Carol Markowski,
principal of Lake Run Elementary School, is making her morning rounds to be
sure her staff and students are in their classrooms and working. She will
repeat the process this afternoon, knowing that only through her constant
vigilance can things run smoothly. Her reputation as a strict disciplinarian is
a source of pride to her.


As she makes her
inspection, she cannot help wondering to herself, “What is the world
coming to?” Her teachers are as bad as the students, from her perspective.
“There is probably no hope for any of them,” she thinks as she stops
to observe a classroom through the window in the door.


As it turns out,
her lack of faith receives support. Her attention turns to a half dozen or so
sixth graders who are standing around a table in the back corner of the room,
doing something. Mostly, it looks like they are only fooling around. This is
not the first thing to register with her, though. The two boys at the end of
the table look to Carol like they are trouble looking for a place to happen.
She just shakes her head, thinking, “It’s understandable why education is
going downhill when I have to deal with people like that.”


As her gaze covers
the room, the main problem quickly registers. “Where is Henry Allen,”
the teacher?


Almost in the
middle of her thought, Henry interrupts, “Hi Mrs. Markowski. Are the
troops working on their projects?”


Mrs. Markowski
asks, “Why are you not in your classroom? It looks like your class is
taking full advantage of your absence.”


Henry steps closer
so he can see through the window. Glancing back at the principal, he says,
“They are in groups working on projects they came up with themselves. The
deal is that they can work on whatever they want so long as they keep working
and cooperating. I don’t even know what the projects are. We were talking about
accepting responsibility. I stepped out of the room to give them a little
experience with working together without someone looking over their
shoulders.”


Mrs. Markowski
turns to face Henry. Her voice is low enough to communicate only with Henry but
cutting enough to convey her unspoken message. “I have no idea what they
are teaching in the colleges these days, but it is surely not about children.
You are here to teach them and running around the halls is not teaching. I
think you and I better go over your lesson plans for the month so I can give
you some instruction in teaching. This will have to get straightened out before
your contract comes up in three months. Please be in my office immediately
after school.” Giving Henry no opportunity to respond, the principal turns
and walks down the hallway, continuing her inspection.


Henry watches her
walk off and slowly shakes his head. She is always a little testy but today is
ridiculous, even for her. His impulse is to do something, although he is not
sure what. His choices seem even more unprofessional than the principal’s
behavior. Instead of giving into the impulse to lash back, he shrugs his
shoulders and returns to his students.


A couple hours
later Henry walks into the teachers’ lounge during his free period. Two other
teachers, Doris and Greg, are already there.


Doris is saying,
“It’s their fault down in that office. They always get things fouled up.
If I were running this place, a few heads would roll. We work our tails off and
they can’t get anything right.”


Picking up on the
assault, Greg says, “Do we ever get a thank you or how do you do? Not a
chance! I don’t know why our so-called union doesn’t do something about that
stuff we have to put up with.”


Henry, who is also
the president of the teachers’ union, tries to chalk it up to one of those
days. It is just in the air, he thinks. Despite his effort to stay out of it,
he reflexively rebuts, “The union can’t do it all.”


“That union
is about worthless,” Greg says, turning the attack to Henry.


“The union
does many good things for us,” Henry replies, trying to put things onto a more
positive note.


Doris joins in,
“The point is what have you done for us today? The only way we little
people get anything is by hitting you big shots over the head with the
problems. Just about the time it looks like something is going right, something
else gets screwed up.”


Henry says,
“I think we can be proud of what we have accomplished.”


Doris gets herself
another cup of coffee as she says, “I’m just not one to get all sloppy
about covering up the problems. Give your type a compliment or a little praise
and you think you’ve got it made. That’s the last we hear from you. You’re as
bad as some of those students I have. I’ll ask you again. What have you done
for us today?”


Not to be outdone,
Greg adds his two cents worth. “You’ve done a few things, Henry. I’ll give
you that. The problem is what you have not done.”


Not waiting to see
if Greg had more to say, Henry interrupts. “I’m glad to hear we are at
least doing a few things right. What about that basketball team of yours, Greg?
I don’t think six and nine is anything to brag about. You expect the union to
win every time. If anyone held you to that, you’d be out of here.”


Greg is hot under
the collar now. “If you think you can do any better with that bunch of
so-called jocks I have to work with, you’re welcome to them.”


Ilene Stuart, the
special education teacher, comes into the lounge and into the middle of the
fracas. Quietly she says, “It sounds like you want blood. I think Greg is
doing all right. Those kids are only eleven and twelve and two of them are my
kids. With no more experience than Greg has, I think he is doing all right.
That goes for Henry too. He’s a teacher and can’t be expected to know anything
about running a union. It’s what we all have to put up with around here. We all
have to take on things we don’t know anything about. It’s not our fault things
are in such a mess.”


Doris is quick to
come to Ilene’s side. “You can say that again. It’s about time we start
calling them like they are. It’s time to put the responsibility directly on the
people who are causing the problems. We all know who they are too. It all comes
down to the person who did or did not do whatever. It boils down to the person
who is responsible, the person who didn’t get the job done. It’s just a few who
make us all look bad and make it impossible for us to do our jobs. We’re all
good teachers but that doesn’t matter around here. We spend all our time trying
to straighten out the details, the little things other people haven’t taken
care of.”


Not to be upstaged
and feeling like things are turning more to his liking, Henry says, “I
know people have bad days but that’s no excuse. They have to do it right every
time, including the little things. Taking it out on us is intolerable. It is
professionalism we are talking about and the students are the ones to suffer in
the long run.”


Everyone nods at
the profundity. Ilene says, “It’s attitude. It is our responsibility to
keep things on a positive note, no matter how we feel. I do it and don’t see
why everyone else can’t do it. Henry is right, it is a matter of
professionalism.”