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As I was warned by my grad assistant instructor at MSU, a male teacher must be very careful about many things, including the discipline of upper elementary-age female students. This situation can be handled very well by a thinking and compassionate experienced principal, or very badly by a Napoleon complex-suffering one. Especially be careful of a short one who also has a full beard! My two unfortunate experiences will be the subject of my next installment. I’m staying with the sunny side here.

One of my teaching positions was in Detroit, at the corner of Seven Mile and Lahser. (Note, it was one mile south of the infamous “8 Mile”, northwest side of The D.) I was teaching sixth, seventh and eighth grade language arts and really liked my colleagues. Another plus was the goal of the school, service learning. For the most part, the students were very respectful. Like any middle school, of course, there was a contingent of the “other” kind of student, boisterous, loud, disrespectful and seemingly angry at the world. If you know this age group, you probably understand.

One day in late fall, three of my girls in one section had made some very bad decisions. As a result of this negative behavior, I took away recess and sent them to the discipline room. Of course they were incensed and very vocal about it. As in any disciplinary situation at that school, my principal, Ivory, was very aware of what had happened and I made a point of talking with him about it. The girls wasted no time in dealing with it their own way.

By the end of they day, they had complained to Ivory that I had touched them, or at least one of them, and thus began the incident. This is how he handled it. He called me into his office, well aware of what had just happened. He confirmed to me that he was 100% sure that nothing like that had occurred. As the girls presented their case, he put on his most serious face and acted like he would jump all over the situation. As he described it to me, he immediately reacted to the girls with how serious the situation was. He gave them three options regarding his next step. He would either call protective services, the Detroit Police Department, the Fox 2 Detroit TV station investigation team, or all three! Instantly, the expressions on the faces of the girls changed. Either their conscience was activated or they realized they could be in trouble themselves for making false accusations. I’ll go with the latter since urban kids are pretty streetwise. They immediately backed down and admitted they made it all up because they were mad at me. Ivory made them apologize to me the next day in his office. End of story. They actually became my biggest fans and supporters from there on, as do many of a teacher’s “naughty” kids. The next situation was here in Racine.

I was teaching fifth grade at one of our elementary buildings that is considered one of the best – tons of parent support, great kids who were there to learn and a very collegial staff. It was my first year in the building, fifth grade. One of my girls and I had developed a good relationship, as with most of my students. When I would allow, she and a friend or two would stay in our classroom to eat lunch. Never just one at a time. One time when I had a cold, she told her dad that I was sick. The following day, he appeared at my classroom door with a container of homemade chicken soup for me. Yeah, it was that kind of school. Well, as they say, all good things must come to an end, or in this case, a brief interruption.

Probably not a month later, she had messed up a few times in class. Again, I kept her in from recess. I don’t know if it is hormones or what, but the same thing that happened in Detroit happened again, with slight differences in the way it was handled. My principal called her dad and made him aware of the situation. He also discussed it with me. Dad was very supportive. Next, he set up a meeting with all of us, including the student. Without either of them getting overly excited, they explained the ramifications of her accusations. Tears were shed as she looked at three of the most important men in her life at that time. Of course she relented and the situation was resolved without a shot being fired. From then on, she continued to steal snack grapes from my desk (as if I didn’t know) and her great behavior returned.

A postscript to that story. I maintained a social relationship with the father and always told him to “say hi to your daughter”. During the current school year, seven years later, the following happened.

I had seen her a few times at the grocery store where she worked. We always chatted a bit as she was pushing a line of carts in or bagging groceries. Smiling and happy, the past remained in the past. With her a senior now, it is almost an adult friendship, even though she continues to call me “Mr. Clone.” One day in early fall, I was talking with a gentleman as we walked into the store. I had my back to the cashiers as we chatted. Suddenly, someone came up from behind me and clutched me in a bear hug. Of course it was her. The gentleman with whom I was chatting smiled and excused himself as I explained that she was a former student. With excitement in her voice, she asked if I would come to her holiday choir concert, her last as a senior. This was only September. A lump forms in my throat as I type.

The concert was wonderful.