Wag More, Bark Less
Sorry for mixing metaphors, but Mickey Mouse once ruled our school
Long ago, on a planet very, very far away — in a suburban high school, in fact, circa 2010 — a hapless idiot was in charge of our school. He tried to be our “friend”, but was so awkward and dumb we wanted nothing to do with him. He decorated his office with Disney paraphernalia and wore Mickey Mouse ties — so of course, we called him “Mickey” behind his back. Over the four years he ruled our school, he was known mostly for his goofy pronouncements, and the alarming ineptness with which he governed his magic kingdom.
The stories I could tell you about Mickey and his Merry Band of Idiots would make your wig flip and your toes curl, as my Nana would say.
First off, under a schoolwide policy decreed by MM at that time, our faculty had been ordered to “Wag more, and bark less!” I think he even included a smiley face in his back-to-school memo, re: the same. Mickey, you see, thought the faculty was a tad too grouchy. Well, we might have been. He was not in control, even though he thought he was. And his attempts to preside over our campus were a failure at best, and a doubly dismal failure at worst.
I was one of those teachers who taught. Always been proud of that. I didn’t do a lot of gossiping in department meetings, nor prattling with my colleagues over lunch. I prepared my lessons, went in Room 215, and interacted with my students, over books and vocabulary words. What a novel concept, as it were.
About the time my colleagues and I attempted to comply with the order about the wagging and the barking, I was trying, at the same time, to manage controlled chaos — being responsible for 178 students, in five classes, that school year. We didn’t even have enough seats to accommodate the kids — some students sat on the edge of tables, in one another’s laps, or on the radiator/AC combo, along the wide bank of windows that looked out over the student parking lot.
I tried to go along with the program. Really, I did. Trying, in Mickey’s parlance, to “Wag more, bark less!” But I’d say in my defense that my response to most MM-inflicted crises — including my jam-packed classes that year — was still to bark a fair amount because our leader was the kind of hapless fool who often triggered that emotion in me.
Of course, I should have expected what happened after Mickey made his doggie doo pronouncement.
MM decided that year to relocate four of his minions — known to the school population as Assistant Principals — in more visible office space throughout the building. Makes sense, I guess; more visibility from those in charge equals fewer disruptions to “Seat Time,” one of those gems of “educationese” that essentially means, “Keep those butts in the seats!” Seriously, those in charge at the administrative level call the act of teaching “Seat Time.” Fewer fights, less theft, quieter hallways. I’m all in favor of that. As long as it made Mickey Mouse look good. Right.
In all his ultimate wisdom, the Man with the Plan placed the office of one of the APs, as they’re known, in a space across the hall from Room 215. The place with dozens of teenagers spilling out of its doorway and that of the adjoining publications office at any given time. We were pretty jam-packed, in a classroom and workspace designed for 25 each. And with the addition of desktop computers, filing cabinets, a storage cabinet and a ratty old couch in our pubs office, we had a difficult time moving, much less getting anything done.
In my defense, when the new AP — a “corn cob up the butt” type (Nana, again) — moved in across the way, I tried to make friends. She was new to our school, and she was older, and I figured I’d get on her good side by getting to know her. And a certain level of detente did exist, until she started questioning my cherubs and their motives, and then my motives in regard to the cherubs, for goodness sake.
A newspaper editor stepped out in the hallway — it’s about a 5-second journey, I assure you — to get a drink from the water fountain. New AP Lady pounced.
“Where’s your pass?” The kid was 17 years old, and a pretty responsible bloke. She was asking him for a hall pass. To get a drink of water. A few steps from the classroom door. If anyone knew me even half as well as I knew myself, we didn’t have those kinds of silly rules in Room 215. If a kid had to pee, she went to pee. If a student wanted a drink of water, he could darn well go on his own. I trusted them to make these miniscule decisions, since they were one year away from voting, fighting for their country and other types of adulting.
Oh, it got worse, but I guess you already guessed that. Yours truly scurried down the hall (about 50 feet) between lunches to nuke her Chinese carry-out in the faculty microwave. Our new AP buddy stuck her nose into my classroom. During lunch. With about five students plugged in to computers, eating sandwiches and working on a deadline.
“Where’s your teacher?” (Yes, I left them alone sometimes for nanoseconds, like lunch or when I had to go. It’s not like they were playing with power tools, although some had been known, on occasion, to attempt to crawl out the window.)
I established with NAPL (get with the program — New AP Lady) that I was, indeed, in charge, and the school day continued in its bumps and fits, until the last bell rang.
As a student publications adviser, I spent quite a bit of time after school supervising, while the kids wrote stories, designed layouts, and chose photos for spreads.
At 3:45 that afternoon, almost two hours after the final bell sounded, my cherubs were having a little fun while cobbling together the first deadline of the year. General guffawing, music blaring, much teenage chatter.
New AP Lady stuck her head in the classroom door.
“Guys, could you please keep it down! This is a school!” Oh, sorry…we hadn’t noticed. Their peers — and, actually, my peers as well — had been gone from the building for two hours, but the teenagers were making too much noise. Got it.
In the meantime, trouble was afoot on our campus. Over the past couple of weeks, miscreants in other quarters of the school grounds had vandalized both the baseball field and the football stadium; backpacks had been disappearing from the gym locker rooms and there was a near-riot at a recent home football game when someone from the visitor’s side deigned to walk through our senior class section (that sometimes happens when those in charge don’t police the home stands for kids who’ve been drinking — so that means alcohol consumption on school grounds had also been taking place). It appeared that trying to get control over the goings-on in Room 215 had left some in charge (such as NAPL) with the need to get a firmer grip outside the confines of the English Hallway, where my fiefdom flourished.
“Wag more, and bark less”? Maybe, “Pay attention more, and don’t sweat the small stuff” should have been more like it. Like a 17-year-old stepping out for a sip of agua. Or a teacher who needed to microwave her lunch, or, for God’s sake, pee.
I solved all those problems, though, in my mighty cheerful way. I asked the thirsty editor to get a water bottle, or at least wait until NAPL had departed for “cafeteria duty” to visit the hallway fountain. And I bought both a small fridge and a dorm-sized microwave on CraigsList. The only thing I had to work on was sneaking out for a bathroom break when New AP Lady wasn’t looking.
Mickey Mouse’s bucket of cliches didn’t go far, and we continued to laugh at his ties behind his back, but he and his administrators did learn something when they had to wag their little bee-hinds over to the communal hydrant of bad behavior in our school. The kids and I figured out how to “work around” the nuisance who had taken up residence across the hall. With less hubbub coming from Room 215, there was less barking coming from NAPL. And neither the students nor I heard much from her or Mickey after that. She was too busy elsewhere to reprimand kids who were just minding their own business. And he, I reckon, could have been in Orlando picking out new ties.