When I signed up to teach at Minneapolis Edison Senior High School in 1964, I expected to succeed as a teacher, and if I liked the community, both within and outside of school, I expected to spend my entire professional life there…..as a teacher. I admit that I had a degree or two of contempt for school administrators. Nearly all were ‘yes’ men, pleasant guys, many of them had coached a major sport or taught manual trades. Becoming a school assistant principal was a first step to receiving higher school pay for ones work. Greater prestige in the community went with higher pay.
However, teaching is an art form upon which a society’s cultural health depends. In the ideal it’s an art for the human soul as inspiringly powerful as the art of Michelangelo is to the eye and mind. Teachers shouldn’t arrive ‘two for a penny’ at the doors of the American public school. Every professional school administrator or classroom instructor, directly involved with the school’s upgrade of knowledge should be required to exercise teaching that knowledge in a classroom every year of their professional teaching lives.
My first three years at this Nordeast school was probation time. My future was in the hands of a Mr. V, a proud, bright, determined, no nonsense guy who saw things crisply and agreed or disagreed crisply but with temper and revenge against those with whom he strongly disagreed. He deeply believed in administrative authority. He had no time for humor. This man was often arrogant, but tried hard to control his negatives. He was devoted to people who agreed with him and was certain that his very presence would do the trick to get everyone on his side. Women teachers adored him.
Mr. V was elevated to the School Administration’s Central Office my last year on probation. He soon became an assistant superintendent of schools. He had visited my classes, endured some rough edges I had caused him which, in my view, damaged him as an administrator despite his strengths, and I told him so. Most of my complaints, all valid, had to do with my coaching the boys’ tennis team, a responsibility he gave me my very first year at the school.
I took that challenge seriously, too. Our tennis budget was $90 for the entire ten week season. The team had to buy their own tennis rackets, nets, balls, pay for their own travel to and from whereever they competed. From the administrations’ view, I was supposed to (for $100) be a chaperone for an hour and a half after the school day during tennis playing sesason. Edison was a worker’s neighborhood. No one played tennis at Edison, even though an acquaintance of mine, a future tennis mentor at the University of Minnesota, a few years before I arrived at the school, had coached the Edison boys to their first and only city championship in tennis up to that time in school’s fifty years or so of history.
Mr. V didn’t know about it or care about it. He named me to keep tennis out of his hair.
Since funds for the team were a fraud, the guys at my request decided to do Saturday clean up work around Nordeast and the team got a job at Sentyrz Food and Liquor Mart on Marshall Street, cleaning up its neighborhood empty lots. We made enough money on weekends to buy team jackets, a little travel money for gas, a dozen or two cans of tennis balls, our own team tennis net, and most of all enjoyed being together working for a common cause.
Complaints came to Mr. V’s office from the city’s dead-beat and competitive coaches alike, asking Mr. V, the principal where he got the money and how dare his school have such physcial and psychological advantages from wearing a uniform jacket to matches and worse, playing with brand new tennis balls in warm ups to games. Mr. V got complaints from the School District’s Athletic Director as well. Mr. V called me into his office. He was a very unhappy and angry man.
He asked where the team got the money to buy the jackets and equipment, seething all the way.
I asked why he needed to know.
That blew his mind….He gave me his ‘power read’ that he was the boss man and could dump me if he wanted to. I remember I became nervous and angry at the same time and to the same degree. I told him we didn’t steal it…….hesitated before I confessed, “The kids earned it working a few Saturdays together.”
Mr. V wouldn’t have dared to ask such questions of the school’s thirty-year head football coach of that day, Mr. G. Mr. G might have hit him after ten or twenty curse words. Mr. V fully understood Mr. G’s long established presence at the school. I hadn’t made my own mark yet and knew how vulnerable I was to his command. He made me promise I would never ‘pull such a trick” again.
I have forgotten whether or not I kept the promise, but no matter, a couple of years later Mr. V was elevated to the School District head office. He caused trouble for me later in my career, however.
Most of the women on the staff at Edison were mothers and still married. They, as I, were driven to teach. Spanish, English, Chemistry, General Algebra, Home Making. They caused no trouble and expected menfolk to control the environment outside of their classrooms.
The men obliged. On one occasion while I was sitting in the teachers’ lounge reading the morning newspaper, a commotion occurred in the classroom next door, room 114. It was home grounds to a middle aged bachelor teacher, who was incestuously married to history, particularly the history of ancient Greece. He was a son of Greek immigrants and carried his intellectual passion with a loud, thick street-tough accent that added great strength to his solid brick build. He didn’t really need the vocal adornment. Even in quietude, Gino walked apishly as a warning to all whom he didn’t know, to maintain a certain distance as he or they approached. Everyone liked him, probably even the fifteen year old victim of Ginowrath who was the source of the tumult next door which startled me.
The door to room 114 was thrown open from the classroom side and this teenage male body flew out like a shot from a cannon slamming onto the student lockers immediately across the hall. Not a word was spoken…..only a puff of exhale coming from the flying object as it hit the lockers could be heard.
I have no idea what happened during that class session which caused such a scene. I did see the boy peel himself off the hallway floor, gather his books which flew wildly with him. The boy rather sheepishly walked away carrying his pride with him. I didn’t know his name, a rarity in my rules of teaching. A few days later I gingerly mentioned the scene to Gino whose answer was: “Oh, he’s a good kid. He just said something he shouldn’t have. He’s fine.”
Discipline at Edison began at home, and, if needed at school, almost always began and ended in the classroom. Almost all of the teachers were there for a lifetime. Their reputations were well known by all and added enormously to the cultural harmony within the school. I am certain the boy who was the object of the room 114 disruption never said a word to his parents about the event. He would have angered the father and embarrassed the mother. And that would not do. Such things ‘corporal’ at the school were rare then. Guys who hung around my classroom from time to time would describe a setting or two when they were ‘approached’ by a male teacher angered by a miscue or another they or someone other boy had foolishly created. They laughed loudly as they described the scenes even when they themselves were the so-called ‘victims’.
I didn’t find that they had much wealth of knowledge, but they seemed to be a very healthy, winsome bunch. No one was drugged up, then. I was so confident of our America’s future despite certain rumblings in its streets. I was sure that they needed to go to college to amass knowledge as I had done……to become ‘enlightened’ learning the arts and sciences as I had. I saw myself in these students, especially the boys with their future responsibilities in society, maintaining order, further examining the unknown, uplifting the culture, leading the way to a better America, and so, a better world closer to God and an ideal nation. After all, that is what I truly believed knowledge from school and university did for me.
However, I saw the teachers and administrators at Edison too comfortable, too pleased with, again my view, the mediocrity of the school’s education. Yet, listening to their constant complaints, the weren’t pleased. They complained about the school’s soft education constantly. These teachers, almost every one of them were good human beings who wanted to make a positive difference in students’ lives. Some were even well educated….especially the guys who taught math. Nearly all had given up to the routines of everyday schooling. Yet, the streets in other cities and communities were starting to make noise….violent noise. Human animals were being unleashed at universities to do animal things……Predators like John F. Kerry, had found American flesh tasty. The protein nurtured their political ambititions and excited their lower depths of deceit and duplicity. The American way was under attack, an attack for survival which continues to this day with Obamatime, January 2012 forty plus years later.