As a spanking-new first grader, I heard (on big-kid authority) the principal functioned as Lord High Executioner. Mrs. Taylor, a large, pigeon-shaped lady, laughed loud and deep, displaying a mouthful of white, predatory teeth.
Whenever she appeared, I glued my eyes to my Dick and Jane book. I never wanted to deliver Teacher’s attendance sheet to Mrs. Taylor’s office because I couldn’t bear the hopeless looks of the condemned waiting outside. Would they emerge alive?
I’d survived first grade, when I heard rumors of a new principal. A man. I feared my life expectancy would drop considerably, which my first encounter with Mr. O’Connor confirmed. Adults called him “short,” but he seemed big and powerful, a redheaded Irishman whose cat-green eyes shot sparks when we crossed him.
My children, on the other hand, brought home tales of friendship and fun with their principal. He read storybooks aloud, led students in “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” and told the lamest knock-knock jokes in western civilization. If you forgot your bus number, he materialized like Jesus to help you.
During our children’s school careers, we encountered several principals who went the extra mile. Lately, though, many go the extra galaxy. Mrs. Taylor and Mr. O’Connor, whom I eventually recognized as caring professionals, wanted students to achieve. Never, however, did they kiss a potbellied pig. Running a school these days poses enough challenges without eating fried worms (even with mustard and ketchup), as a Texas principal did to motivate her students.
Brave? Ye-e-es. Even more heroic (and less yucky): working behind the scenes to make a difference in kids’ lives.
Years ago, I encountered our principal in an alley doing exactly that. Unintentionally, I almost wiped him out. Still dressed in robe and nightgown, I was moving trash cans in pouring rain when subhuman screams rent the air. I grabbed my garden hoe, positive a child had been attacked. Thankfully, I recognized our principal before I dismembered him.
I ducked inside our garage and watched the drenched educator haul a screeching, kicking blur toward school a block away. Later, I asked him about the incident.
“Billy had locked himself in his mom’s car. I went and brought him to school.”
“Coat hanger?” I asked.
“Yeah, learned it in college. Great methods course.”
“Has Billy learned his lesson?”
“He tries stuff to see if I mean it.” A Mr. O’Connor look stole over his features. “I mean it.”
Did Billy thank him? Probably not. The principal had to use more Fear Factor than he liked. Hopefully, three decades later, Billy realizes the value of his Friend Factor, who literally walked the extra mile — in the rain — to help him succeed.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What special educator do you recall?