A Meeting at the Principal’s Office
The Tale of a Teenager of the 1960s
I’ve walked this ill-destined path before. “John, go to the principal’s office right now!” The teacher said that just as soon as I walked into his classroom. I knew what it was about. I have long hair and I had neglected to grease it down, so it didn’t look as long as it actually was. I also had the shaggy beginnings of my second beard. Both are more or less forbidden in my high school. It is in a middle to upper middle class area in the city. Appearances mattered even among teenage boys.
The most-of-the-time phys-ed teacher and part-time counsellor told me that growing a beard was a manifestation of my low self-esteem, as I was identifying with movie villains. I wanted to tell him that I didn’t identify with pirates as I don’t have an eye patch or parrot, but kept quiet.
In one way, I didn’t mind taking this trip. I didn’t have to sit through a boring class, and the secretaries were nice, and knew me by my first name. “So John, you’re back. We haven’t seen you in weeks.”
Then unfortunately, one of them went to fetch the vice-principal, who was the school’s designated student punisher. I was prepared for what he would have to say. I would have to sacrifice my newest beard. Fortunately, when I saw a water fountain in the hallway, I used the water to slick back my long hair, and tuck the end of it underneath the collar of my shirt.
We went through the usual lecture of how my lack of ‘proper appearance’ was a sign of my low self-esteem. I nodded my head, although I did not agree with the idea at all. I thought of it as a way of cultivating the cool of my appearance. But I knew the vice-principal had no sense of cool, or what it meant to me. I would have to go to the office tomorrow with a clean-shaven face.
A Former Student Returns as a Respectable Guest Lecturer
It has been a long time now since I graced the halls of my old high school. I had gone to a reunion about ten years ago, but had not been back otherwise. I had surprised one of my former teachers that I had done well as a post-secondary student and had become a professor in a university on the other side of town, where I now live. I was going to give a lecture on the 19th century history of our town. I had recently published a book on the subject, and the teacher of the class I was going to talk to had purchased an autographed copy of my book at a local bookstore. We talked, and I agreed to visit his class to present a guest lecture.
When I pulled into the school parking lot I saw some old familiar sights – students smoking across the road from the school, the track where I won a race of two. But the most familiar sight occurred when I entered the building and went straight into the principal’s office. There was a lad sitting, head down in what I used to call the ‘detention chair.’ And he had long hair.
One of the secretaries spoke to the lad. “You’ll have to wait a bit Bill; the vice-principal is at a meeting.” He nodded his head a bit in reply.
I introduced myself and my purpose to the secretaries, and I received several looks of respect, especially when I said that I was a former student of the school. They told me that the teacher would be there soon, as his previous class was just about to end, I was a little early.
I sat down beside Bill. The look on his face was a lot like the one that I am pretty sure I had when I sat there when I was likewise sentenced.
So I decided to talk to him. “You know, I had to sit in that chair, which I called the detention chair, many times when I was a student here. The secretaries all knew me by my first name. And I didn’t have to tell them what I was there for. I had long hair like you have now, which was a serious crime in those days. And sometimes I was even bold enough to grow a beard. I had to solemnly promise that I would shave it off. Vice-principal Edwards would not let me get away with such an offence.
That last sentence provoked a vocal response, and a facial expression very close to a smile. “He is my grandfather. I think you must have been one of the ‘scruffy lads’ that he tells stories about.”
“So what was the crime you committed that earned you this trip to the principal’s office?”
“Well I have this reputation, plus I am sarcastic and have bad grades. I was five minutes late for a class in which we were having a test. When I picked up a copy of the test, I could not resist saying out loud, “Do any of you know the answer to the first question?” I know that I should not have spoken what I had been thinking. But there was this girl in the class.”
“Understood. I would have acted in the same way at your age. It was part of my appeal to the ladies.”
The bell then rang for the change of classes. I would soon be off to the classroom. I had a thought. Seeing that there was a history textbook on the floor in front of him, I asked Bill what his next class was. He said, “history with Mr. Peterson.” That was the teacher who had invited me to the school. Before I said another word I could see a man walking toward the office, dressed and walking like a vice-principal. I felt a need to rescue my new friend, and principal’s office compatriot. So when the vice-principal walked into the office and glared at Bill, I approached him, introduced myself and my mission at the school. I told him that I needed Billy’s assistance with the technology of presentation in his class that I could not handle on my own (a truth – but I was certainly not going to be using such technology today or ever).
“Well, as long as he is going to be useful to your class, I will let him go.”
I thanked him, and when Bill and I walked to his class, I told him that ‘we rebels have to stick together.’ He agreed. My presentation went well, and Bill asked a couple of thoughtful questions.