least got to keep his corner classroom.
If Admin doesn’t care much one way or the other about useless teachers, they do care a lot about the non-compliant ones. When the various theories of the Colorado Institute of Learning were introduced to the Granite District School Board (GDSB for short- some of the locals say that the GD stands for God Damn), many teachers thought they were a crock of shit. And who wouldn’t? Potential Intelligence? What the hell is that? Evaluate students based on how smart they appear. Lates don’t matter. Cheating is okay. Hand stuff in if you feel like it. What are they smoking out in Colorado?
Jones hated these stupid theories. Perkins hated them. Mrs Templeton couldn’t find the words to describe how much she hated them. You can imagine how Barovsky felt. Not one of them said anything. They all just closed their doors and carried on like they always did. It was the passive resistance of a people who didn’t believe they had any power to change things at all.
Ryan didn’t know any better.
Ryan wrote emails to Superintendent White, to Director of Education Crapaud, to Chairperson of the Board Loveless and to Trustee Lindenhauser. Ryan mistakenly thought that an educational institution such as the GDSB was open to a free and informed debate on the pros and cons of such a wide-sweeping change as Potential Intelligence. He found studies from as far away places as Finland and Taiwan. He crunched the numbers, chewed up all the facts and drew his own conclusions. He actually liked a big chunk of the Potential Intelligence theory, but thought that it needed to be twigged a great bit.
He thought he had a voice.
At first the emails he fired off came back with short albeit polite responses. Then a few didn’t come back at all and finally his emails came back as undeliverable. Superintendent White, Director of Education Crapaud, Chairman of the Board Loveless and Trustee Lindenhauser had all blocked him. They didn’t want to debate, they didn’t want to discuss, they didn’t want to listen to his ideas. They just wanted him to shut up.
Despite, several emails, phone calls and (out of sheer desperation) a singing telegram… okay you just can’t mention a singing telegram without giving the details. So here goes.
Mrs Oliver, who was Superintendent White’s secretary, was pretty good at not letting just anyone into the Superintendent’s office. But the young lady in a UPS suit looked harmless enough. Normally, UPS would drop its deliveries at the receptionist desk at the main doors. But in this case the young lady had insisted that the package was of a personal nature and only Mr. White could sign for it.
When the “UPS” lady walked into his office, Superintendent White was busily perusing Attack Dog Monthly. -he liked to read ADM because it gave him ideas about how to handle his minions.
“Superintendent White?” asked the young lady in a very sultry voice
Intrigued, White answered: “I sure am. What can I do for you?”
“Here hold this.” she said handing him the package which had been her excuse into his office. She then undid the first two buttons of her blouse and began to sing:
(to the tune of frère Jacques) Potential, Potential
Is a stupid
A very, very stupid
With that she hopped up on his desk, undid another button and asked in a voice that was sexy and dippy at the same time: “Would you like the second verse, Mr Superintendent, sir?”
White’s gaze went up to her face and back to the unbuttoned blouse. Either by choice or necessity he remained silent, but made it clear that he would like that very much. The young lady removed her hand from the next button and gently placed it on the hem of her already short skirt. Ever so slightly she readjusted the hem toward the north and recommenced singing:
Mister White, Mister White
Before you ruin
Yes you’re gonna ruin
All our schools,
All our schools
Sure it wasn’t the best poetry. But you had to admire Ryan’s chutzpa. The UPS lady with the short skirt and the unbuttoned blouse continued: “Sign here, please. Mr. Superintendent, sir.” She had produced a clipboard from somewhere. She brought a pen to her lips, gave it the slightest of licks and passed it to Superintendent White, who on the second or third try managed to sign the paper close to the right spot.
“Gotta go now.” she said as she hopped off the desk, straightened her skirt, did up her blouse and popped out the door. White sat there in silence for the longest time. Whether from shock or the desire to not have the moment pass or just because he didn’t know what to do wasn’t clear.
After a certain amount of time, White regained his composure and called for Mrs. Oliver.
“Find out who sent that telegram.”
“Yes, that woman who was just here delivered a singing telegram.”
“A singing telegram,sir? I don’t think they do that anymore. But I’ll check.”
“And Mrs. Oliver?”
“If that woman ever comes back…”
“By all means is she not to be refused admittance. Do I make myself clear?
Well the answer about the origin of the telegram came back very quickly. There was nowhere in Granite City to get a singing telegram and for that matter any kind of telegram. But that didn’t stop Superintendent White from concluding that the telegram must have come from that trouble maker Ryan up in Byronville. He was going to have to deal with him once and for all.
A meeting was announced. An open forum for all staff at Lord Byron Secondary School who had concerns about the new evaluation policy. Questions were to be submitted in advance and Senior Admin, headed by Superintendent White would do their best to clarify everything. Many members of the staff saw this as a bright new development. Staff would have a voice and maybe, just maybe they would be listened to and these stupid reforms would be stopped. Several members of various departments submitted questions. Mrs Templeton didn’t submit any. Neither did Barovsky. Perkins intended to go to the Legion that day and get drunk with old timers. Ryan, on the other hand, prepared a Powerpoint presentation of all the 37 questions that he wanted to asked. (Actually it wasn’t a Powerpoint; he was boycotting Microsoft products because of … Um well he had some reason for the boycott)
The day of the big meeting soon came and the staff was abuzz with anticipation. The staff were assembled in the library at the end of the school day and there they waited. And waited. And waited.
About three-quarters of an hour after the meeting should have started in walked Superintendent White escorted by three two-footed attack dogs, Thelma Peacock, Supervising Principal of Human Resources, Connie Hammerstrom, Supervising Principal of Finance and Henry Farling, Supervising Principal at large. White sat down while his entourage remained standing behind him in a semi-circle not unlike a Pharaoh with three stylized statues of dogs at the rear. Only these dogs had bite. Farling was wearing a dark blue suit whose colour came dangerously close to black, a plain white shirt and a neat sky blue tie, tied with a full Windsor knot. He would have easily fit in at any board meeting on Bay Street or Wall Street. Hammerstrom was dressed like the female equivalent of Farling. She wore a navy dress suit and pants with a red scarf tied around her neck providing the only colour. Peacock was something different though. While still professional looking, she had made no attempt to hide her sexuality. The tight skirt which went a little beyond the knees, the purple sweater which left no doubt of the shape below the surface and the fish net stockings were all very clear evidence of her gender. Her open-toed high heels were anything but sensible.
For one brief moment it looked like high noon with each side trying to stare the other down. But White wasn’t interested in confrontation; he was interested in dictation. With a nod of the head he summoned Peacock who moved to the front and took out a book which she didn’t open. “This book is the rules and regulations which govern your relations with your employer, the Granite District School Board. Let me paraphrase it for you. You are all employees of the Board. In regards to decisions made by Senior Admin, you will not give your opinion. If we wanted your opinion and we don’t, we would ask for it and we won’t. You will do as you are told. You can smile if you wish while you are doing it. That is the only thing that you have any control over. In all other matters you will shut the fuck up. I trust that I have made myself clear.”
With that she turned around and went back to her spot.
“What audacity.” thought Ryan.
“What arrogance.” thought Barovsky
“What an ass.” thought Roberts
White looked at his entourage and concluded: “I think we’re done here. Have a nice day.”
So much for Ryan, the new guy. New guys are full of optimism, hope and belief in the possible. New guys believe they can change the world. New guys are full of energy. New guys are refreshingly naive.
From now on it was just Ryan.
And it was no more Mister Nice Guy. If it was a fight they wanted, he was ready to give them one.