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Inspired to Be Forgiving and Flexible

An assistant principal receives a heavenly helping hand in dealing with a troublesome student and a rigid administrator.

Edward A. Joseph

It had been a day filled with arguments, confusion and mayhem. As a junior high assistant principal in a large urban school system, I had dealt with hundreds of disciplinary situations, but it was a Friday afternoon and I was exhausted. My heart dropped when the dean, his captive in tow, rushed into my office.

This dean, in his zeal to stop and punish all student misbehavior, often made my life more difficult by his rigidity. His captive was a student who I had seen many times before. His family situation was horrendous and his impulse control nil. World War III will start shortly and there isn’t a bunker in sight, I thought.

The war started before I could say a word. “I found him running around the halls again,” the dean said. “I think he should be suspended. Calls home and detention don’t seem to work for this child. He’s out of control!”

“I ain’t out of control! You’re out of control! You keep pickin’ on me!” the student shouted back.

I was at a loss as to what to say or what to do. I asked them to take a seat, but I had no idea how to resolve this conflict.

My eyes drifted to my small desk angel. My wife had given it to me when I had first been appointed an assistant principal, correctly assuming that on occasion I would need some angel intervention. I stared at it for a few seconds.

I need help here, I said to myself. This could get ugly.

I looked up at my dean, who was looking at me in a way that I had never seen before: He looked concerned. “All right,” he said, “let’s calm down here. Michael, if you can promise me not to run in the halls for one week, I will forget about the suspension.”

Michael didn’t answer, but slowly nodded his head. We all sat there in silence for a few seconds, the dean looking at me, me at him, Michael at the floor, and finally, me at my desk angel. The dean stood up with Michael, and without another word, walked him to his class.

I worked with that dean for three years, and the sensitivity and flexibility he showed that Friday afternoon still has me shaking my head. And thanking my desk angel.

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