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The Yearning Centre

January 3, 2010 at 4:16 am (Uncategorized)


Most teachers are happily married. There are few single people on staff and those who are are likely to be married soon. Staffrooms are considerably worse places than bars to meet new people of the opposite sex. Who, for example, would you want to go home with from the staffroom? Barovsky? Jones? Maybe Rickards, or Ryan, the new guy.

Problem is they’re all taken. Come to think of it, you would have better luck at the grocery store, the hardware store, even the old folks home than you would in a high school staffroom. Byronville is a dinky little place ; Granite City isn’t much bigger. In fact it’s not a city at all, just another small town with pretensions of grandeur. That being said you would imagine that there aren’t many secrets that stay secrets. If say the librarian has having an affair with the young and not to mention good-looking English teacher, well most people would know.

You would be wrong.

One of the many stereotypes that people have about small towns and villages in that folks are always in your face, always sticking their noses in your business, that kinda stuff. The fact is though that people in the country want their privacy just as much as people in the city do. And in lots of ways it’s easier in the country; the houses are farther apart; you can play your music as loud as you want, well you get the picture. Maybe it’s because most of what teachers do happens at home. Yes that’s right, at home. Those lessons don’t appear outta thin air and marking doesn’t do itself (Well actually there are a few teachers who have tried leaving things until they marked themselves, but no one has heard of that actually happening) Maybe it’s because most teachers work at home and therefore get a lot of time with their spouses –okay not quality time- that the divorce rate among teachers appears to be low. Certainly it’s not the 50% that the sociologists claim is normal. Maybe it’s 50% among sociologists because of the stress associated with always having to justify your figures.

 Whatever is true of classroom teachers it doesn’t apply for the suits at the Learning Centre. Senior Admin demands their full time attention. Their work doesn’t happen at home. They spent the majority of their days in meetings or on the road or working on board interpretation of Ministry documents. Ministry documents are a lot like the Bible. Not written in plain English, not easy to understand and certainly open to interpretation. Consequently there are your zealots on one side that say the document means this and zealots on the other side that say, oh no, it means that. People make their careers interpreting Ministry documents. But they must be careful to not tie themselves too closely to any idea with a limited shelf life.

And every idea in education has a limited shelf life.

Whole language, phonics, thinking skills, standardized testing, process as part of evaluation, not including process as part of evaluation, extra credit, banning extra credit, lots of homework, no homework, integration, specialization, segregation for girls math, or black history. The only thing in education that is constant is change. Don’t like an idea? Hold your nose and wait for it to go away; or close your door and teach the way you always did and wait for it to go away. Either way it will go away. That’s mainly ‘cause the suits have to justify their positions. So new ideas have to be generated and piloted . Old ideas have to be repackaged and recycled. Teachers must be trained. Documents need to be written. It goes on and on and there’s no rest for the weary. Busy work applies to the Learning Centre as much as it does to any elementary class. The Learning Centre folks spend a lot of their time together and not a lot of time at home with their spouses. With the Obesity consultant sitting across from the Phys Ed/French consultant for hours at a time, with all those working lunches and dinners, those shared trips to the Ministry in the back of a limo. (You need a limo so you can keep working during the trip), with all that time spent together and apart from their spouses, one thing leads to another, and they lead to those things being in places they shouldn’t be if you get the idea. But for the most part, what happens at the Learning Centre, stays at the Learning Centre. But not always. Probably the most famous affair was Director Holzbein’s with a beginning elementary teacher. Now this wasn’t your classic Learning Centre affair. They didn’t spend hours together until something inside them popped and they threw themselves into each other’s arms. No, it was more he was in the market, having lost interest in his wife a long time ago. One of the perks of his job was he could go to any kind of meeting he wanted to, whenever he wanted to. If you can call that a perk, that is.

His appearance at a meeting of science heads was unlikely; that would just be boring and maybe a little hostile. But a new teacher orientation meeting could be fun. All those fresh young faces, 80% female. He could go and play the big man and check out the potential action at the same time. Beauty thing was even if he said the wrong thing, no one would say anything. He was the Director.

 Emily Lentamente was fresh out of teacher’s college. She had an angelic face and a smile that made you melt. She was slim and tall without being too much of either. She had dark brown hair, which she grew to her shoulders and big brown eyes. Her voice bordered on the dippy side. But most men didn’t notice. At least not at first. What Holzbein did notice was a lot of youthful energy combined with innocent charm. When he thought of his wife neither word came to mind. Years of the elementary classroom had taken their toll on Mrs Holzbein. The vivaciousness and enchantment that had attracted him to her in the first place seemed to be gone. Her smiles were fewer and fewer, having largely been replaced with sighs. And she nagged. When she didn’t like something, he knew. He didn’t suffer from the usual complaint that men have about women. He always knew what she was thinking, but usually wished he didn’t. One thing she thought was there ought to be some perks for being married to the Director. He was gone a lot. Up to the Ministry for this meeting or that one. Gone to conferences. Some wives would have gone with him, but as a classroom teacher she couldn’t miss that much time. Truth be told it wasn’t such a bad thing he was gone a lot, but still there ought to be some perks.

So if there were going to be some perks for being the wife of Director Holzbein, she was going to get them. Sharon Holzbein hated her classroom at Curtain Street Public School. In September and June it was unbearably hot. In the winter it was frigid. The room was too small and dingy. Curtain Street was a school in need of major renovations, but there was no money for renovations in the foreseeable future. Thatcher Avenue, which is in the richest part of Granite City, had just undergone a major renovation. There was new lighting, new furniture and most importantly air conditioning. Sharon Holzbein wanted in on that. So she nagged and she nagged. Nagging was what was for supper every day of the week. Naturally the more she nagged the less she saw of her husband. But even if he wasn’t home for half of all possible suppers, her nagging was so annoying that eventually he gave in and promised to move the immersion program in Granite City from Curtain Street to Thatcher Avenue. The question was how. How would he get this past the Board? Trustees should be used to having the wool pulled over their eyes. The Budget is usually a chef d’oeuvre of misinformation, overly complicated so that even a Trustee with an accounting background would find it hard to follow. It’s never a fair fight between Trustees and Admin. Sure Senior Admin is hired by the Trustees but usually on the recommendation of other Senior Admin. Some Directors have gone so far as to name their successors. Senior Admin is a full time job, paying well over $100 000 a year, while Trustee is a part time job earning no more than 5 or 6 thousand a year. Admin have spent their entire careers in education, while Trustees come from all walks of life and for them educationese is a very foreign language. But something as outlandish as moving an entire program to please your wife was going beyond the usual snow job.

 The first thing to do was strike a committee. And so the Ad Hoc Committee for the Future of Immersion French in the Granite District School Board was formed with parent reps from all the regions of the Board, an elementary Principal, a secondary Principal, two Superintendants and the Physical education-French consultant. As usual no teachers were asked. There is never a need to appear to listen to teachers. They will do as they’re told.

As quite often was the case, the Physical education-French consultant wasn’t able to attend the meetings as she was busy working in consultation with the Obesity consultant. Don’t bother asking how with an annual French grant of $2.7 million there wasn’t enough money for a full time French consultant. And don’t bother asking why there was a full time Obesity consultant and a full time Character consultant but not a full time French one. Just don’t bother.

 Also as usual the final report of the committee was written before the first meeting. What Director Holzbein had tasked Superintendent White to do was to find apparently sound pedagogical reasons for moving the immersion program from Curtain Street to Thatcher Avenue. Demographics is always a good pretext. The stats showed that the projected enrolment at Thatcher would be dropping and so to maximize the capacity of the building it would be necessary to bring in more students. It was fortunate that having read the final report, no Trustee asked why such expensive renovations had been made to a school with declining enrolment. But that would be unlikely to happen because 1. Trustees would have had to have read the report. 2. Trustees would have had to have understood the report. Not to be critical of Trustees here. It must be remembered that it was presented as one report among many. It was thick to discourage reading it. And it was largely written in a foreign language. At any rate Superintendent White would have had a nice, hardly concise answer in full educationese if the question had come up.

So after the committee had met a number of times and after the report had been approved by the Trustees, the immersion teachers at Curtain Street were informed that they would be moving to Thatcher Avenue starting next September. Despite the promise of air conditioning most staff were not happy about the move. (That’s not surprising as most teachers don’t like change) Sharon Holzbein was mentally fist pumping when the news was read out, though it was hardly a surprise for her.

Sometime during this entire process, Director Holzbein had found the courage to phone Miss Lentamente’s school and ask to speak to her. Holzbein wasn’t the kind of man who ran from affair to affair. It was just that things at home had got so bad that he needed some release, some change, something new or someone new. He also needed a reason to explain why the Director of Education was phoning a first year teacher. And he needed to stop being so nervous. His palms were sweaty. His voice was cracking. He felt like he was fifteen years old again. Why would a twenty-four year old, beautiful woman be interested in me. Old. Balding. Beer bellied.

 “Emily Lentamente” she pronounced the final e.

“Yes hello Miss Lentament. It’s Carl Holzbein. You know ,Director Holzbein. Do you have a minute?”

 “Of course” she lied. It wasn’t lunch or recess and she had left a teaching assistant in charge of the class.

“We need some evaluation of the New Teacher Induction Program. Could you come into the Learning Centre tomorrow evening?”

 “Evening, sir?”

“Please call me Carl. It has to be in the evening. As you would imagine, my agenda is very full.” Oh why did I say ‘as you would imagine?’

 “I would love to sir, what time?”

 “Carl, please. How about seven?”


 Emily didn’t know what to think. Here was a man old enough to be her father. But despite his age he was attractive. She had always like bald men, but hardly anyone her age was bald. Again despite his age there was a boyish charm about him. He was a gentleman unlike most of the boys she had dated who were only interested in one thing and were impatient to get it. But he was married. The fact alone should have been the end of it. Her parents had brought her up right. And even though the topic of married men had never come up-to be honest the topic of sex at all had almost never come up, she could well imagine how they would feel about it. Yet there was something exciting about seeing a married man. Everyone thought of her as a ‘good girl’; everyone expected her to do the right thing. Maybe she needed to be bad just this once before she settled down and got married and got a mortgage and of course got kids. But if she was going to be bad, she wasn’t going to be easy.

 That evening at the Learning Centre, he had started slowly, respectfully. Looking back it was clear to Emily that it had been Carl’s intention from the beginning. They had discussed the New Teacher Induction Program an appropriate amount of time. Then he had shown her a draft of a report on the program and asked her if she wanted a drink while she read it. She was surprised when he rolled out a mini bar. But he explained that Senior Admin worked such long hours that they had to mix pleasure with business or there would be no pleasure at all. There followed a few minutes of chitchat. He asked her where she was from, where she had gone to university, what she had majored in. Then somehow before either had really realized what they were kissing. The kissing somehow lead to his desk being clear off of all objects and her clothes removing themselves then his going too and then oh my god the most amazing sex she had ever had. Those boys she had dated really were boys. No endurance, no respect for her needs; just in and out and thanks a lot. But Carl, oh my god , Carl. His touch was so gentle; his kisses so soft and she had felt things she had never felt before. She had gone places she had never been before. So much for being bad without being easy. But who cares.

Seven o’clock in the evening is probably not the best time for doing something like that at the Learning Centre. At that time it’s not teeming with activity, but there are a few consultants and supervising Principals hanging around finishing up the day’s work. Sure, as Director, Carl got the nicest office, with a solid oak door that closed, mahogany book shelves and a big, ostentatious-looking desk which had not been bought for tonight’s purpose. But the walls are pretty thin and the sex was that intense that anyone still there would have had a pretty good idea of the nature of the activity going on the other side of the wall. No one there who knew the couple would have imagined it was with the Director’s wife. So pretty much right off the bat, word started to get round about the Director and his little action on the side. When Emily and Carl had finished, they lay on the desk for a brief moment. It was after all a pretty uncomfortable desk. She got dressed and said that she had marking to do. He asked if he could call her again. She wanted to say ‘yes, in five minutes.’, but thought she appeared cheap enough for one night. And answered that yes that would be nice. Yes Tuesday would be fine and kissed him on the cheek and hurried off to her car. To be fair to the couple, it was the only time the Director’s office and the Director’s desk was used for these purposes. For future activities they would go out of town or at least rent a room. But the tongues were already wagging. The rumour machine was running on full throttle and it would be no time before it all got back to Sharon Holzbein. Sharon believed that revenge is a dish best served cold. So she formulated a plan, hired a private detective and started having her assets evaluated. Hiring a detective is not an easy thing and not something that most folks in Granite City would do or even know how to go about doing it. Truth be told there are no private detectives to be had in Granite City. But a woman scorn is a resourceful woman. Sharon made some phone calls, surfed the internet and shopped around. Eventually she found someone who would come up from the big city as long as she paid his expenses. It wasn’t going to be cheap, but Carl Holzbein was going to pay for his sins.

It was a little like shooting fish in a barrow. Really dumb fish that is with little targets painted on their sides. Within a day and a half, Dick Tracy, or whatever his name was had all the times, all the credit card receipts, all the eye witnesses accounts from waiters and hotel clerks and most of all, all the digital photographs necessary to hang Director Holzbein up and leave him twisting.

‘Amicable divorce’ is almost an oxymoron and certainly didn’t apply here. Perhaps ‘hostile takeover’ would be a better term here, and it was exactly the objective of all of Sharon’s actions. She wasn’t going to leave him with a loonie, a twoonie or a five dollar bill. Carl got a lawyer suit to represent him; against the advice of all her friends, Sharon chose to represent herself. No suit could possibly express the pain, the anger and the humiliation that she felt. No suit could possibly be motivated enough to squeeze every drop of blood from Carl’s wallet. For months Sharon prepared for her day in court. She read everything on family law she could get her hands on. She researched similar divorces. She gave her class busy work while she read Family Law Quarterly. She knew the value of his soon-to-be-ex husband’s stock portfolio on a daily basis. She knew what his pension was going to be if he went now or in five years and every date in between. Then there was his salary. As Director of the Granite District School Board Carl Holzbein earned slightly less than $200, 000 a year. More than the Premier of Ontario it should be said. Babe Ruth when it was pointed out that he made more than the President of the United States replied that he was having a better year than the President. The same couldn’t be said for Carl Holzbein. It’s not exactly clear what it is that a director does. Sure he or she is in charge of the board. But what is expected of a director to a great extend is invisibility. Most boards don’t want a director who is looking for fame and celebrity. Stop anyone on the street and ask who the director of education is and see what kind of answer you get. If invisibility is important then Carl screwed up big time. It wasn’t the divorce. In these modern times divorce is no big deal. It wasn’t the adultery. Hate to say it but in these modern times, adultery is no big deal. It was the public nature of the divorce. Now Granite City doesn’t have a TV station. But TV stations don’t really cover divorces, unless of course it’s the divorces of Hollywood celebrities.

 But modern gossip is high tech. In Chat room and staff room Holzbein had become an embarrassment to the Board. At breakfasts at Tim’s and at Rotary lunches he had become an embarrassment. And then the pictures got out on the internet. Sharon’s dick tracy had taken some pretty compromising pictures. They were only intended for Sharon’s legal use. But someone one had got a hold of them and had hacked into the Board’s website and posted them there. They didn’t stay up there long, just long enough for half of Granite City to copy them and send them to anyone who could possibly care, including TV stations and newspapers in the big city. Poor Emily. Unaware of all this, she came into work like any other day and immediately felt a chill throughout the entire school. People were whispering in groups of two or three. Everyone stared and no one said hello. And in class the kids all giggled to each other and whispered words. Then the phone calls from parents started coming to the Principal demanding that their child be placed in a different class.

 Emily went home at lunch and didn’t come back for the rest of the term.

 One thing was clear to the Board: Carl Holzbein had to go. Problem was he still had two years left on his contract and a buyout was not going to be cheap. Cheap was not a word that could be applied to the divorce settlement, at least not from Carl’s point of view. While Sharon may have been an amateur in the court room, her determination to exact revenge on her soon to be ex-husband propelled her to a level rarely reached by professionals. Carl’s lawyer faced with a barrage of arguments thought it better to surrender than to fight on in a losing cause. Sharon got pretty much everything she wanted: the house, the family car, the kids, his dog. She didn’t even like the dog. Carl seemed like a beaten man. His dealings with the Board went better. He was in a much better position. He had a contract. He hadn’t done anything illegal. He could have held out for a lot more. In the end Carl accepted one year’s salary as long as the Board allowed him to do one thing before he left. One thing that had bothered him had been the findings of the Ad Hoc Committee for the Future of Immersion French in the Granite District School Board . The end result of the Committee’s work was that the immersion program had been moved to the richest part of town, sending a message to the community that immersion was only for an elite and not for everyone. As a firm believer in education for all, he would have kept it at Curtain Street. If the Board would move it to Curtain Street, then he would be happy accepting just a year’s salary . The Superintendent of Finance did the math and reported to the Board that it would be cheaper to do the move than to pay off the Holzbein’s contract in full. So after only two years of being at Thatcher Avenue the program was moved back to Curtain Street. Carl may have been badly out played by Sharon, but he scored the last goal.

 Carl wanted one other thing in order to go and go quietly- if going quietly was still an option. He wanted a good letter of recommendation. Education has a long standing tradition of sending people off with a good recommendation, anything to get rid of some people. By comparison to many, Carl was fairly innocent. Others, who should have gone to jail, went to the next board with the blessing of their Principals. Given these past trespasses, it wasn’t a big deal giving Carl what he wanted. Carl Holzbein took the recommendation, put together a pretty good looking résumé and with Emily headed west. He acted as a consultant for a year or two, but eventually found a job as Director in a much bigger board in British Columbia. Bigger board and bigger salary.

Against her parents advice, he and Emily married, had two kids and a big house and a big mortgage to go with it. He thought his life couldn’t be better. After a while, changing diapers started to wear thin. He found that Emily had her set of friends in their twenties and he had his set mostly in their fifties. Her friends talked about nothing all the time. His friends talked about important things that seemed to bore Emily. They had so little to talk about together. The things she didn’t know. The music she listened to. And of course the sex got to a point where they had seen it all before: she hardly had time for it any more with the kids and all. And her voice, when did it start being so dippy?

Emily,well she soon noticed that Carl wasn’t like the Carl she first met. He was so much more impatient with her. Nothing she did was good enough. Why couldn’t he try to like her friends, her music? Why was the sex always the same and so seldom? Why was he always so tired? He really wasn’t like the boys she had dated before Carl, so full of energy, so willing to please. Maybe she should have listen to her parents.

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Zero plus zero plus zero equals 45

October 8, 2009 at 11:36 pm (Uncategorized)

Zero plus zero plus zero  equals 45


Randy Doyle was swimming.  Strong, rhythmic strokes.  Over and over again.  And with each stroke he felt better.  With each stroke he felt more alive, more excited.  He could hardly wait to get to the other side.  But as he swam, the water grew colder and thicker.  It became more and more viscous, like swimming in a pool of 10w30.  The oil was everywhere.  It stuck to everything.  His arms, his face,  his feathers.  The more he tried to get rid of it, the more it stuck to him.  He crawled out of the water and tried to run.  It was so hard to breath and he was being chased.  At first he didn’t know what was chasing him.  He was in a maze, a corn maze, no it was made of football players then the football players turned into percentage signs and he could see what was chasing him.  It was the numbers 25, 35 and 45.  Why those numbers he didn’t know.  But they were evil.  They had claws and sharp teeth.  They were getting closer and closer.  He tried to call for help but his mouth wouldn’t open.  Finally it did and he yelled “Bunny, Bunny”  over and over again.  Bunny appeared dressed as a rodeo clown, came right up to him.   But instead of diverting the numbers away like a rodeo clown was supposed to do, he looked Doyle right in the face and laughed “Give it up”  over and over again.

Doyle started to wake up.  He was aware that something was different.  The bed felt different.  He was naked and he never slept naked.   The room felt different.  Still with his eyes closed he reached around the bed as if he was looking for something.  His left hand stopped up against something soft and round.  It felt good.  He stroke it.  Then came the voice.

“Morning, Tiger.  Don’t tell me you’re up for another go?  You know I am if you are.”

Oh my god thought Randy.  I know that voice.  It was Kathleen.  He remembered being with her in the restaurant…Then the rest started to come back to him. 

She pulled herself closer to him, kissed him on the forehead, the cheeks, the lips.  He felt the warmth of her body.  She was older than him, maybe by 10 or 15 years,  yet she had kept herself in shape.  He was starting to get excited.

At little while later, he looked at the radio-alarm clock on the night table.

“Holy shit.”


“We missed breakfast. “

“I’m not hungry.  Are you?”

“No, it’s not that.  The keynote speaker was supposed to be there to discuss his latest book.”

“Who’s the keynote speaker and what is his latest book?”  asked Kathleen.  Then she added “And why should I care?”

“William Vandonkersgood.  Author of ‘Reinventing the School:  Tearing down to Build up’  and founder of the Phoenix movement.”

“Phoenix movement?”

“Yeah, Phoenix as in the bird that rises from the ashes, not the city in Arizona.  He believes that the whole education system is rotten at the core and can only be changed by tearing everything down. “

“So he’s an anarchist.”

“They never use that term.  But they have bulldozed a few inner-city schools in New York and Philadelphia.”

“How do you get away with bulldozing a school?”

“Apparently they show up on a Sunday morning.  The neighbours assume they have permission.  Any way they do it in neighbourhoods that aren’t in the habit of calling the authorities.  And they have official looking papers on hand if anyone asks.”

“What would he put up in its place?”

“That’s the beauty of it.  He doesn’t propose anything.   He thinks the new system should just rise up from the ashes of the old.  It should be created co-operatively.

“Let’s grab something for  breakfast before the first session.”

“Thought you weren’t hungry.”

“That was a few minutes ago.  Now I am.”


In the coffee shop downstairs they went over the program for today.

“Let’s see what I should go to,’  said Kathleen as she perused the program.

“Didn’t you pre-register?”

“Of course I did.  But I never go to these things unless they look good.  Let’s see…

From Caterpillar to Butterfly’,  ‘Making your Staff Do the Crap Jobs and Thank you for it’, ‘Literacy:  Its Everybodies Business’,  hmm a couple of mistakes in the title.  No irony there.  ‘Liberation TeachingReleasing the Inner Guerrilla in all of us.’  ‘The Hip-Hop Principal’, ‘No one fails:  Modern Assessment and Evaluation’.    What do you think, Randy?”

“I signed up for ‘Growing your Career from the Bottom up.’  I think I should go to that.”

“That’s sounds a lot like ‘From the Classroom to the Director’s Office in Ten Years’ I wonder what the difference is.”

“You  know what sounds good ‘From the Whip to the Jelly Bean Jar:  a History of Persuasion’’

“I’m going to ‘When Teachers Go too Far:  How to Deal with Unwanted Staff’.  It sounds useful.”

“Do you have problems with your staff?”

“Doesn’t everyone?”

“Look at the time.  Tell you what, let’s meet for lunch and compare notes about the sessions.”

“Sounds like a plan.”


The big conference room was abuzz with conversation.  500 Principals in one spot all talking shop.  250 Principals telling 250 other Principals what they thought of their morning sessions.  250 Principals trying to listen over the din of 250 Principals all talking at once.  Apparently some sessions were very good, some so-so and others a total waste of time.  The session entitled, ‘Casting a Broad Shadow:  How to Promote yourself to your Superiors’  was very well attended and seemed to be well worth it.  ‘Building a Fair and Balanced Timetable’ drew three participants.  Normally it would have been cancelled but apparently 35 people had signed up for it and 32 were no-shows.  That’s the problem with going at 8:00 a.m. after a night of Principals cutting loose.

Eventually Kathleen and Randy found each other and found seats together, near the back and a long way from the head table.

“So where did you end up going?”  asked Randy.


“What sessions did you go to?”

“I decided on ‘Military Techniques Applied to a High School Setting’  and ‘Speaking Their Language:  How to Rap with the Groovy Kids of Today’  ‘Military Techniques’ was good.  It focused on the concept on dividing a staff into cliques who spend all their time and energy fighting each other and allow you to do what you want to them.  I came away with several ideas I am going to apply when I get back to St.  Kilda’s.   The second one on the other hand was so bad it was funny.  I think that the guy has been doing the same presentation since the 60’s.  If we had listened to acid rock and smoke dope, it would have been a complete nostalgia  trip.  What about you?

“I’m just trying to picture you as a hippy.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, could I have your attention please.  I would like to introduce the head table.  On my right are  Helga Overmeyer, Principal of  Central Winneposis High School and Chairperson of the Conference Organizing Committee and Hugh Really, Past President of High School Administrators’ Association of Canada and on my left is Alma Ludwigshafen who is the current President of the HSAAC and who is going to introduce today’s keynote speaker.”

Polite applause followed as Ms Ludwigshafen walked up to the podium. 

“I went to ‘Growing your Career from the Bottom’ like I signed up for.  Then I took a page out of your book and went to something that looked interesting.  ‘Keeping your Ambitions in Check.  When the Guy You Work for Leaves Something to be Desired’

“Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to tell you the background of your distinguished guest.   He was born and raised in Cinderella,  a coal mining town in West Virginia.  He attended many underfunded public schools where he earned marks good enough to win a scholarship to Duke University.  There he met many students from vastly different backgrounds than his and realized the unfairness of the public school system.”

“What was ‘Growing your Career from the Bottom’ like?”  asked Kathleen, who could barely hear the speaker at the podium.

“It had a lot of good ideas about the art of what he called sycophantism.  How to play your cards right and at the right time.  Whose favour you should curry and how.  How to maximize your profile in the Board.  I would recommend it to anyone with ambitions of going beyond the Principal’s office.”

“Throughout his career, first as a classroom teacher, then as an Administrator and finally as a Professor of Education at Slohand College in New Jersey, he has dreamed of finding a way so that every student will have an equal chance at success.”

“What about Keeping your Ambitions in Check?”

“Total waste of time.  The guy giving the presentation had no idea of what it is like to work for a loser.  I could have given a better presentation.  I know what it’s like.”

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I give our keynote speaker:  William Jefferson Vandonkergood.”

Louder applause than for Ms Ludwigshafen followed as Vandonkersgood stood at the podium and adjusted the microphone upwards.

“I thank you.  I thank you very kindly.  But please wait for my speech before you shower me with all this applause.  Make  me earn it.”  The crowd drew quiet then laughed at his last sentence.  “It’s true.  I started out in a one-room school house.”  His accent made ‘I’ sound like a two syllable word.  “Well actually we would have been happy if it was a one-room school house.  The rain came in through the roof (rhymed with boeuf), the wind came in through the windows and the rats did purty much what they wanted.  And that was on a nice spring day.  In the winter time we would fight to get into the outhouse, where at least it was warm.  I could tell ya that we might of been poor but we were happy.  But it would be a lie to say that we didn’t dream of going to a proper school, with a proper roof, with proper windows.  You know what I mean, huh?”

“Now didn’t I go off to college and see that not everybody went to a school without a proper roof and proper windows .  And that set me to thinking what can I do for all those Bobbies and Betties in schools like the ones I knew.  I started asking anyone who’d listen why some kids go to fancy schools with all the up-to-date technology, with happy well-paid teachers who are dedicated to their jobs and other have to go to, well let’s call them crap schools, with no supplies and over-worked, underpaid teachers who quit teaching on average after only two years.  I asked why in a democracy do we not have equality of opportunity and I am still waiting for a satisfactory answer.”

“One  good thing from Keeping your Ambitions in Check was the advice he gave about ignoring your boss if he has nothing but stupid ideas.  At Lord Byron last year  Bunny, our Principal, started a initiative where students who misbehaved were no longer sent to the office.  They were told to take a walk and be back in ten minutes.  Well, that meant that instead of disturbing one class, they were now disturbing all of them.  And kids would try to get kicked out of class so they could wander the halls.  It got to the point where there could be twenty or thirty kids in the halls at the same time.”

“So Bunny gave up on the idea?”

“Hell no.  I just told the staff to go back to sending people to me and I would deal with them.  Bunny is out of the building so much that he is totally unaware.  In fact when he is there he comments on how well the program is working since there is nobody in the halls anymore.”

“Now I reckon that some of you have heard that I go around tearing down schools.  These are only vicious rumours.  Bulldozing a school would be illegal and I wouldn’t be walking the streets as a free man if this were true, would I?  Now that is not to say that there aren’t a lot of schools crying out to be bulldozing.  And I could probably give you all advice on how to hypothetically bulldoze a hypothetical school.”

“Then there’s the idea that the Board had that we should answer all phone calls in both languages.  I don’t know about other schools in the Board, but none of the secretaries at Lord Byron speak French and nobody phones the school expecting to speak French.  It’s pretty ironic coming from a Board that takes the $3 million dollar French grant and spends it on anything but French.  Anyway our secretaries didn’t bother with that one and to the best of my knowledge no one has ever noticed.”

“Now if I knew of a school that needs bulldozing and I can think of a few, the trick would be to act as if you’re part of an official action.  Wear all the proper uniforms; have all the official looking papers.  People will not call you on it.  This is all hypothetical, right?  If you do it at the beginning of a summer, then the Board has some time to decide what they are going to do with all those students and no school.  But unfortunately the Board doesn’t always notice right away.    I’m not sure what things all those Trustees and Admin people do, but paying attention doesn’t seem to be one of them.  Somebody bulldozed PS 444 in the Bronx, that’s in New York, at the beginning of July and I guess no one noticed until the middle of August. “

“Now the idea behind bulldozing a crappy inner-city or rural school is that they don’t build schools like that anymore.  They have to replace the crap with something good.  Did I mentioned that all this is hypothetical?

“Probably one of the more stupid ideas coming out of the Board is…”

“You mean apart from your evaluation policy.”  Interrupted Kathleen

“Well, that’s a hard call.  They’re both in the same league.  Anyway the Board has this idea to integrate grade nine English and science.  The same teacher would do both.  And they only want science teachers to do it.”

“That’s a bit of a force fit isn’t it?  What sort of activities do they envision?”

“I’m not sure.  Short stories about amoebas?  It wouldn’t be my first choice of things to integrate.’

‘Is this backed up by any kind of research?’

‘I doubt it.  We don’t do research.’

‘Now what is important to remember about the Phoenix movement is that entire schools do not have to be torn down.  You can start small.  You can tear down interior walls.  Make sure you know which ones are load bearing ones though.  Or you might as well just bulldoze the whole thing anyway.  Tear down the interior walls and see what that brings.  I know what you’re thinking.  We all tried ‘Open Concept’ in the 70’s.  But did you really?  Or did you just try to teach the old fashion way in a room without walls?  I challenge you to redefine what ‘tearing down’ means.  Rip all the pictures off the walls and let the students cover them.  Throw out the textbooks and let the students write their own.  Throw out the old military-based command structure in your school, put the Principals back in the classroom and run the school collectively.’

With that the crowd grew quiet.  What did he say?  Put Principals in the classroom?  What kind of a lunatic was this guy?  One by one people stood up and left the room.  Vandonkersgood continued, raising his voice over the din of chairs moving and feet stomping.

‘I know what you all are thinking.  It’s what I hear all the time at home.  It’s nothing but Communism.  But it isn’t.  It’s like Hutterites or kibbutz   in Israel.  Don’t.  Don’t .’  The crowd was probably a third of what it had been at the beginning.  ‘Don’t close your minds to new ideas.  Try to think outside the box.’  It was fruitless.  No one was listening any more.  ‘I’d like to thank you all for inviting me  to speak to you today and thank you for listening.’  Vandonkersgood ended without a hint of sarcasm in his voice.  Alma Ludwigshafen got up and started applauding.  A handful of the remaining Principals joined in, but it really was a pitiful amount of applause.  Randy and Kathleen continued their conversation.  Since lunch was being served immediately after the speech, all of the Principals who had walked out on the keynote speaker began filing back in.

‘Science-English integration is just one in a series of ideas that I have to sell to the staff.  They never want to hear it.  I don’t particularly want to do it.  But Bunny always leaves me holding the bag.’

‘How did he ever become a Principal?’

‘Beats me.  But there are a lot of things about the Board that I don’t understand.’

‘Would you like the chicken or the fish?’

‘Addison!  I thought last night was your last day on the job.’

A dippy as ever Addison answered  ‘Well it was supposed to be.  But Daddy was short staffed and asked me to stay.’

‘I’ll have the fish.’

‘Me too’

‘Poor Randy.  You know you shouldn’t have to put up with this crap.’

‘Yeah, but what am I supposed to do about it?’

‘Run the school as if you were the Principal.  Would Bunny notice?  Would he care?  You know he might even by glad that he doesn’t have to do anything.  The school will be better run with a Principal who’s there in the building.’

Addison was back with the food.

‘Okay that’s one chicken for madame and one for sir.’

‘Thank you very much Addison.’ said Kathleen.

‘I thought you ordered the fish.’

‘I did.  But I assumed that she would get it wrong so I ordered the one I didn’t want.’

‘Yeah, me too.  I guess we’re good problem solvers.’

‘That’s why you need to take control of your school.’


‘Just do it.  If you don’t like Science-English Integration, get rid of it.  Don’t like Perceived Intelligence, get rid of it.’

‘’Whoa, there.  Hold on a minute.  That’s not taking on an absent Bunny.  That’s taking on the Board.’

‘If you are half the man you were last night, you’ll do it.’

‘I was good last night?  I mean I was good last night , wasn’t I?’   Randy was feeling manly and powerless at the same time.  It was one thing to be good in bed.  It’s another thing to go against Board policy.  ‘Why don’t we discuss this over dinner tonight?  What sessions are you  going to this aft?’

‘I don’t like any of them.’

‘Yeah, they all look kind of lame.  How about Keeping Them on Edge.  How to Keep your Staff Guessing your Next Move?’

‘I don’t know.  Maybe Delegate,  Alienate,  Subjugate.  You know I don’t like any of them.  I think there’s better things to do with our time.  How about my room in five minutes?’

‘Sounds like a plan.’

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Zero plus zero equals 25

August 19, 2009 at 3:20 am (Uncategorized)

 The Westjet plane touched down in Winnipeg International Airport. VP Doyle was looking forward to being away from Lord Byron Secondary School for a few days. He was attending the National High School Administrators’ Convention. Head of Student Services Bunyon was left in charge of the school. Principal Bunny was away on a Buddhist retreat. Doyle quickly gathered his baggage and hailed a taxi. At the same time, a woman in a smart business suit tried to hail the same taxi. They reached for the door handle at the same time.

 “Where are you going?

“Airport Holiday Inn.”

“Me too.”


 “Sure what?”

 “You were going to ask me to share this cab?”

 “Okay I suppose.” They got in. “You here for the convention?”

“Sure, but which one? The Airport Holiday Inn is hosting the International Pipefitters, the Canadian Society of Funeral Home Directors and the National High School Administrators?”

 “Well I’d say you don’t look like a pipe fitter. So it’s a toss up between funeral home director and high school principal. I’m going to go with, mmm high school principal. Right?”

 “Very funny, you’re a principal too?”

“Sure am.” Doyle lied. He felt like a principal. He ran the show more days than not. He had tried keeping track of all the things Principal Bunny had been at: Safe Schools, Clean Schools, Unleashing the Innerpet in You, Up With Life, Down with Negative People, You Can Read, Managing from the Rear, Zen and the Art of the Modern School, .. after a while Doyle had lost track. Anyway he wasn’t going to see this woman again, he might as well be her equal.

“Randy Doyle, Principal of Lord Byron Secondary School, Byronville Ontario.”

 “Kathleen McEwen, head mistress of St Kilda’s Academy for Girls…”

“Oh look we’re here. Listen before we go our separate ways how about dinner tonight? Doyle couldn’t believe how bold he was.”

“I’d like that.”


 A couple of hours later, VP Doyle was frantically trying to remember her name: “McGregor, Macpherson, Owen, no wait it’s the same as the woman who teaches home ec “(which hadn’t been offered at LBSS since the 70’s) Fortunately Food Services was offered and taught by Florence McEwen. “Yes, that’s it McEwen!” He reached for the phone. “Hello front desk can you tell me what room Ms McEwen is in?”

“Which Ms McEwen?”

“Kathy?” “I don’t have a Kathy; I have a Catherine, here for the Pipe Fitters Convention and a Kathleen, here for the  High School Principals ’

“Kathleen, Kathleen, Kathleen”

“Ok sir, one Kathleen will do. Connecting you now.”

“Thank you. “ While the phone was ringing, Doyle tried with only some success to calm himself.


 “Hello, I’m Addison. I’ll be your waitress tonight. Can I start you off with a drink?”

“I’d like to try the Chilean Chardonnay.” Ms McEwen has wearing something a little less formal than her business suit.

“I’ll have a beer.”

“Certainly sir. Would you like to hear the specials for tonight?”


“Our appetizer tonight is a calamari cooked in a light Asian-Cajun sauce. Our signature salad is tandoori wild salmon spinach. Our entrée is Szechwan fried chicken and our dessert special is slow death par chocolat.”

 “I’d like to try the wild salmon.”

 “I’ll just have a burger.”

“Certainly sir. Will that be the Mediterranean burger, the Klondike burger, the Southwest burger or the Cardiac special?’

 “Just a burger. With ketchup and mustard and a deli pickle.”

“Certainly, sir. That’s a good choice. I’ll be back in a moment with your drinks.”

“We’ve heard that you guys in Ontario have some pretty strange ideas about evaluation.”

“Really? I wouldn’t say that. We aren’t afraid to try new ideas.”

 “The word about Ontario is that it’s become impossible to fail.”

“No, no. It’s quite possible to fail. But we have ensured that teachers do everything humanly possible before that can happen.”

“Like what?”

“When, for example a student doesn’t hand in a major assignment, there are several steps that the teacher must take. They have to inform the parents, administer academic detentions, advice the student of his or her rights, and provide another assignment for the student to do.”

 “And if the student doesn’t do the assignment in the end?’

“Then the teacher files a report with Administration explaining what they didn’t do to ensure the success of the student. And that report goes on the teachers personnel file.”

“So you blame the teacher?”

“We don’t blame the teacher. We blame the whole system. But the system is embodied in the teacher. That’s who the parents and the community see.”

 “But it’s not the teacher who sets this policy.”

 “No, but they do as they are told.”

“Why place the report in the teacher’s file?”

“So we can track each teacher’s failure rate.”

The waitress returned with the drinks. “Caballo salvaje, 2006, for madame and a Coors Lite for sir.”


 ‘We mark now according to perceived intelligence.”

“What’s that?”

“The student self identifies according to his or her perceived intelligence; high, medium or low. Then we grade them on a sliding scale. Those who self identify as high intelligence, we take away marks on a given test or assignment, those who self identify as low intelligence we give marks to.”

“So you penalize the smart ones?”

“No, no. We just even things out.”

“What’s stopping a student from self identifying as low, so he or she gets the extra marks?”

“Well, students are asked a series of questions designed to best evaluate their perceived intelligence quotient.”

“Their what?”

“Perceived intelligence quotient; their PIQ. It’s much more accurate than the traditional IQ with all the cultural bias inherit in the questions.”

“What bias is there in traditional IQ questions?”

 “Well, take this question for example: In baseball there are nine innings. The home team scores 2 runs in each inning and the visiting team scores 1 in each. What is the final score?”

“9 times 2 is 18 and 9 times one is 9; so the final score is 18 to 9.”

 “BMMMG,” Doyle tried making a buzzer noise. “The home team doesn’t bat in the bottom of the ninth if they’re winning. There’s no point. So the final is 16 to 9. But only students who have grown up in North America would know that.”

 “Grown up in North America and care about sports. But isn’t it just a bad question? How is assessing students on potential better?”

“Research has shown that the PIQ is a better indicator of potential success than any other measuring stick.”

“Where is this research done?”

 “In the States, by the Colorado Institute of Learning.”

 “Do work habits say a lot about the ‘potential’ of a student? Aren’t there more examples of hard working less intelligent individuals becoming successful than lazy, but smart ones?”

“We don’t want to discourage the lazy students by penalizing them for a personality trait that isn’t their fault.”

 “What about students who cheat or plagiarize?”

“Again, it’s a personality trait. They are born that way.”

“Isn’t this system unfair? What about honest kids who never cheat or hand in something late?”

 “That is where we use the PIG.”

“The PIG? What is that?”

 “Potential Intelligence Generator. It’s a formula we use to balance the discrepancy between perceived intelligence and actual intelligence.”

“All this is giving me a head ache. But I want to understand what is going on in public education.” Said Ms McEwen, thinking if only to better explain to potential students and their parents why they should enrol at St Kilda’s Academy. “How do you measure the PIQ and the PIG?”

“We have them write standardized tests from the Colorado Institute of Learning. Then we send them off to Colorado and a couple of weeks later we get the results.”

“I don’t get it”

 “We get two numbers for each kid. We divide any mark a student earns by the PIQ and multiple it by the PIG.”

“You mentioned ‘actual intelligence’. Why don’t you just use that?”

“Because using ‘actual’ instead of potential is discriminatory. It favours the hard-working, intelligent academic students.”

“You mean the good students?”

 “Exactly, for too long they have had it their way. Now we’re addressing the imbalance.”

 “What is this Colorado Institute of Learning? I’ve been in education for, well, several years and I’ve never heard of it.”

 “They’re leaders in their field. Visionaries. They see the value in all students and know how to get out that potential.”

“By rewarding laziness and cheating?”

“By refusing to discriminate based on those genetic traits.”

 “You said that they do the testing. That can’t be cheap?”

“A school board our size pays about $100 000 a year.”

“$100 000 a year! That has got to be bigger than your entire textbook budget!”

“ They take it out of the French grant. Totally worth it. Their researchers are working on measurement instruments that will determine when the student enters in grade nine what their marks will be when they leave at the end of grade twelve. That way they will be able to apply to university or college in grade nine and map out their futures so much earlier”

“If their marks are predetermined before they even start, why would they do any work?”

 “Our students are intrinsically motivated. They learn because they love learning.”

 “ That’s not like most students I know. Even at a private school they have other things on their minds”

 “But when you remove the punitive aspect of evaluation, students blossom.”

“What if you get it wrong?”

“Excuse me.  Here are you meals folks. The sesame Thai chicken salad for madame. And the Pasadena burger for sir.”

“Excuse me. I wanted the wild salmon salad.”

“And I wanted just a plain burger.”

“Certainly, I’ll be right back.”

 “You were asking about mistakes?”

 “Yes, what happens if you peg a student as a C student in grade nine. But they’re really quite bright.”

“Well, you have to ask why they didn’t do well on the entry test. But it’s to their advantage to do poorly initially.”

 “How so?”

 “The Save Them At All Cost team kicks in at that point. We have a special program where they can get all the remediation that they need.”

“So sorry, there was a mix up in the kitchen. Your meals will be a few more minutes. In the meal time have a drink on the house.” said Addison putting the drinks on the table. “A vodka cooler for madame and a Heineken for sir.” And she left.

“Not exactly what we’re drinking is it? Who are these people at your Colorado Learning Institute?”

“Ken Smith, an evaluation guru, is the father of Perceived Intelligence. He coined the phrase, did all the research and created all the measuring instruments.”

“Which he now sells to school boards at absurd prices. Has anyone else verified his research?”

“You don’t see a lot of that in education.”

 “No, you don’t, do you? Educational research is almost an oxymoron. Someone comes up with a half baked idea and the Ministry or the Board latch on to it like it’s the second coming. At private schools we’re much more conservative, more traditional…”

 “More afraid of change?”

“No, not afraid of change; but not prepared to jump into some wacky idea thinking it’s going to fix every problem.”

“I’m back.” Announced the waitress. “And here are your meals. “Sea bass for madame and southwest chicken for sir.”

“Not even close this time: try the salmon and a plain burger.”

“Whoops, I guess I screwed up again. I’ll be right back.”

 “I was saying change comes to private schools more slowly. If there is a new idea out there, why not let others test it. Your school seems to be in a hurry to try out half baked ideas.” “Sold to you by snake oil salesmen, it seems.” She added. Doyle had to admit to himself that at first he had questioned some of the elements of potential grades and perceived intelligence. But he had learned from the introduction of the province wide no zero policy that it was best in the end just to go along with whatever the Granite District School Board wanted. And what the GDSB wanted above all was obedience. Someone, maybe Ryerson or Althouse had said that education requires “an inquisitive and disciplined mind” As far as what the GDSB expected from its junior admin was the discipline and to hell with the inquisitive part. So when the Ministry of Education for the Province of Ontario decided that it was wrong to give zero for work not handed in, or tests missed without a valid reason or work plagiarized from another source , the Board jump onto the bandwagon and expected all schools to comply. Problem was the old farts, the newbies and most of the teachers in between thought it was a pretty stupid idea. So Doyle had been tasked by Bunny to ‘sell’ the idea to the staff. Bunny would have done it but he didn’t like reading ministry documents because they gave him a head ache and he was going to be away for a few days. Doyle found himself ‘tasked’ to sell stuff to the staff a lot. He wasn’t sure that he liked or agreed with the idea of never giving a student zero. But the unwritten rule of Admin solidarity obliged that he support it completely.

“So let me get this straight,” questioned Mrs Templeton. “If a kid skips a test, we don’t give him zero; if a kid cheats on a test, we don’t give him zero, heck, if a kid steals a test right out of the staffroom, we don’t give him zero?”

“That’s correct.” answered Doyle. “Skipping, cheating and stealing are all behavioural issues. It’s vindictive to use marks to punish students. Too often teachers use ‘Gotcha evaluation’ not to determine what students know but to prove that the teacher is smarter than the students. They ambush; use surprise quizzes and tests; they teach one thing and evaluate another. They produce students who worship averages and couldn’t care less about learning.”

 “Are you saying that we’re bad teachers? Is that based on your vast experience in the classroom?”

 “I’d like remind you that I have been with the Granite District School Board for nine years.”

“Yeah, most of it as fat boy consultant at the board office.” Said a voice from the back of the room.

“And that should have been my job.” Moaned McTavish.

“I’m back. Have another drink on us.” Say Addison cheerfully, seemingly oblivious to the impression she was creating. “I’m sorry what was it again that you ordered?”

 “Never mind” said Kathleen “Just bring us whatever you have. And the manager.”

“Certainly. Be right back. Daddy, they want to talk to you.” She yelled across the room.

“You can’t call them snake oil salesmen. They’re educational visionaries, looking to take us boldly into the twentieth century.”

“Do you mean the twentieth-first century.”

 “You know what I mean. Ken Smith and the Colorado Institute have seen the future of education and they’re bringing it to us now.”

 “At a nice price.”

 “They’re entitled to make a profit.” Doyle finished his third beer and looked at the bottle longingly. “Could I have another?” he called to a passing waitress.

“You may not respect me; you may not like me. But this is board policy. You are employees of the board and if senior management says you are going to do this, you are going to do this.” Templeton, Barovsky and most of the rest of the staff walked out of the meeting convinced of two things: this policy was a crock and they were going to continue doing what they had always done. ‘I think that went well,” said Doyle to Bunyon on the way out.

Fourth beer finished, Doyle tried to explain to Kathleen what they did when a student didn’t hand something in. If a student doesn’t hand somethin in, they muss meet with the teacher and explain why they mished the due date. They are given a new due date and sign a late contract. The teacher phones home and informs the parents. The teacher will arrange a time for them to come in and finish the assignment. ..”

“Sorry, don’t mean to interrupt. But do you just say they arrange a time for the parents to come in and do the assignment?”

 “Yes, isn’t it brilliant? The parents have had practice doing their kids assignments in public school. They are always mad about having to come in and so it’s usually the only time the student is late with an assignment.”

“But you can’t count that mark.”

“Why not? Don’t public schools count all those science fairs done by parents?”

“The student didn’t do the work.”

 “It works out. Then if the work is still not done, they (the student, I mean) is given a new, new due date. If at the end of the course the work is still outstanding, the student is given a new zero ”

“Two questions: what is a ‘new zero’ and why would a student who gets an A on the first assignment bother handing anything else in?” “A new zero isn’t a number. It’s a place holder. It only really indicates that an assignment is outstanding.” Despite the four beers, Doyle was sounding coherent. Perhaps it was because he had learned it by rote and recited it several times. It was from a rather long document on the school’s website explaining the new evaluation to parents.

“There you are: wild salmon salad and the plain burger with ketchup, mustard and a deli pickle. Sorry for the delay. You must forgive Addison. She has her mind elsewhere.”

“That certainly was apparent.” Said Kathleen in her best head mistress voice. “Hmmm, you know this isn’t bad. Maybe even worth the wait. Tell me something Randy.”

“Yes, Kathleen.”

“Do you really believe all these theories?”

“Do I believe in Perceived Intelligence? Do I?”

 “And what about the no zero policy?”

“No zeros.”

“Do you?”

 “Do I? Lemme eat my burger.”

“Come on, tell me do you believe in no zeros? Want another beer?”

“But I can’t break Admin solidarity. I can’t, I can’t.”

“Sure you can. You’re not in Ontario. I won’t tell anyone”

“I can’t. I can’t. I can’t stand these stupid policies.” There now the proverbial cat was out of the bag. “No zeros! What are they nuts? A kid skips a test and you let him write a new one. Why show up on the test day? A kid doesn’t hand in an assignment and it never counts against him! A kid cheats or steals and nothing is done! Where in the real world would you see attitudes like that? I hate Admin solidarity. I have a mind and I know how to use it. But they treat me like some trained monkey. Someone needs to grab the Minister of Education by the short and curlies and tell her to get a brain, rent some common sense. But who’s gonna do that. Senior Admin? No time soon. Principals? Those invertebrates. Teachers? Too busy complaining about Admin or the kids.” For the most part the adrenaline running through his veins had pushed the alcohol out. “I am so sick of trying to sell stupid ideas to a sceptic staff, who aren’t going to agree with me no matter what I do. I just wish the Principal would do his job once in a while.”

 “What do you mean the Principal would do his job? Aren’t you the Principal?”

 “Well I sorta lied. I’m the Vice Principal. But I do his job most of the time. He’s never there.”

 “I know how you feel. My head mistress is never there either.”

 “You mean you’re not the Principal either?”

“Yes but in the different way than you. I’m the Director of St Kilda’s, which means I am above the head mistress. But she is all sorts of bother for me. Goes to this conference and then that one. Never seems to be in the school.”

“Why don’t you just fire her?”

“There is all sorts of red tape involved.”

“Well I guess the public and private systems aren’t all that different.”

“If you don’t count evaluation maybe”

“But why did you tell me you were the head mistress?”

 “Well, men are sometimes turned off by successful women and you’re kinda cute.”


“Will there be anything else?” Addison was back.

“No just the bill please.”


“Tell me Addison. Is this your first day on the job?”

“Does it look like it is? Oh dear. It’s actually my last day on the job. I’m moving to Alberta to get married and start a career as a primary teacher.”

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The Staffroom III: Ryan, the New Guy

May 17, 2009 at 1:46 am (Uncategorized)

Ryan, the New Guy

Ryan, the new guy, was sitting at the big table in the middle of the staffroom.  Marking.  He would have been sitting at his desk.  But new desks were hard to come by.  Mrs Templeton had a desk.  Barovsky had a desk, which he never used and couldn’t see the top of since it was covered in a lot of stuff.

Stuff is a loose term for the various papers that come and go through a teacher’s hand in the course of a school year.  Text book publishers and their catalogues,  fund-raising companies and their flyers  and insurance companies trying really hard to sell life insurance and of course, overdue marking.  As for Barovsky’s desk, it wasn’t through the course of a single school year.  It was closer to his entire career.  Sure, every once and a while, he would get the energy, or the courage, or whatever it was that he needed and start clearing up the mess.  Start but somehow never finish.  There was always something else that came along to divert his attention elsewhere.

Jones had been mad about the state of Barovsky’s desk.  For years Jones didn’t have a desk.  He was Jones the new guy.  He would have to wait for a desk to become available.  Eventually, Jenkins would retire, Burns would die and something would happen to Phillips, but no one was really sure what.  And  a desk would become available.

Jenkins, Burns and Phillips should have equalled three desks.  Life in the staffroom didn’t work that way though.   About the same time that Jenkins retired, the school got a bunch of water coolers. These water coolers were needed because the water at Lord Byron, though perfectly safe to drink, had a terrible odour that made you want to drink something else, anything else.

Perkins had a theory able the water.  The school board had a big fat contract with a  big international distributor  of bottled water.  The Granite District School Board was loathed to pass up an opportunity.  The Granite District School Board loved money.  It loved applying for grants for special programs.  Special programs to bring ethnic dancers into schools, other programs to send students to sports camps and ones that brought animals into guidance departments across the board.  (Pets were felt to be less judgemental than human counsellors)  It loved telling anyone who asked and a lot who didn’t that its books were balanced.  It was a fiscally responsible organization.

So the more the general population of Lord Byron drank tap water the less money the GDSB made.  Perkins’ theory stated that in order to maintain a healthy cash flow from the vending machines, the water at LBSS was infused with a harmless, but terrible smelling chemical.

Jones, the new guy,  thought Perkins was full of it.

But theory or no theory, the water smelled bad and the staff had refused to drink it and demanded water coolers in each staffroom.

When the cooler arrived it turned out to be not a free-standing one, but one that had to be placed on a table of some sort.  Mrs Templeton and Barovsky looked around for a suitable place to put it and decided on the recently vacated desk of Jenkins.  No matter that Jones complained.  No matter that he had been eyeing that desk from the first rumour of Jenkins’ retirement.  The cooler was way more important than Jones’ need for a desk.

The summer passed, then the fall , winter and spring and Burns announced rather hastily that he was going too.  The twins had made it through university; he had seen his daughter married and had even managed to pay for most of the wedding.  He and Mrs. Burns were going to put their feet up, take it easy, and enjoy life.

So they bought one of those things that they call an RV.  Going to go see the Grand Canyon.  There was a big retirement party up at Eastlands Golf and Country.  It was a good time for everyone.  Burns and Mrs Burns got all sorts of presents for their trip to the Grand Canyon.  GPS system, a fancy electronic tire gauge, The South West on $250 dollars a day, a new set of golf clubs for him and a new set for her.  They got all sorts of things and the guests got drunk.  Some a little and some a lot.  Mrs Templeton was a happy drunk, so it didn’t really matter how much she drank.

And she drank a lot.

But all she did was tell stories about this kid or that kid that no one else remembered.  Mind you it was starting  to get rather entertaining when she changed the subject to Burns’ early days.  All the trouble he had had as a new teacher.  The kids throwing stuff out the windows.  Mostly books, but there was  the occasional piece of furniture and well we won’t get into the incident with the Darling kid.

Ryan, the new new guy, was particularly interested in what Mrs Templeton had to say.  Burns was the very image of a teacher in total control of his charges and to hear that he hadn’t started out that way gave Ryan, the new guy, a sort of warm feeling.  The kind of feeling that says “Don’t worry; everything is going to be alright.”  So Ryan was egging Mrs Templeton on, wanting to know all the details.

When they referred to Jones as the new guy; well it was all relative.  Jones hadn’t been there long, only fifteen years.  But that was nothing compared to Mrs Templeton.  Ryan, the new new guy had only been there a couple.

From the far corner of the banquet hall at Eastlands Golf and Country Club came a soft whimpering.  People turned around, all at different times, looking for a lost puppy.  But there was none to be found.

Ryan, who had a soft spot for animals, took his leave of Mrs Templeton and went looking for the source of the whimpering.  In the corner of the banquet hall at Eastlands Golf and Country Club, positioned at an angle, was an old out-of-tune piano.  The whimpering was coming from behind the piano.  Ryan pushed the piano out from the wall and there behind it was Mr. Doyle.  Mr Doyle, the VP, was young, fairly good looking and usually in control of his emotions. 

Not this time.

He was sobbing like a child who had just lost his favourite toy.

He was also incredibly drunk.

“I don’t  know why.”

“I don’t know why.”

“Why what?”

“They hate me”

“You’re the vice-principal.  The kids are supposed to hate you.”

“Not the kids; the staff.  The all hate me.”

“No we don’t.  We really respect you.”

“Respect?  Respect?  Is that what you call it?  I’d call it shitting all over me.”

“No, no .  it’s not true.”

“What do you call throwing stones through my window?”

“Who does that?”

“Jenkins, I think.  He chips pieces of the decorative rocks at the front of the school and throws them through my windows.”

“I thought that was the  Vander Hooven kid, anyway Jenkins is gone now.”

“Yeah,   but Jenkins put him up to it”

“How do you know that?”

“Burns told me.”

“Burns?  Isn’t he a kind of shit disturber?”

“How do you mean?”

“Did he send that White kid down to the office, claiming he had been hit by Jones?  Just to see what you would do.”

“Dou mean Jones didn’tt hit ‘m?” slurred vice principal Doyle

“Yes sir.  That’s what they say.”

“Who they?”

“The usual crowd in the staffroom.”

“Those scum.  Those lying, cheating scum.  I dontt trust’m a bit.  They all hate me.”

“No they don’t, sir.”  Only the new guy Ryan was young enough to call Vice Principal Doyle, Sir.  Doyle was in his early thirties.  He had taught for only three years before someone saw great potential in him and had him moved to what used to be called the Board Office.  They had created a new position for him:  Obesity Consultant.  After a few years Obesity programs were no longer in favour, but Character Education was.  So he slid over to that position.  After two years he was ready to administrate a high school.  Lord Byron was the lucky one. And no, no one hated him.  Many wished he had spent a few more years in the classroom,  had a bit more years behind him.  As for Jenkins, why would he care enough to throw stones through Doyle’s windows?  He was going to be out of here soon.  It probably was the Vander  Hooven kid.


But Jones hadn’t hit the White kid.  They had picked Jones because it was totally believable that Jones would one day lose it and hit a kid.  He was always getting excited about something stupid and losing control of his emotions.  It was so bad that the others had pinned a list on the fridge door of things not to mention in Jones’ presence:  Unannounced field trips (how am I supposed to run a class when half of them aren’t  there?), photocopy budgets (why did tech get such a large photocopy budget? What did they need to copy?)  Even cheerleading (if they don’t cheer at football games how are they cheerleading?)

They had picked  the White kid because it was completely believable than a teacher would lose it because of him.  He was the kind of kid who bugged everyone.  Teachers, Admin, even secretaries and custodians.  Even still he was a good sport who would go along with a good practical joke.  So, Cohen, the drama teacher, had spread some ketchup on his face and given him some words of advice and encouragement .  Then he listened to his story of how Jones had picked  up a manual and swung it like a baseball bat hitting him square on the nose.  And what had he done?  Nothing except take a mouse apart and put it back together without the ball.

So the White kid was sent on his way to report to VP Doyle what Jones had done.

Doyle had listened to the White kid and then asked to him to wait outside while he interviewed Jones.

Jones had come down , his face and knuckles white, shaking somewhat.  In short, playing the role pretty well for an amateur.

“I realize it’s the end of my career; but I’m not sorry.  I couldn’t take it any more.  I’m sick to death of kids taking my balls.” Not realizing how that last sentence sounded.  

“It’s not necessarily the end of your career.  I think I know what we can do.  …”

The new guy, Ryan, had fetched a cup of coffee for VP Doyle.  Coffee didn’t sober you up any faster but at least it created the impression that Ryan was doing something for Doyle.

“D’y mean I didn’t need to do what I did?  I din’t need to cover it allup?”  asked Doyle somewhat pathetically.  “It coulda been the end of my career.”

“From what they tell me in the staffroom, admin doesn’t care if you cover something up; in fact they want you to. They just want you not to get caught doing it.”   “But Barovsky says” he added “if you do get caught or if you make them look bad in any way, then you’re  done.”

“How woldja make ‘em look bad?”

“Well sir, I imagine it could happen something like this.”  Ryan the new guy was a quick learner.  “Say it got out to the press that Jones had hit a kid and let’s say that the press somehow got it wrong and made it sound a whole lot worse than it is.  Say the White kid had to go to the hospital.  And say that the whole thing got swept under the rug.  I’d say that would make the Admin at the Board Office…”

“The Yearning Centre”  Doyle tried to correct

“That would make Admin at the Learning Centre look bad and when they look bad, someone has got to take the blame.”

“But I didn”t hit a kid.”

“From what they tell me, nobody hit a kid.  But you covered it up.”

“But , but , but you can’t cover up what didn’t happen.”

“Let’s hope the Board sees it that way.”

“How are they gonna know?  Yoo gonna tell ‘em?”


Well let’s get back to Burns for a while.  After all this was his night and even though it isn’t his story, we should pay him his due.  The man had taught for 34 years.  Would’ve could’ve , should’ve retired earlier but  had his kids late in life.  A daughter when he was 34 and because he and Mrs Burns didn’t want the girl to be an only child, they kept trying and trying (to the point where Mrs Burns was getting sick of trying) until one day they found out that not only were they going to have a baby, but two and at the age of 42!  So Burns kept on teaching years after his retirement date.  But now it was time.   Time to go; time to cut loose and live a little.  Time to get that RV (he kept calling it a Winnebago, but it was some other brand).  Time to see the Grand Canyon.  He wasn’t really sure why he wanted to see the Grand Canyon but he did.    So plans were made; bags were packed and everything you could imagine was stowed away somewhere on the RV. It was going to be the trip of a lifetime.

His buddy, Phillips, had taken over planning the retirement party.  No one else was retiring that year; so Burns had the limelight all to himself.  Several of his colleagues, who had had the sense to retire  as soon as they could, came back and told old embarrassing stories about the time when Burns had done this thing or that thing.  There was a stupid little song made up about Burns.  People laughed a lot.  And why not , most were drunk enough to laugh at anything.  A great time was had by most. ( Most is a better word than all, because it must be said that VP Doyle was not having a good time) At the end of the night people went home and Burns and Mrs Burns went back to their RV to get it ready to leave in the morning.  Only problem was that Burns didn’t wake up in the morning.  Sometime during the night he had died in his sleep.  34 years of teaching and not one day of retirement.

It so shook up Phillips that he left.  No one knew where he was all summer and come Labour Day he wasn’t there to take his classes.  So in one stroke we had lost both Burns and Phillips. 

 And gained two desks.

Only problem was no one, not even Jones, wanted Burns’ desk.  It didn’t seem right.  We had to pay respect to the man.  We couldn’t forget him.  34 years was a lot of time to give to LBSS.  Only Mrs Templeton had been there longer.  She had no desire to retire.  No kids, Mr Templeton long dead.  Teaching was her life.  Wouldn’t know what to do with herself if she wasn’t teaching.

So they built a shrine to Burns, on his desk, of course.  On top of his desk they put a framed picture of him from his first year teaching-they had scanned an old yearbook.  Around the picture they had the head of a golf club crossed with the brush of a curling broom.  Above it the mask he had brought  back from his safari to Kenya and above that the dart board that he told students he used to mark their essays.  On the outside of the board was a large area marked D, then a slightly smaller area marked C,  a rather little bit for the B’ and a really tiny circle for the A’s.   At first Ryan had believed him when he said he used it regularly.

As for Phillips’ desk, well the man wasn’t retired; he wasn’t dead; he just wasn’t there.  At what point do you say he’s not coming back and would you like a desk?  Mrs Templeton and Barovsky never got to that point.  So Burns’ desk stayed Burns’ desk, albeit as a shrine and Phillips’ desk just sat there waiting for him to come back.  Kinda like a loyal puppy waiting for his master, only it was a desk.


So Jones didn’t have a desk and Ryan didn’t have a desk, but Burns even though he was dead had a desk and Phillips even though he was someplace else had a desk.  Now it should be pointed out that other people didn’t have desk.  Roberts and Rickards didn’t have one.  It didn’t matter.  They didn’t want one, didn’t need one.  No one had ever seen either one of them do any work in the staffroom, or for that matter anywhere else in the school.

During prep all they seemed to do was talk hockey.  And when it wasn’t hockey it was football.  Baseball or basketball if they were desperate.   Mostly about the bad teams.  They took great joy seemingly in the inept play of the Leafs and the Senators.  There was no lack of material. 

“But, but I was oonly trying to hell ‘m.  I dint wanna see ‘m fired for hitting the White kid.”

“I’m sure you meant well.  Here have some coffee.”

“What doo yoo think they’re gonna doo to me?”


“Admin from the Yearning centre.”

“It’s been over a year.  Don’t you think they would have found out by now if they were going to?”

What Doyle had done was an example of quick thinking.  He had sent Jones back to class and called the White kid back into his office.  He called up the White kid’s academic record on his computer and where there were four failing grades in four compulsory credits, he filled in four passing marks, good marks, in the 80’s.  Then he said to the kid:

“Breathe a word of what happened today to anyone,  and these marks all get changed back and I’ll fail you in other courses that you have already passed.”

The White kid knew a good deal when he saw it.  He hadn’t been hit in the face; he got to see the VP squirm and he was getting four free credits.

“No problem, sir.  I won’t say a thing to anybody.”

Which was a promise that lasted almost all the way back to class.  On the way there, Burns had stopped him and wanted to know the details of what had happened in VP Doyle’s office.

“I can’t say, Mr Burns.” He sounded sincere.  “I promised Mr Doyle.  But if you could help me out a little, maybe I could find a way to tell you.”

“Help you out how?”

“What’s my mark now?”

“Something in the forties, I’d say.”

“Well if it was something in the sixties, I could probably let you know what Doyle said.”

“Alright you little …”

That’s how the White kid picked up five credits in one day.  Clever lad.

Clever like Ryan the new guy.  You see, the next fall months after that retirement party, VP Doyle was in the staffroom looking for volunteers to join his Metacogniton  work team.  VP Doyle had been tasked by Principal Bunny with starting up the Metacognition work team.  He didn’t want to do it.  He didn’t really understand what Metacognition is.  Learning of Learning, Learning through Learning, Learning in spite of Learning.  It gave him a head ache. 

Of course a lot of people wanted in when they heard it was going to mean missing days.  Ryan, the new guy saw it as a bigger opportunity.  If Doyle didn’t really want to do this, maybe he could take over for him.  You know, run things.  Put it on his résumé:  Metacognition Team Leader.  Maybe Doyle would be grateful.  And he wouldn’t need reminding about what Ryan knew about the cover up.  He’d do something for him.  Like get him a desk.


A couple of days later, a team of workmen arrived, took the bolts out that were holding Burns’ desk to the floor and carried it away.

Mrs Templeton  was as upset now as she had been drunk at Burns’ retirement.  She flew down to Principal Bunny’s office, but he was at the Learning  Centre so she went into VP Doyle’s office without knocking and immediately demanded the return of the desk.

“It’s going to a far better place.” Replied VP Doyle

“What do you mean a better place?  It’s a desk, for Christ’s sake.”

“You know, Principal Bunny and I feel that it’s time we started an archives here at Lord Byron.  And we thought what better thing to start with than Burns’ old desk.”


“Well I suppose…”

After the workmen had taken the old desk out to the ‘archives’, they brought a new Swedish-designed desk and leather chair up to the staffroom and placed them in the spot recently vacated by Burns’ old desk.  Immediately Ryan, the new guy started to put all of his belongings on top of the new desk.

Jones, once again was out of luck.  Now he would have to wait for someone else to retire, disappear or die.

Ryan certainly enjoyed his new desk.

And I suppose Burns’ old desk enjoyed its new home in the shed behind portable three now referred to as the ‘archives’.


To Anne S., Doug S., Dick H., Carl B.,  Bruce M, Brian S and all the others from my school alone who never had the chance to enjoy retirement.

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Hello There

May 11, 2009 at 2:14 am (Uncategorized)

Welcome to the Staffroom.  Here you will find out about what high school is really  like as seen by the teachers.  All the teachers, the ones that have been here from the beginning of time and the newbies.  The jaded, the keeners, the burnt outs and the never -been-lits.  Read the first two stories and tell us what you think.

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