Thanksgiving, 2007, was a special day for me in a California hobo jungle scrapping with peers like vultures over a charity Turkey. It all began with the ‘invisible principal’.
I was a happy sub with many feathers in my hat as the most requested by teachers and faculty alike at Blythe High School in Riverside County.
Besides hiring the new teachers, California had handpicked an ex-career army sergeant with two tours of Vietnam as the ramrod, whom the staff called ‘the invisible principal’ and the students never once saw for his policy of fierce orders from behind a closed door.
I too had heard but never saw him until two weeks into the term. On that day, in English, at last bell, the kids filed out shrieking, ‘To the river, to drink!’
There was a BANG and the room slowly filled with smoke.
Advancing slowly from the door, the grey cloud headed at me kitty-corner at the teacher’s desk. I squinted for the source counting ‘one alligator, two alligator’ until the cloud was at my nose, and then looked left at the window and right at the phone.
Like the sinking ship’s captain – surely they will answer the distress – I picked up the phone and dialled the office emergency number. After eight rings, I hung up, still holding my breath, and redialled as fire alarms began to wail. A chalky dust settled on my head and clothes, as I held my breath, hoping.
The door burst open and a thick figure hung in the frame like a gorilla – the invisible principal!
He raced in to open the windows, and as the smoke escaped I exhaled holding the receiver, ‘No one answered! Sir’
He cut me short, ‘I had to clear the campus, teach.’
We discovered minutes later that a student had detonated the fire extinguisher.
A week went by, and there was a playground war. As usual, the school loudspeaker bellowed the secretary of the principal, MR KEELEY, to the playground, immediately!’
It was another emergency. I dashed to the gym locker room where ten students and I were pinned down by rocks shot from outside by thirty more too disgusted in the heat to exercise more than these stones. I braved the salvo, and was smashed in the head by a soccer ball. An Aspergers student hid his head in his shirt collar like an ostrich and crashed into the canal. Fights broke out in more clouds of dust, but still no help arrived. The goalposts bent and weighted by students to the ground, screaming triumph!
They had their say that day, as I staggered wearily to the gym office and left my report on the desk. The next day I was fired, and all the feathers fell out my cap.
What does a canned sub do in his spare time? The next day I wrote a ‘Letter to the Honorable Schwarzenegger’; it went unanswered. The day after the door shut in my face by a pro bono lawyer. On the third I filed for the first unemployment. On the fourth day I caught a freight out of Colton yard San Bernardino to, as the hobos say, wherever it goes.
It’s said never to leave a complaint without a solution. Somewhere along the line I picked up a copy of Meegan’s Democracy Reaches the Kids and thought that may be it, let the kids a voice in the classrooms before they get all the teachers fired.
Like an out-of-job depression tramp I was absorbed into the system…
The day the feathers in my hat fell out.