Friday, March 23, 2012

Punishment By Rewards?

I've been fortunate in my life and my career to to have learned from so many wonderful & talented people.  For educational purposes, I've worked with and under several administrators who showed confidence and belief in my abilities, and support for my goals.  They imparted great advice towards me and just being around them on a day-to-day basis was perhaps the greatest learning opportunity of them all.

I've also been fortunate (in hind sight...) to spend time with around some of the wrong people.  Daily expose to these individuals was equally educational.  No person fits this second category like Mrs. Lopez.  She was a Grade A dumb ass.

Mrs. Lopez was hired as principal the same time I was hired as assistant principal, but we had never met prior to the start of the school year.  She spoke Spanish and the school had a large Hispanic population.  Beside that though, I have no idea what her other qualifications were.  She had worked in attendance at a huge district but had no building level administrative experience, no people skills, and absolutely no charisma.  

She quickly isolated a pretty talented staff by limiting them to one ream of paper a month.  This was not done as a cost savings measure, rather so teachers wouldn't apparently do so many worksheets.  Even if this was done with creative intentions it quickly backfired when staff evidenced that they could not run off the requited curriculum with the allotment provided.  She didn't budge and teachers wound up having to pay out of pocket to get their copies made elsewhere.

My favorite tale though involved a troubled first grader named Matthew.  

Matthew was the worst kind of behavior problem.  He'd flat refuse to listen at unpredictable moments and couple it with running around the room or, just leaving the room altogether.  In house punishments don't work with these kinds of kids because they refuse to serve the consequence and suspension only rewards them.  Even calling mom wasn't much of a threat since she rarely answered.  Why would she want to deal with him?  Right?

One day Matthew got to lunch and was informed that his lunch account had no money in it (but hey, as long as mom had mediocre scotch in her belly and a Marlboro in her lips who needs food right?).  The district gave students three exceptions in such instances but after that they received a cheese sandwich and a milk until they could add money to their account.      

Well, Matthew did not want a cheese sandwich.  I gathered this by inferring from the non-verbal clues he provided, most notably, tossing the sandwich across the cafeteria and giving the lunch lady the finger.  Hey, there are fat people in Wisconsin who would kill for that cheese sandwich (sorry, couldn't resist)!

One of the teachers who worked in the lunchroom calmly approached Matthew and told him he needed to go and pick the sandwich up.  He of course refused.  The teacher pressed a little more, and explained that if he didn't go pick that sandwich up, he wouldn't be going out to recess.

Matthew bolted.  He ran out a set of exit doors and tore off down the street.  I took off after him.  As I was sprinting down a city street in the hot sun while wearing a full suit I remember thinking, "I don't recall this sort of thing in my college textbooks or on Welcome Back Kotter."

Matthew noticed I was following (I'm sure hoping I was) and began cutting through yards.  I pulled my walkie-talkie off my hip and radioed Mrs. Lopez asking what she wanted me to do.

"He left the campus by his own choice.  Let him go."

That's a real life directive from a tax payer supported administrator.  Let an irrational six year old run off on his own.  Let him run down busy streets on an iffy neighborhood where he could be hit by a car, mugged, bit by an animal, etc.  Despite this being a directive, it was one I could not follow.  I chased on, sweating, and hoping that I wouldn't be fired because my Saturn wasn't paid off yet.

Eventually someone dragged his older brother who was a 5th grader in the building outside and he helped up reign his brother in.  Mrs. Lopez eventually reached mom who was going to come in.  While we waited, Matthew still need to eat.  So what did our building leader do?  She ordered him a hamburger and fries from a local restaurant! Hell- I should have thrown my lunch across the cafeteria!  Perhaps the next time my wife tells me we're going to her parents house for her mother's meatloaf if I tear off down the street on foot when I come back she'll have ordered a pizza?!  Anyone else have luck upgrading their meal in this manner?  Please share!


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