I’ve been leading up to telling the story of my final days at St. Clement School , where I began my
illustrious rewarding teaching career . They couldn’t get rid of me for 35 years , until that day came when I finally decided to jump ship . The State of California , with whom I had eventually made my devil’s bargain , is paying me a pension for the 25 years I spent in their school system .
I was with the Catholic Schools before that . I loved it there , but the money and lack of retirement benefits at the time made it impossible to stay . Had I listened to my mother and left earlier for the public school , I’d be rolling in dough about now ; but : One must make one’s own choices , no matter how tall your grandfather was . The Irish said that . (Unless it was Mark Twain , who said everything else .)
Well , here goes :
One fine day I got in a shoving match with a fellow teacher , Steve , in the parking lot at Saint Clement School . I don’t do that sort of thing , as a rule . In fact , it was the only physical altercation of my adult life , as I remember things . Steve was a friend and colleague of mine , but he had gone way over the line with his repulsive behavior .
He was secretly harassing another teacher , slipping stress pills into her school mailbox on the sly , for example . This woman was wound a little too tightly as it was , and she made a vulnerable target . Steve thought the whole thing was funny . Maybe he thought it was innocent mischief ; but it wasn’t . He had to brag about his childish prank to someone , so he told his buddy , Dan .
I didn’t rat him out , but I suggested to him several times as he continued his thoughtless prank , that he cut it out . He didn’t , of course . Then he began hinting to the principal that maybe Kathy , the Second Grade teacher , was the culprit ; or maybe Tony , another teacher , was doing it . I was Steve’s only confidant , I think , and he was informing me of his latest moves in the matter .
So I had a responsibility in stopping the nasty activity . I went about it the wrong way , no doubt ; but , hey , it is what it is . Thus , the shouting and shoving in the parking lot . It took place hours after the end of the school day , by the way , and no students were anywhere close by . Just so you know .
I was just about to leave for work that Monday morning when the phone rang . It was the principal . ” You are not to come to work until further notice , ” she said . Then she hung the phone up .
Here’s where the whole thing gets good .
What you should know is that I had been teaching 8th Grade that year , and at this school the 8th Grade school year ended a week before the First to Seventh Grades . My school year had ended on the Friday of the altercation in the parking lot with Steve , so I was already done . I was planning the 8th Grade graduation ceremony , however . Graduation would take place on the following Saturday .
I told my wife that the principal would be calling back as soon as it dawned on her that , since I was the only person planning Graduation and that the plans were not yet finished , that she would need me finish them . Three rough copies of a printed program , for example , were sitting on the otherwise empty top of my classroom desk waiting for a final edit , before typing and reproduction ( 500 copies were needed ).
I told my wife to make up a story .
About an hour later , sure enough , the principal called . ” He’s not here , ” my wife said .
An hour later she called back . ” He’s still not here , ” my wife said , ” and I’m beginning to get a little worried . ”
An hour later she called again . And then an hour after that . My wife got into the excitement of the day . Her stories went from ” He seemed to be upset when he left ,” to ” Now I’m getting worried . I think he might have taken the bottle of whisky from the cupboard with him ” to ” I’ve called the police but they can’t do anything for twenty-four hours with a missing person . At least there haven’t been any traffic accidents in the area today . I’ve called all of the hospitals in the area but none have a record of……….. ”
And on it went throughout the day . My wife acted the drama out superbly , her voice intensifing a phony sense of dread and panic with each phone call . And then , finally , after the 4:00 call , I told her that I’d take the next one . At 5:00 the phone rang again . Right on time . I answered . Tried to sound gruff.
” Come in at 8 tomorrow and we’ll talk about what happened , ” the principal said . And then she hung the phone up . Okay . I had extracted my pound of flesh , and I’m willing to do my time in purgatory for that .
When I was driving down to the school the next morning I had fully expected to discuss the matter with the principal , as she had indicated we would . The reality of the situation , however , turned out different , to be a horse of a different color . Such is life .
There I was at the subservient side of the Principal Desk again with the principal looking across at me . She had a pen in her hand with her arm extended off to the side , ready to write on a blank piece of paper .
” So , tell me what happened with Steve , ” she said . Stern , officious voice . As she spoke the words , her pen wrote the same words on that paper off to the side . It was weird . Her eyes stared straight ahead at me but her hand away off to one side wrote as if I weren’t supposed to notice it .
” We had a discussion , ” I said , and the words ” We had a discussion ” she was writing on the paper just below the words ” So, tell me what happened with Steve “.
She said , ” That’s all ? ” as her pen wrote ” That’s all ? ” just below “We had a discussion”.
Well , you get the picture . That old inmate- at- the -insane- asylum joke goes : I may be crazy , but I’m not stupid . This was by no means intended as a forum to talk things out , as I had expected . This session was simply her opportunity to document the incident . Document , document , document ! Why she thought that I wouldn’t see through her little You’re not really seeing my documentation procedure routine , though , I’ll never understand .
That , more or less , in my way of thinking , was the end of the conversation . ” I called my supervisor , ” she said , ” and I told her what happened . She advised me to fire you right away . ”
” Then you do it , ” I said .
I had not planned to return to the school for the next year and I had informed her of that a couple of months before that and my school year had already ended . It didn’t matter to me whether she fired me or not .
” I’m not going to do that , ” she said .
” If your supervisor told you to fire me , I think you should do that ,” I said . Maybe it would have been better for her . I wasn’t being a wise-ass .
” And , by the way , ” I added , ” I find it interesting that you say you told your supervisor what happened ; but since Steve and I were the only ones there and you haven’t heard my side of the story , I wonder what you told her . ”
Then she said , ” How soon can you be out of here ? ”
That stung . I had been working at and doing a good job at that school for five years . That one hurt .
” Give me five minutes , ” I said , and I stood up to leave .
” No , I didn’t mean it like that , ” she said . ” Take as much time as you need . ”
” Give me five minutes , ” I said . I was seething , I have to say .
I walked to my classroom to retrieve a couple of personal items and then I carried the classroom keys to the office . I had a short conversation with the school secretary on the way in . She said she had been told by the principal the day before to make five hundred copies of all the graduation papers found on my classroom desk . She showed me stacks and stacks of neatly piled mimeographed papers on the floor beside her desk .
I had to tell her that none of the three versions that she had printed were the final product , that all of them were rough drafts . She drooped her shoulders . ” I’m so tired , ” she said .
And then I went in and dropped the classroom keys on the principal’s desk and walked out .