Stocky kindergartener Leonard was sent to my office on the fourth day of school for hitting another little boy and for refusing to do his work. He was to return several more times that first month of school for similar transgressions. Visits with his mother were somewhat encouraging - and behavior problems subsided - but only temporarily. Before long, the little boy was back in the office lobby waiting for the assistant principal to intervene again.
Free-spirited eighth grader Tony was also a frequent flyer for similar reasons. Couldn't work quietly. Wouldn't keep his hands to himself. Disrupted and distracted in every one of his classes. Tony was a likeable kid - a little goofy, but relatively harmless. After the first month of school, I was a little tired of his presence in my office.
One afternoon, both boys found themselves sitting in my office at the same time. Tony had been sailing paper airplanes across his math classroom. Leonard had been urinating on the outside wall of the kindergarten building. "I told the playground aide I had to go to the bathroom," he explained, "and she said, 'Then just go,' so I did!"
Tony raised his right hand and little Leonard high-fived him. Too tired to reprimand the older boy, I turned my attention to the kindergartener and asked, "After you went, did you wash your hands?"
Leonard shook his tiny head and said, "Nuh-uh!"
I looked at Tony and smirked. He, in turn, looked down at his celebratory hand, then back at me, and finally at Leonard and shuddered. Quickly, he rubbed the imagined microbes onto the leg of his jeans. I couldn't help but smirk again.
I let out an exhausted sigh and reached into my desk for discipline papers. Then I closed the drawer. This is not the solution, I thought. Calling parents has not worked. Lunch detention has not worked. In-school suspension was just what each boy wanted - they would rejoice in getting out of class.
"Okay, boys," I announced, "this is what we're going to do. From now on, Tony is going to spend his lunch recess time in kindergarten helping Leonard with his work and anything else that Mrs. Bellamy wants done. Hope you like the little chairs, Tony."
Tony's mouth fell open. Finally, he spoke. "But what about him? What does he have to do?"
"He has to go wash up in the restroom," I replied with a smile. "That way, you'll have no problem holding his hand as you take him back to class.
"Can I wash my hand too?" he asked anxiously.
"Of course," I replied with yet another smirk.
For the next few days, I spied on Tony to make sure he actually made it to the kindergarten wing. Nonchalantly, I wandered into Mrs. Bellamy's classroom a few minutes after his arrival each day. Leonard seemed happy to have his own personal assistant. The other kids seemed envious. Tony seemed stressed out with little ones all chattering around him as he sat "criss-crossed, apple-sauce" in the listening circle. I grinned and waved at him before sneaking into the next classroom.
Three weeks into the experiment, I realized that neither boy had been to the office for any discipline issues. Mrs. Bellamy reported to me that Tony was somewhat of a superstar to her little five-year-olds. "He walks in the door," she reported, "and they all shout, 'Tony's here!' and they all run to him asking for help with their assignments! And Leonard! What a difference!"
The school year flew quickly by. The boys were not perfect; they still occasionally found their way to my office throughout the remainder of the school year. But they had changed. Leonard had acquired a male role model and the confidence to get his work done and his behavior somewhat in check. Tony, in turn, found an avenue to release some of his crazy, creative teenage energy and to see the positive returns that this energy could bring about if channeled properly. Both boys acquired a renewed sense of purpose and self-esteem.
At the end of May, I stood at the gates of the school wishing all of the kids a great summer. I heard a squeaky voice behind me. "Why do you have to leave?" I turned to see Leonard with his hands on his hips. Behind him stood Tony and a few of his eighth grade friends.
"I'm retiring, guys," I replied with a lump in my throat. "I'll still be here though. I'm going to be coming back as a teacher. I just won't be your assistant principal anymore." They seemed satisfied with that explanation and gave me the hugs and high-fives I had become accustomed to over the years. I didn't even care if their hands were clean or not. They said goodbye and happily hurried to their bus or to their family cars.
As an educator, you never know when or if you will ever see your kids again when they leave you. You can only hope that they will be happy, safe and successful. I have been amazed and delighted as I have reunited with many of them at the most unexpected times over the years.
I stopped at the local McDonald's the other day for a quick dinner before my late afternoon parent-teacher conferences. "Hey, Mr. Ramsey!" came a young man's voice behind me. I turned to see Tony, three customers back, sporting a giant grin and waving like a little kid. The patrons before him looked quizzically at us both.
I got my dollar-meal items and then waited for him to get his three Big Macs, large fries, and large chocolate shake. We shook hands and caught up on each other's lives before I had to hurry back to the school. "You'd better come visit!" I hollered as I headed to the door. He gave me the thumbs up sign and grinned. "See you, Mr. Ramsey!"
Two days later, I was heading back to my class as my lunch "hour" (35 minutes) was quickly coming to an end. I decided to take a detour through the cafeteria to talk to the new assistant principal for a few minutes about a student having behavior issues in my classroom. The first graders were assembled at the lunch tables eating, I waved at them as I hurried through the facility. They all began shouting, "Mr. Ramsey! Mr. Ramsey!" One by one, they began leaping from their chairs and running to embrace me. The cafeteria aide smiled and let them charge.
The first child to reach me was Leonard, now taller and stockier than I had last seen him. He wrapped his arms around me and looked up at me. A huge smile formed across his face. "Long time, no see, Mr. Ramsey!" he sang out. "Long time, no see!"
Copyright, Tim Ramsey.