So I had the best possible plans for my official Tuesday writing evening. (I wrote last week about how I wanted to block out one evening a week where I would write.)
And my plan for this evening was to get started looking over a project with Liz over there at Gone Digital, but first I decided to take a look at a YouTube clip that one of my colleagues mentioned to me today.
And the next thing I knew I fell down the rabbit hole, looking at clip after clip of “The Principal’s Office,” lost in an alternate universe. I just couldn’t tear my eyes away.
If you haven’t seen it, this show goes into actual principals’ offices in high schools from across the country and films their interactions with students surrounding disciplinary incidents.
If I knew nothing about high schools in the U.S. except for what I saw on this show, I would think that all teenagers are idiots and school administrators care about nothing more than catching students breaking the rules.
That’s quite a narrow view and represents absolutely nothing about what I know to be true about high schools in the U.S. or about the young people who attend them.
Teenagers have their adolescent moments because, well, they’re adolescents. But on the whole, they are kind, witty, hard-working, smart, passionate human beings who want to have a positive impact on their world. And school administrators? The ones I know spend most of their time building the school community to best support student success. Of course they deal with disciplinary issues and of course they need to call students out when they break the rules. But that is not the sole purpose of their job, even though this TV show makes it seem that way.
And I was also struck–the schools on this TV show seem so much more locked down than the school where I teach. We have an open campus (I saw a clip where two girls got detention for leaving campus for 15 minutes to get coffee). We have a dress code, but it does not include a ban on facial hair or long hair for young men as I saw in one clip. A couple of girls in another clip got detention for not having hall passes when the principal asked for them. You have no idea how glad I am that where I teach we do not mess with these kinds of things. We trust students to manage themselves responsibly. The funny thing is that most of them do most of the time, and there are over 2000 of them. And the only teachers who showed up in the clips I watched came off as kind of powerless somehow, sitting alongside a disruptive or disrespectful student on the other side of the principal’s desk from the principal. Mostly my administrators support me in handling the issues that do come up with my students and we work as a team to find the best solution. It’s not me and the student, each telling our side of the story, waiting for the principal to make a decision.
And the thing that most disturbed me in the clips I watched was this: there are some schools out there that still paddle students as a punishment? What?! I guess I knew that corporeal punishment was still legal in some states, but I had no idea that there were schools where students are given the option of getting paddled over attending Saturday school. WHAT?! This is not how we should treat human beings, especially our youngsters. What does it teach them about violence?
So, okay, at least I wrote SOMETHING this evening, even though it wasn’t what I had planned to focus on for this Tuesday.
I just have to wonder about the teacher bashing, public-school bashing, mandate testing and punish based on results world we live in right now. With the picture this TV show portrays of high schools in the U.S., how much does “The Principal’s Office” help?
I’m still waiting for a TV show or movie that gets it right, that really shows the hard and relevant work that teachers and students are doing right now in high schools across the country, in high schools that are doing more and more with less and less, that are still doing right by their students despite the picture society paints, despite the cuts in funding, despite the increases in top-down mandates.