Glass Half Full: Going to the principal’s office
Remember when you were a child and the greatest threat a teacher could make was to send you to The Principal’s Office? Usually the warning alone had the power to settle most rowdies into place.
It was only the biggest “troublemakers” (mostly boys) who actually spent time with the principal. The rest of us never knew what transpired behind those closed doors — and we didn’t want to.
Now I’m the principal and have been for many years. One’s perspective changes from the other side of that door, which I try to keep open as much as possible. Not surprisingly, frequently the students with whom I have developed the best relationships over time, the ones with whom I am still in contact over decades, are those former “troublemakers” (still mostly boys) with whom I spent considerable time.
I learned a lot from them; they learned a lot from me. We got to know each other pretty well. They knew I would listen, as long as they were honest. I recall one lad advising another, “Mrs. Glass is really fair. Just don’t lie. If you lie, you will really be in trouble.” He knew of which he spoke.
A primary goal for me, always, was to help youngsters learn to hold themselves accountable. Again and again I would stress the value of recognizing and owning one’s actions.
We all make mistakes, I would remind a fearful child. It’s the choices we make after we recognize the mistake that point to our true character. In my experience, it’s rare for a youngster to reject honesty and accountability when he knows he will have adult support.
My office is, I hope, a welcoming one. Painted a soft blue and adorned with photographs and memorabilia, it is designed to be inviting. Apprehensive visitors frequently are parents, rather than children.
Parents who either heard threats of being sent to the principal’s office or experienced the wrath of an unsympathetic administrator frequently carry a shadow of mistrust with them even decades later. Some announce that fact as they enter my space (“I’ve never been in the principal’s office!”); others sit hunched and worried or sometimes aggressive and defensive, until they recognize they are in friendly territory.
As a Head of School, I want parents to enlist my aid, to take the initiative to share their concerns about their children, to talk to me about whatever worries they have. We can and should be allies. I believe most principals feel the same.
Twenty-five years ago, young Nicky Scalise, 8th grade, wandered into my office one afternoon. He and I had become well acquainted over the course of three years. “So, Nicky, are you here on your own or because you were sent?”
Nicky grinned and replied, “I figured I’d come before I was sent.” He was having one of those days and knew it. Wish we were all so proactive!
Ruth Glass is headmaster at Lake Tahoe School. She can be reached for comment through her blog at http://www.laketahoeschool.org.
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