I experienced every teacher — or former teacher’s — dream this week. I had a whole room full of principals from all over Northeast Georgia, held captive for 45 minutes and I had the opportunity to say to them whatever came to mind. Sometimes you get the bear and sometimes the bear gets you.
Actually, I have great respect for almost all of the principals I have ever encountered. They have a tough job — one you couldn’t pay me to do. I learned that one morning at Heritage High School, about a dozen years ago. I was standing in the school commons area before school one morning, getting ready to face the little learning machines that would soon be heading to my classroom, when an irate mother — actually, it was an irate grandmother—walked into the building. She had that look in her eye and I could tell she wasn’t there to pay her PTA dues.
She spied me and walked right up to me and began giving me a piece of her mind. She didn’t have much to spare. It seems that her little Johnny had been sent home the previous day for wearing inappropriate clothing, which may or may not have included a T-shirt emblazoned with a flag of the recent rebellion. This lady was using words that would make a sailor blush — my apologies to all sailors everywhere — and then she started pointing out all of the other children that needed to be sent home.
“That boy has baggy pants,” she told me, “and that girl is showing too much of her bosom and that girl’s skirt is way too short and there is somebody with a Malcolm X shirt! If they can wear a Malcolm X shirt Johnny can wear a rebel flag!”
Finally the lady stopped for a breath and I was able to squeeze in, “Ma’am, I feel your pain, but why are you telling all of this to me.”
Her response? “Because you are the onliest one wearing a tie.”
I went out that afternoon and bought a dozen golf shirts. Never again did I want to eb mistaken for the principal of the school.
The first principal I ever encountered was Miss Jordy Tanner, who I believe succeeded Miss Maude King as the head lady in charge at Porterdale school and kept that job until I finished the seventh grade. I gave Miss Jordy a wide path and wanted to make sure that I never, ever, ever wound up in her office. Rumor had it that she kept an electric paddle for especially naughty little lintheads and I wanted no part of an electric paddle.
I made it to the fifth grade before Billy Wayne Hailey and I were sent to the principal’s office for something we didn’t do. I promise. I ain’t making this up. Luckily we were both upstanding members of Boonie Barnes’s Troop 226, BSA, and when we both gave Scout’s Honor that we hadn’t done what a certain 11 year old girl had accused us of, we were set free.
I never did learn for certain whether Miss Tanner had an electric paddle.
When she retired her replacement was L.C. Gordon, who had been a very successful football coach at Morgan County High School. I am not sure that Newton County school superintendent Whitlow Richardson hired Mr. Gordon because his son Dale was an outstanding high school football player, but I bet it didn’t hurt.
Mr. Gordon, whom my daddy insisted on calling “Flash,” much to my chagrin, was a rather short stocky fellow who smoked a cigar down to the nub every day. He was more outgoing than the ever-stern Miss Tanner had been and for some reason I didn’t fear Mr. Gordon nearly so much.
One day my daddy was involved in an automobile accident on the way home from work on the third shift. A lumber truck backed out of a driveway without looking and turned Daddy’s six year old Buick into a convertible. Mr. Gordon got me out of Miss Pauline Hardman’s math class and drove me to the hospital to see him. There is probably a law against that now.
Daddy looked rough laying there in that hospital bed, all bandaged up, but I knew he was OK as soon as we walked into the room. He took one look at Mr. Gordon and said, “Flash, your chewing tobacco is on fire!”
The apple didn’t fall far from the tree, y’all.
My high School principal was Mr. Homer Sharp. He has a football field and a learning center naked after him. He was special.
All of my encounters with Mr. Sharp were positive, even the one on my very first day of high school when I was sent to the office for breaking a guy’s nose. They don’t make educators like Homer Sharp anymore. He is the only public official I have ever known about whom I’ve never heard a single person say a bad word.
I don’t know if those principals got anything out of listening to me last week, but I certainly enjoyed the trip down Memory Lane the opportunity afforded me. Another time I’ll tell you about some of the principals I worked for over the years, none of whom — to my knowledge — had electric paddles.
Darrell Huckaby is a local author. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/darrellhuckaby.