And then I actually went to work.
On paper, the position seemed simple enough: ‘Job opening for an assistant principal at Truelong Elementary. Our ideal candidate will have a great deal of patience, a great willingness to constantly learn new ideas, and a great love for children. Salary commensurate with experience.’ I had no experience besides my diploma, but I had the other three attributes–or so I imagined.
So I became the school crossing guard–
–and my secretary’s sounding board about the dirty dishes in the faculty lounge–
–and a target for irate PTA members–
–and the object of cursing for commuters driving through the school zone.
More than once, I left school in a complete funk wondering “What in the world am I doing here?” No one warns a new administrator about the petty annoyances of running a school. The employees who would rather complain than resolve an issue, the parents who call you personally to argue over a grade, the students who constantly cause trouble because they don’t want to be there.
And always, the budget, the funding, the cuts. I went from wanting to change kids’ lives to just wanting my mouse to work in the mornings. And was decent coffee too much to ask for? How was I supposed to run a school if I couldn’t even get good coffee?
One morning everything was just going wrong. The paper boy knocked over the trash, the car wouldn’t start, my cell phone wouldn’t get a clear signal and traffic was backed up for blocks.
I pulled up in front of the school, angry as anything.
Right outside the front door stood a little girl whom I had seen on the playground once or twice. I couldn’t quite remember her name–
“Hi, Mr. Washington. Do you remember me?”
“Hi there, um …”
“I’m Shauna Graham. Remember when the second grade made cupcakes for the school play and I brought them to your office?”
“Oh!” I vaguely recalled that day–there had been so many meetings and phone calls and files and pressing issues that I hardly had time to stop and eat. I did remember her, though–she had been wearing a red dress and a paper sash covered in blue glitter. “The chocolately-chocolate cupcakes with chocolate frosting and chocolate sprinkles?”
Her face completely lit up. “You DO remember! You looked so mad that day I thought I did something wrong.”
She thought SHE did something wrong?
And then I really did remember–she’d come into my office, carrying the paper plate so proudly–and I’d impatiently said “Set it over there” and maybe took one bite while I was waiting for a conference call to begin and in the end, the cupcakes that the second grade made for me went stale and sour and later that week the janitors threw them away.
Man, that degree sure didn’t teach me how to deal with times like this.
“Mr. Washington? We’re having a bake sale at the playground. Do you wanna muffin?”
I reached for my wallet.
“Um … Mr. Washington, it’s okay. You look kinda sad, I thought it might cheer you up. Go ahead, you can just take it.”
I bought all of the muffins that Shauna had left so that she could go back to class. And for the rest of the day, any time someone came into my office to complain, I gave them a muffin and told them what I learned from Shauna–no matter what else we can’t control, we are always in charge of our attitudes.
And funny enough, even the coffee tasted better that day.