I didn’t see the guy who staggered towards me as I was waiting in the long line to see the teller in our local Wells Fargo. This was in the days prior to cash machines and I needed to cash a check. When he bumped into me, I was momentarily knocked off balance but not seriously. I didn’t fall and recovered my place in line as the obviously intoxicated or drugged up guy bounced away from me in the opposite direction. This was certainly some law of physics in action, yet what happened next had nothing to do with physics. Mr. O’Toole, one of the parents at the junior high where I served as vice principal appeared from out of nowhere, it seemed, and grabbed the poor drunk by the scruff of the neck.
Mr. O’Toole was a number 4 parent I won over on the 1 to 10 scale of parent support. This was a system I made up for teachers when they were dealing with difficult parents. The number 10 parents were well educated, well employed, well organized, loving to each other and their children. All they wanted to do was to help you as teacher to teach their kids well. On the other hand, the number 1 parents were tough. Most were ex cons or drug addicts or child molesters or just petty criminals. Their orientation was defensive, to say the least, towards the school and towards anything the school required. For example, if their kid got in trouble for cutting in the lunch line, they would typically call or come to the school and yell, threaten and stomp off. They rarely if ever got involved in educational issues but wanted to see justice for their children in comparison to the way other kids and teachers treated them. The goal for teachers was to get the lower number parents to support them in both schoolwork and student discipline. The lower the number, the more donuts, cookies, pies a la mode or beers we would have together to celebrate if the teacher got the parent to come around and support them and the school. You got nothing for the support of a number 10 parent, but practically a case of beer or similar quantities of pies a la mode, or cookies or donuts if you could bring a number 1 parent around.
Mr. O’Toole had a daughter, Mary who had well developed breasts in the 7th grade, smack in the middle of junior high school. She actually started developing early, back in the 4th grade and attracted the attention of both mean and ill-mannered boys. In elementary school, one of the boys had actually grabbed Mary by her breasts and the principal didn’t do much of a job dealing with the situation. The boy was counseled not to do that again but Mr. O’Toole, her dad, had never forgotten the incident.
Now in junior high, some of the boys in geography class had noticed Mary’s breasts and started out by calling her Mary of the Tetons. This was clever since the class had been divided into teams named after geographical features. Mary didn’t get that they were secretly referring to her large breasts so she didn’t complain. But without a reaction from Mary, the 7th grade boys, whose mission in life as a group repeatedly appeared to be doing hurtful, mean spirited things to others, re-Christened her ‘Big Tit Mary’ when they spoke about her to each other. Mary heard them call her that awful name during group work in class and broke down in tears. Since she was too upset and embarrassed to talk, her teacher sent her to a woman counselor. The counselor quickly found out what was up and invited me into her office to hear Mary’s story.
I called the boys into my office to get their side of the story. I began by letting them know I understood why they thought it was funny to tease Mary. One of them who went by the nickname, Spike, laughed and said, “Yeah it was really funny. And you should look at the size of those tits!”
This was a revealing statement. With a bit of coaxing, the other kid, Lance, also incriminated himself by sharing about the way all the boys loved their jokes about Mary’s tits. He also volunteered the way they had started with the geographic feature of the Tetons but when Mary didn’t react, they moved right to ‘Big Tit Mary’ among themselves and their friends.
It was fairly easy to tell them the information I had and to ask them what they thought about their teasing of Mary. They both shared that all the kids got nicknames from other kids. One boy was called ‘Poo Finger’ from the day when he was chasing a fly ball and fell into a pile of dog poo in the outfield. So they didn’t think this was so bad.
I shared that parents and especially Mary’s parents would be pretty upset to hear about the mean nicknames. I calmly told the boys that I thought they knew how mean and hurtful their behavior was and that there would be a cost.
“What do you mean?” asked Spike?
“You are going to call your mothers now with me on speakerphone and tell them what you did, “ I replied calmly in a quiet voice.
Both boys turned a kind of grayish blue, which I took to be a combination of panic and shame. I separated them and the calls were made individually. Luckily, the mothers were home. One mother cried and one yelled. But the effect on each son was what I desired. I let the parents know that each boy would be suspended from school for 1 day and would also write a letter of apology to Mary and her parents.
My legal basis for this punishment was weak since sexual harassment laws had not been passed yet. But I claimed it was all according to California Education Code which specified that no vulgar language is allowed at school. The parents of the culprits agreed with the punishment and then I called Mary’s dad, Mr. O’Toole.
I had learned that the best way to deal with outraged parents was to match emotions with them. This meant that if the bus was late and they wanted to yell at me about it, I would simply yell also, but not at the parents. I would yell something like, “Dang! I hate it when those stinking buses are late! Man do I hate it!” This usually disarmed the parents and so they didn’t yell at the bus driver when she showed up late.
With Mr. O’Toole, I employed the same strategy. I let him know I was calling because I was very upset about something that was going on that embarrassed Mary. He started cussing immediately when I told him that some boys had called his daughter, ‘Big Tits Mary.”
“Who are those little assholes, he demanded. I’ll kick their assess and their parents; assess too!”
So I cussed as well. “Those little shit heads pissed me off royally. Your daughter is a princess, just a great kid, and I won’t stand for this kind of behavior at my school!”
This calmed him down. Then I explained what I had done with the boys. He loved that I had called their mothers and that they had to tell them what they had done. When I let him know they had been suspended, (I said, “I kicked their stupid asses out of school so their parents can stare at them at home.”) He loved that as well. He was not as impressed with the letter he was going to get from the boys but agreed it would be a good idea. Days later he dropped by school to thank me for protecting and helping his daughter. He said he might have done something he would have regretted if I hadn’t stepped in when I did.
The corrective behavior worked and the boys never called Mary any more names. They steered clear of her altogether mainly out of fear of their mothers. The 7th grade girls felt Mary had been vindicated by the punishment of the boys and rallied around her as newly found friends.
Back in the bank, I realized that it was Mr. O’Toole who had the drunk or druggie by the scruff of the neck. He was the father of the girl whom the nasty 7th grade boys named “Big Tits Mary” and whom I had helped get rid of the hurtful nickname.
Mr. O’Toole shouted, “Don’t you touch our vice principal!” and turned the poor guy around towards the door. The guy tried to struggle away but Mr. O’Toole was expressing powerful, righteous anger and the guy was pretty wasted. He pinned the man’s arms behind his back and shoved him into the Well Fargo swinging doors in a dramatic gesture to throw him out. But this didn’t work. The poor man bounced off the doors which were closed, still on his feet and backed into Mr. O’Toole. Mr. O’Toole grabbed his arms again and prepared to ram him once more into the doors. I moved over to him quickly and said,” It’s ok, Mr. O’Toole. I’m ok. He’s just a drunk.”
Don’t worry Mr. Rich,” said Mr. O’Toole. “I’ve got this situation under control. I’ll take care of this bastard.”
With that he slammed the poor guy into the door once more and again the man bounced back, but this time fell onto the floor. His forehead was bleeding a bit. At this point a security guard ran up and stopped the mild melee that everyone in line was watching. The guard opened the swinging bank doors and escorted the drunk outside where he wandered off up the street. Back in line, everyone seemed to return to bank line boredom as if nothing had happened. Mr. O’Toole came up to me and once again, thanked me profusely for helping Mary through her situation. If there was anything he could ever do for me, all I had to do was ask. I thanked Mr. O’Toole and he got back in line a ways behind me.
I concluded later that I did not really convert Mr. O’Toole from a number 4 level parent into a number 10 parent since beating up drunks in the bank line was not really what the most effective parents did. But I still kept my parent rating system. I should have added a ‘gratitude component’ and factored that in.