By Rev. Dr. Ronald Ryan
One of my long-time acquaintances asked me, not too long ago, how – or even why – I had managed to earn myself a “bad name,” at least in certain quarters, even though I seemed, in general, to be a likeable sort of fellow, and even if I were rather opinionated.
As for being “opinionated,” …well, to say that another is opinionated is to say no more than his or her opinions are different from yours and that you don’t like his. I have opinions. They are not for sale!
As for having a “bad name,” it is a sobriquet which I acknowledge to have earned, unwittingly perhaps. How that came about is a question that I have asked myself, on occasion, and I have done some soul searching about it. I certainly didn’t set out to earn myself a “bad name” but I think I have an explanation – which may be as much self-excuse and rationalization as anything else. But, that’s the way things are with all of us, is it not, especially among us hypocrites?
During my career in education, in three Canadian provinces, I was, for many years, principal (headmaster) of a number of elementary and secondary schools, and, later, was responsible for various management, administrative and supervisory functions at the school district level. I earned myself the sobriquet, “hard-nosed, elephant-hided S.O.B.” except that the people who called me that didn’t actually say S. O. B. Some of these people also told me that I was on a “power trip.” Others, knowing about my predilection to voicing perspectives on the education of children that were out of step with the majority view proclaimed that I was a “loose cannon” and that when I more-or-less shouted that we had a responsibility to children, indeed, that that was our first responsibility and obligation, denounced me “as not knowing how the real world operated.” Apparently, nobody else in the world was laboring under the illusion that children should be the first priority of the education monolith.
So, “bad name” is sorta accurate and, even if I say so myself, well-earned – even hard-earned.
Somehow, the fact that I was involved in church (volunteer weekend pulpit minister for 25+ years with various United Church of Canada congregations, and on virtually every UCC church board that existed) entered into the picture and coloured the perception and judgment of my behaviours. I was regularly referred to as hypocrite, and there was the usual not-so-oblique statements about people standing straight on Sunday but no so on Monday. On one occasion I was told by a clergyman that I was a “known public Christian” and should play the part. I still don’t know what he meant! The bottom line seems to be that there was enormous resentment of my being involved in church, as if I was violating some code, and I was never forgiven for that aspect of my everyday living.
In almost every situation which contributed to my earning whatever appellations constituted a “bad name” it was a matter of – in my perception, at least – my not willing to “look the other way” when events and behaviours were happening which I considered, at a minimum, to be unprofessional if not outright unethical …. and, sometimes, bordering on the criminal (Criminal being a deliberate – or, at least, cavalier – violation of the law) and demonstrable dereliction of duty — mmm, a least in my opinion.
I am going to provide some examples of the incidents that contributed to my getting a “bad name.” Naturally, I have fictionalized to the extent necessary to avoid identification of the individuals involved. This is not an attempt to embarrass people but to explain my own situation: how I came to be “on a power trip” and to get a “bad name”.
One cold winter morning the students of one high-school class came to my office and said:
“Sir, we don’t have a teacher.”
“Who is your teacher supposed to be?”
“Mr. Charles Ambrose.”
It turned out that Mr. Ambrose was not to be found at the school. Because he lived a little outside of town and because it was a true wintery day, and, wondering if he might have ditched his car, I called his wife who was a teacher at the elementary school. She did not seem overly concerned or alarmed and suggested that I call the home. I did. Mr. Ambrose answered. He hadn’t come to school because his furnace was giving trouble and he hoped that I understood.
I understood furnace trouble but didn’t understand why he did not call the school and say that he was taking the day off, which, because of his circumstances, meant that it would be a day without pay, he already having taken every possible day that he could from the most creative of pretexts. He asked would I consider it a sick day. I, on the spot, said that if he arrived next day with a letter from him or, preferably, from a doctor (although I would not insist on that) I would agree to enter his day as a sick day.
I was skirting the regulations, big time! I knew that he wasn’t sick! But, I was willing to stick my neck out for the man. However, I was surprised (shocked!?) when he said that he couldn’t do that because, as a member of the council of elders of his church, he could not tell a lie.
“So, what is the difference, “says I, “between you telling the lie and me telling the lie for you, with your initiation, acknowledgment, and agreement? You have a choice: come with a letter, as suggested, or lose the day’s pay. There is no other wiggle room in the regs or in the collective agreement.”
He came, next morning, with a letter written in his own lying hand, member of the Council of Elders of the church or not, saying that he had not come to school because he was ill. The day’s pay was the price of his honesty! Maybe, his God was looking the other way when he wrote that letter!
I told him that if he missed school again, without just cause according to the collective agreement and the regulations, not only would he lose pay, he would also be disciplined for irresponsibility.
Other than when he had no choice, he never spoke to me again, and never socially. Most of the other teachers thought that I had treated Mr. Ambrose unfairly.
At another high school, a half-dozen students came to the office to tell me that Mr. Leonardson was just getting out of his car and that he was drunk. I accosted Mr. Leonardson at the school door and prevented him from entering. Determined to enter, he used some rather abusive language and took a swing at me. I ducked and his hand hit the facing of the glass door. He began to curse. I grabbed him by the collar and told him that if he didn’t cease and desist immediately, and immediately leave the premises, I would call the police and have him removed. If that happened, or if he ever turned up at the school again in such a condition, he would be fired out-right. He stayed his hand, glared at me and stumbled back to his car, cursing on me as he went, slammed it into reverse, managed to get out of the parking lot, and, swerving and lurching, the car sped off.
Some of the teachers expressed the opinion that I had been too severe with Leonardson. That may be. But, it did prevent another two or three of them from arriving at school, for the remainder of the year, reeking of breakfast alcohol.
Lydia was vice principal of an elementary school and, although a solid sort, was a little stupid, in a good-natured sort of way. She was accused by some of the teachers of “having her hand in the till.” I was asked to investigate.
Lydia had done no more than almost every school administrator in existence has done, given the opportunity and perceived need: she had spent her own money to purchase things that could be sold at the school, or from the school, the profit being kept by the school, the administrator paying himself or herself back as the items were sold. Happens all the time. One of my friends ended up in court because of the same stupidity. He was exonerated but almost lost his career.
I recommended, in my written report, that Lydia be giving a “talking to,” but no more than that, (and only to indicate that she was risking her reputation and career) because I was quite aware of what was happening at other schools and by other administrators, and I did not want to stimey initiative to the detriment of the students. Students had benefited a great deal, over the years, because administrators had been willing to take such financial risks.
The school board, and maybe the CEO, were having an orgiastic experience over the matter and fired Lydia, with four children to support, two at university, and a husband handicapped by an industrial accident.
The story got around that I had “supported” Lydia because, it was suggested, that Lydia and I had a “thing” going on, and, hence, I was being hypocritical (The “thing” that Lydia and I supposedly had going was never explained.) The other related story was that I had initiated the firing of Lydia and, therefore, was an unremitting bastard. Either way, I was a distinctly unsavoury hypocritical bastard, on a power trip. Apparently, somehow, both stories had the support of some school board members. That has always puzzled me, no end!
One afternoon, I went into my office to find a pile of bags of potato chips and Cheezies on my desk. I went to see the VP, noticing that the secretary had a pile on her desk, and there was a pile on the VP’s desk. The explanation was that we had been gifted by the distributor who had the supplied the school’s lunch room. Apparently, every teacher had a like amount.
I explained to the VP that we could not take bribes and that all of the largess had to be collected and taken to the lunch room supervisor. The VP refused to collect the “gifts”, saying that it happened regularly. Besides, the teachers were his friends and he did not want to piss them off. So, I went around and collected the bags of chips and Cheezies. The teachers were angry, saying that it was theirs. I asked if they had paid for them. They acknowledged that they had not. So, I collected, by my estimation, over $300.00 retail value of Cheezies and chips and gave over to the custody of the lunch room supervisor. I noticed that she, also, had a pile of chips and Cheezies put aside. She said nothing and quietly added her pile to my collection. I was never forgiven. But, “power tripping” was heard frequently.
About 40 years old, muscular, big frame, over six feet tall, weight-lifter, worked out regularly, at least 60 – 80 lbs. heavier than me. His two sons in senior high school were almost as bulky, rather bright, also. I happened to be outside the high school, talking to the fire marshal who wanted to test our fire response plan. As I re-entered the school, Mr Neobide was coming out of the school. I encountered him in the vestibule. Assuming that everything was kosher, and attempting to be friendly, I greeted him:
“Afternoon, Mr. Neobide, taking a class outside?”
I stopped. Surprised. Why would a teacher be leaving the building almost an hour before normal leaving time?
“Then, where are you going?”
“Not feeling well? Emergency at home?”
My mind was racing because I was sure that Mr. Neobide had a scheduled class for that period, having begun no more than 10 minutes previously.
I stopped. “Then, Mr. Neobide, I need to know why you are leaving the school almost an hour before end of classes. Please explain.”
“My class is finished. I am going home.”
“How can you class be finished? It is barely 10 – 15 minutes since the period began.”
“My class had a test. They all finished. I dismissed them.”
“You know that you do not have that authority. Where are they?”
“I don’t know. Gone home.”
“What about the bussed students?”
“I don’t know. Out in the busses, I guess.”
“Mr. Neobide, you are to go back to your classroom. I will see if I can round up the students in the busses. I will send them back to your classroom so that they will be under supervision until last bell.”
“No! I’m going home!”
“Mr. Neobide, obviously, I am not going to physically restrain you.” He smirked, knowing that he could twist me into a pretzel if it came to a physical confrontation. I continued, “But, if you do not obey my order, you will not enter the school again. If you leave the school before normal closing time, then I will call the police in the morning and have them prevent you from coming on the school premises. If you do come into the school, I will have you evicted as an intruder. If you walk out that door, now, you are fired.”
He grinned. “You can’t do that!”
I recalled that there had been several union meetings within the previous couple of weeks, and I knew that “administrative authority and teacher rights” had been one of the topics that the union was emphasing and trying “to reduce.” (I don’t know what that meant.) Some of the teachers were advocating “academic freedom” not having any idea of what it meant. Mr. Neobide must have garnered some unsupportable information, misunderstandings. Clearly, he was testing the boundaries.
I looked at him: “Try me! … Now, you decide what it is going to be.”
He stared at me for two or more minutes, vitriolic hatred boring into me. I stared him down. Finally, he turned around and walked back into the school, muttering “f…K you!”, as I went outside again to look for the bus students.
Velma had been at the high school several years, a tenured teacher. One Monday morning, several students arrived at the office, “Sir, Ms. Nestory is not in the classroom.”
Ms. Netory couldn’t be found. The secretary called her home. No answer. A substitute was called. Monday passed. Nothing from Ms. Nestory. Tuesday passed. Then Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. Next Monday morning, Ms. Nestory sashayed into my office:
“I suppose you have been wondering where I was?”
“No. I didn’t wonder where you were. We paid the substitute out of your salary.”
“Waddya mean? You can’t do that!”
“Not only can we, it’s done. You have been declared AWOL for last week, absent without cause. Your salary for that week is gone!”
“But I had to go visit my grandmother’s sister. She was really ill, down in Trinity Bay.”
“I don’t care if you had to visit God. You were absent without leave. Even without any notification to the school. You have lost the week’s pay.”
“We’ll see about that! Uncle Manson is on the school board. He’ll put a stop to that!” and she stalked out.
In the afternoon, I received a call from the superintendent:
“Lloyd, is there anything you can do about Velma Nestory’s pay? Her uncle is on the board and he called me, threatening both our jobs.”
“What did you say to him?”
“I told him that I would call you but wouldn’t guarantee anything.”
“Tell him for me that he can come and be principal and deal with idiots like his niece.”
“Well, I can’t do that.”
“Tell him the truth! I followed the regs. She was irresponsible. She should lose another month’s pay for that alone. In fact, I will send you that recommendation.”
“Ok. That’s enough. I will call him and tell him that the deal is done.”
“So, you are blaming me.”
“Yes. What did you expect?” He was laughing.
“If he calls me, I won’t be as gentle as you have been.”
“I know. I will suggest that he not.”
Velma lost her week’s pay. She didn’t threaten Uncle Manson on me again.”
Archie was a likable fellow, mid-thirties, single, heart-throb, muscular, athlete, blustery, loud. He could have hopped in bed with either of the high school girls. But, I’ll say this for him: he knew where those boundaries were and, as far as I knew, he never crossed them.
Archie came into the office on Wednesday morning, following a base-ball game the evening before with a visiting team. He had gotten hit in the jaw with a ball. He showed me that he could move his jaw in unusual ways.
“Mr. Scott. You cannot go into the classroom in that condition. Go see a doctor.’
“Aw, yes. I’m OK. I will go on to class.
“No! You will NOT go on to class. You will go see a doctor.”
“Nonsense! I can teach no problem.”
“Mr. Scott. You are not listening to me. I said that you will NOT go to class. I will get a substitute immediately. You are to leave this school immediately. You are not permitted through our doors again unless you have a letter from a medical doctor saying that you are able to teach. Do you hear me?!” I was shouting!
Archie stared at me as if I had hit him in the other jaw. Then, muttering their favourite expletive: F**K! He’s on another f**kin’ power trip!”. I heard, later, that Archie, however angry, went directly to the hospital and that within minutes of arriving at the hospital he was in the operating theatre. The surgeon who wired him up told him that had he been an hour later, he would have died with brain sepsis. (inflammation of the brain, I understand.) Archie never returned to school until September. I left the school in June. It was 15 years before Archie spoke to me.
A few months after I had left one school and had assumed the principalship (headmastership) of another high school, I received a visit from the fraud squad of the RCMP. I had been accused of theft, fraud, and misappropriation of funds. I explained to the police officer that he should have talked to last year’s VP, in the first instance, because, traditionally, the principal didn’t deal with school funds, that being the purview of the VP. He would find that was the case in the present instance. I had never at any time had anything to do with the funds of the school, so was not in a position to appropriate or misappropriate, at least not on my own.
The theft was, of all things, windows for my backwoods cabin. Windows? I had no cabin. I was, at that precise time, renting. What the heck would I be doing with windows? Were there windows missing? Where were the missing windows? Where would I stash stolen windows? Surely the business manager or the superintendent would know if windows were missing?
The fraud seemed to have something to do with some decisions of the school board that was far removed from me, my responsibilities, my influence.
The RCMP officer apologized to me. “Mr. Ryan, “He said, “somebody, clearly, is out to get you; somebody is trying, ineptly, to frame you for something. You must have pissed somebody off pretty badly! I don’t think we will need to see each other again. I wish you success in your new position.
Molly Francisca, Grade Ten, Pretty, shapely, too mature for her age!
John Nation, history teacher, single, handsome, 35, came to my office and asked if he could use the darkroom to show some students how to process film. I asked for details of the students and satisfied that there was little chance of inappropriate behavior.
John Nation, history teacher, single, and so on, came to my office and asked if he could teach Molly Francisca film developing after school. I said “No! Absolutely not!”
I got a call from Everet Francisca, Molly’s father. I could hear his wife talking in the background
“How come you won’t let my daughter get professional instruction?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Mr. Nation was willing to teach her at school and you prevented it.”
“Mr. Francisca, what I would suggest is that you invite Mr. Nation to your home and let him teach Molly in the comfort of her bedroom. If they are going to have sex, it should be somewhere comfortable. It is, also, then, not my responsibility.”
After a long silence ….. “Maybe, that won’t be necessary.”
“Good bye, Mr. Ryan.”
I arrived at a high school in a rural area where, I found out, the vast majority of families were of the Roman Catholic persuasion. I was a little surprised that I had been accepted for the job. A month or so after my arrival, and as I began to ensure that teachers and students behaved with some minimum of maturity and responsibility, one teacher came to my office and proclaimed, “I have sworn on the altar that we will get rid of you. The Roman Catholic people here will not put up with a Protestant f**king up the school.”
I thanked him for his vote of non-confidence and assured him that I believed that the vast majority of the Roman Catholic people wanted a safe and responsible environment at the school for their children, even if he didn’t.
Next day, I went to see the parish priest. At first, the man, was mistrustful but, finding that I was as direct and frank as he admired himself to be, we became passingly good friends. I told him about the teacher who had attempted to intimidate me. He thought for a few moments and then he snorted, “Good God! That moron couldn’t manage to find the altar! Haven’t seen him at mass for years. Bloody hypocrite!”
I stayed three years. A few days after I announced my resignation, about twenty parents crowded into my small office. They had come to ask me to reconsider and to withdraw my resignation. Every single one of them were Roman Catholic!
So, in the final analysis, me, on a power trip, run-of-the-mill hypocrite, earned my bad name honestly, in my opinion.
My opinion is still not for sale.