Before dawn Mr. Henry arrives to click on the lights, and the roaches and mice skitter away to their hiding places in the cracks of our old dilapidated school. Minutes later my students are knocking on the glass doors for a chance to look at a computer, read with their teacher, or just escape the morning cold.
Sometimes shouts and laughter echo around the empty hallways; around, and around, the sound travels as fast as the Large Hadron Collider, but our school is anything but a scientific experiment. My students are alive, impressionable, and listening for drama.
The Morning Ritual
The students gather in the commons for visitation time. Some of them are out of dress code, and you can spot them easily by the shouts of other students, “Oooo, Girrrl, Look at YOU!” the students press each other on because the drama is loud and the teenage desire to defy authority is the tie that binds them closest together.
Finally, after everyone else has arrived, and most of the students have worked out their missing student identification, found some school sanctioned apparel, and started to slowly move on to their classes, the principal performs her grand arrival.
She lazily drags her briefcase into the school on a business cart, and the clitter clatter of her little wheels signal her late arrival. The door to her office squeaks on the hinge, and she is safe at her desk for most of the coming day. A cloud descends upon the school, and the atmosphere is charged with negativity. Finally, the speaker crackles to life and the principal’s voice reels around the hallways causing my students to inhale sharply.
The message drones on, and we are all newly reminded of the negativity, the no excuses mantra, the implied messages: you are not good enough, you are not as good as me, you are all underachieving thugs grade levels behind, and nothing worthwhile can take place here. Before she has finished her speech, my students are talking, eating on chips, or desperately trying to find a way to squelch out the negative tonal quality, the condescending blah blah, and the ridiculous repetition.
We all breathe again when the speaker clicks its good bye. We are happy to get down to business.
Later in the day, she stages an event for the students, targeting a teacher for removal; she meets with administration members during the passing time between classes, and she intentionally allows the students to overhear her hateful messages. The teenage desire for a bit of drama, and the opportunity to defy authority, is satisfied by the chronic drumbeat of negativity relayed by the principal’s narrative. The hallways are suddenly filled with noise, and we have broken hearts, but my principal’s only priority is herself. The conversations poison the well, and my students are cheated.