Friday, April 02, 2010

Flashback Friday: Sent to the principal's office

Perhaps I should consider myself lucky that one of the more unjust things to ever happen to me in my entire life, happened in fourth grade. I was all of ten years old at the time and in one 24-hour period I had to take on my parents, my teacher, and the principal of the school, all by myself.

It all started one afternoon as I was walking home from school. There was a path through a little section of forest that separated my neighborhood from the elementary school. My friend "Cindy" and I were walking together, and a boy ("Rick") from school was walking some distance behind us. We were ten, and boys and girls tend to abhor one another at that age, and we were no different. This boy was teasing us, or bothering us, or maybe just existing in close proximity to us, so my friend and I decided we should throw a rock at him.

What a logical course of action, right? We concealed ourselves behind one of the trees on the forest path and when Rick walked by us, all unsuspecting, my friend stepped out and threw a rock at him. Not a big rock, mind you. It was just a piece of rock that had come loose from the rough asphalt paving of the forest path. I didn't even throw mine. I guess at the last minute I realized how stupid our little plan was, or maybe I was just chicken.
But Cindy threw her rock, and it hit Rick, and he took off running not toward home, but back toward the school, crying. So where at one point I may have only been in trouble with his mom, I was now potentially in trouble with the school. All of a sudden, it didn't seem to matter that I hadn't actually thrown a rock, or that internally, I had realized it was a bad idea at the last minute, or that the rock hadn't hurt Rick that much, or that up until that point I had never behaved in such a way. I was going to be in trouble.

Sure enough, I soon received a phone call at home from the principal. She made sure to take the time to scold me over the phone for what I had done, and then told me to come in to her office the next morning, presumably so she could scold me again. My mom wasn't home at the time, but somehow she found out about the incident. I don't know; I probably told her myself. I was generally an upstanding 10-year-old like that, except when I was party to throwing rocks at boys.

As I remember it, my parents were not overly concerned about what had happened. I commend them to this day for their totally appropriate response. They were the only ones who didn't freak out and yell at me, as it turned out.

Because when I went into the principal's office the next morning - paged in over the classroom intercom, of course - the principal absolutely tore into me. She yelled at me for being there while the rock was thrown, and then she yelled at me for not bringing my parents in with me to this meeting. I hadn't even known I was supposed to. I was not familiar with proper principal's office protocol. Heck, the only other time I'd been in there was when I was student of the month or whatever and got a pass to have hot chocolate in the front office. As I sat there in the principal's office, she made me feel like - she made me believe - I had been plotting to throw rocks at boys for a long time and she'd finally caught me doing it and was happy to count it as evidence of my general hooligan tendencies.

When I got back to my classroom - and it is possible my sad, overwhelmed, chastened, embarrassed tears had not even dried on my poor little face yet - my teacher stepped out into the hall with me. And proceeded to yell at me some more. I cried some more.

It was all very terrible. And what makes me angry about this whole incident to this day is that I hardly defended myself. I just sat there and cried and let the people in charge of me believe what they had heard. Of course I was technically in the wrong, but I ache for my ten-year-old self when I think of how squashed and mistreated I felt by those educators who were supposed to be watching out for my well-being. I was a good kid, and I happened to be a minor party in a minor instance of misbehavior. But they made me feel it, deeply.

I consider this one of my life's great injustices. I also consider it one of my most profound teaching moments. I can honestly say that since that time, I have done my best to stick up for myself at all times, consciously remembering how I felt all those years ago. It's as if my sense of self-preservation was hammered to bits in the principal's office and in the hall outside my classroom, but once I put the pieces back together, I was indestructible.

So indestructible, in fact, that I can almost be glad I was there that day, thinking about throwing a rock at a boy but ultimately deciding not to, and then paying the consequences anyway. Almost.

10 comments:

Suzanne Bubnash said...

Oh yea, I remember how that incident was blown so out of proportion. And maybe you didn't even know that "Rick's" mom was furious at me about it and still is to this day, although Rick is a friend.

I too once stepped out of my 'perfect little box' at school for 5 seconds & ended up in the principal's office. It was infuriating that kids could haze me on the playground, make fun of me for various body shortcomings, or stab me w/ a pencil, and those things went unpunished!

Melody said...

That reminds me of the time when I "threw" a pencil at someone and got in big trouble for it. We were in the cafeteria before school waiting until it was time to go to class (most of the school was in there at the time). He had been teasing me but in a friendly kind of way and I teasingly said, "If you don't leave me alone, I'll throw this pencil at you!" He replied, "Ooh, I want a pencil! Let me see it!" So I tossed it across the table towards him (underhand and the last few inches it was actually rolling). He then said, "This is an ugly pencil!" and threw it back, a little too hard. It hit me in the lip and I started bleeding. I had to ask one of the teachers if I could go to the bathroom to wash it off. She, of course, asked me what happened and I told her, "Shane threw a pencil at me." It really didn't occur to me that he would get in trouble for it. After all, I knew he didn't do it on purpose, and I wasn't mad at him. But when I came back from the bathroom she had taken him aside and of course he told her, "Melody threw a pencil at me first!" So we both were yelled at a little and sent to the back of the cafeteria to write, "I will not throw pencils" for the next half hour or so. I wasn't yelled at as badly as you were, but that didn't keep me from crying the whole time I had to write lines. I think I was in the second or third grade maybe?

Lilianne said...

Unfortunately, it sounds like you were an easy and unthreatening target for your teacher/principal to yell at. Did your friend get in any trouble at all?

I felt like this the two times I've been pulled over. The first time, I was living in Washington, DC and was pulled over at 4:30am (after taking Jason to the hospital) for "rolling" a stop sign. The rude officer saw me as an easy target and told me that he could (and I'm not joking) "take me straight to jail" right then and there. For rolling a stop sign. And I didn't even back talk at all! So stupid. The second time was recently in Utah where I got pulled over for "crossing the double white lines" of the HOV lane at 10pm at night. The highway patrol woman found me to be an easy target and brow beat me for breaking the law. Never mind all the idiots that use that lane as a passing lane or are going 100+ mph! Argh. Yet again, I was an easy and unthreatening target and so she took full advantage to make me feel like crap.

I think that was the case for you. OR they knew you were a good girl and saw a twinkling of you "going off the beaten path" and wanted to scare you right back onto the right path again! Looks like it worked. You are an upstanding individual!

JosephJ said...

Good for you for not throwing the rock. I expect everyone had a run-in with "the law" during school. In kindergarten I threw a rock toward Cassie. What did you expect? She was a girl and I was 5? (Hope you're not reading this mom!) I think I had to eat my lunch in the classroom by myself instead of in the cafeteria. That was rather demoralizing. Now with a 4-year-old at home, I can see how little punishments like that feel SO heavy handed.

On another front, I did get "warning paddling" in second grade for something or other. I was escorted out into the hallway and the paddle just patted my bum, but the anticipation of a sting did the trick, and I remained more covert in my antics through the rest of schooling. *Sigh* Teachers have a hard enough job without kids goofing around, don't they?

Matthew said...

I'm so glad you had that experience. Good for you to go through that and come out so strengthened.

Kendra said...

I love that you came through this situation as a person who stood up for herself from then on. I can imagine it having a different effect on a person. Some might have decided they really were a bad person and started plotting worse things then throwing rocks.

Lisa Lou said...

Ahaha! This is really great! One time my friend and I snuck out of sunday school class at church and went behind the shed and burned leaves. I don't ever remember getting in trouble for that. Funny the things that stick with you.

Liz Johnson said...

What jerks! Shouldn't you at least gauge a person's level of remorse before chastising them!? Geez.

I'm sorry. I sort of remember Elementary School as a miniature Fight Club.

Doug, Megan and Joel Too:o) said...

Ugh, Bridget I remember this all to well........it was horrible and we all know who should have been in that office and it wasn't you or I!!!

Trina said...

Same sort of story as what happened to me in 5th grade. I'd only even been to the principals office to have lunch with her as students of the month, a few times. But when a friend of mine was standing by me, another friend and I were yelling at each-other about a toy that she left at my house and thought I's stolen, we were all three sent to the principals office. We all cried the whole way there and cried the whole time we had to sit and wait to be scolded by the principal, which seemed like an eternity. We were actually not scolded too bad and I'm not sure my parents ever even found out. But I just felt so naughty, having been "sent to the principals office."

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