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.”