After much thought about DeShawn and his teachers, I came up with an idea that I hoped would work. It was a variant on a strategy I had used as an elementary school principal: Teach kids how to be in trouble successfully. To understand this strategy one has to understand a bit about the behavior of youngsters at school.
Without a middle class background, and sometimes with a middle class background, kids would resist or defy the teacher or adult who wanted to apply discipline or just correct them. Many times the initial offense was paltry but became instantly serious when followed with a loud “Fuck You” to the teacher. With certain students who were often in the situation of small offense magnified by bad response to correction, I applied my failsafe training for being in trouble successfully. I simply taught them to face the teacher, drop their eyes and say “Yes Ma’am,” or “No Ma’am,” as the situation demanded. We practiced privately in my office. I would yell at the kid and he would smile, put his head down and say “Yes Sir,” or “No Sir,” as needed. I taught them not to smile, just keep your head down and say the magic words no teacher in California had heard for the last 50 years, “Yes Sir, No Sir; Yes Ma’am, No Ma’am.” This worked like a charm. Teachers and other adults were instantly befuddled in their anger, and would not even contemplate throwing the kid in the ivy. I was smugly proud of myself, and couldn’t believe the miracle worker I was with these kids.
In DeShawns’ case, I knew he would most likely misbehave again. And I knew the teachers would goad and tease him to make him blow up and curse or strike out so he would be expelled. I didn’t know what else to do so I tried my “Teach kids how to be in trouble successfully” approach.
I met with DeShawn in my office and proposed the strategy in which he joined with me in a charade that demonstrated that he was submissive to teacher authority. We talked over the whole situation and DeShawn agreed that this might be a good plan and would be fun too. We practiced a con job in which I would yell at DeShawn, curse and slam a book down on the table in front of him. He would calmly keep his eyes cast down and say “Yes Sir,” or “No Sir,” as the situation required. DeShawn knew that these teachers would not let up on him unless something changed so he agreed to this charade. Their con job on the danger of his behavior was about to be conned.
Ted came to my office to complain about DeShawn again and I let him know I wanted a meeting with him and DeShawn. He thought this might be a waste of time since what I needed to do was kick the kid out of the school. But he agreed to meet with DeSchawn and me in his room that day after school. When DeShawn and I arrived in the room, the science teacher, the PE teacher and the union site rep were present along with old Ted. I started the meeting by sitting us all in a circle with DeShawn next to me. I didn’t talk to the teachers but started in yelling at DeShawn right away.
I shouted at him with, “I’m sick of the way you have been disrespecting these fine teachers! And it sure as hell better stop! Who do you think you are? Someone special? Well you are not special! What do you have to say?”
DeShawn said, “Yes Sir,” and kept his head down.
I yelled again, “What do you mean, ‘Yes Sir?’” and slammed a book down on his desk in front of him. He jumped, the teachers jumped and gasped. And then DeShawn said, “Uh, No Sir!”
“That’s more like it,” I said. “This meeting is over. Get the hell out of here and I don’t want to see you in trouble again! Understand?”
“Uh, Yes Sir,” he said looking down. He got up and walked out quickly.
The teachers were stunned. They sat in silence and stared at me. I said, “Well I hope that takes care of it,” and left the room.
The next day, the union site representative came to my office and said I was the toughest, most effective Vice Principal he had ever had in 25 years. Everyone was talking about the way I took care of that rough kid and no one expected any problems from him. In fact, some wanted to protect DeShawn from my wrath. The site rep thought he might be an ok kid if given a chance.
DeShawn and I got hot fudge sundaes together at Baskin Robbins to celebrate our victory. I told him he was amazing to take that role and act it out so well. I also told him it wasn’t right, but I didn’t know what else to do given the fact that all those lifer tenured industrial factory assembly line teachers had decided to gang up on him. He was so mature and wise that I decided I would never let those teachers get rid of him.
Looking back from my present knowledge and experience base, I’m actually a bit embarrassed about the incident. Perhaps I should have handled it differently, since it was really a case of teachers misusing their authority. Perhaps I should have filed a complaint with OCR (Office of Civil Rights) and written them all up for local discipline up to and including release from employment. This would not have resulted in anyone of them being fired except for perhaps me, since they were all tenured and I wasn’t., and as my principal had said, no vice principal could continue without the support of the teachers. But it would have satisfied a need for justice and against these racist teachers who unjustly conspired against a kid. I didn’t know about these options then. DeShawn stayed at the school the rest of the semester and did well in his classes. He left the school when his parents moved to a different town over the Christmas Holiday.