Twenty years ago this month, I began working as principal at an alternative school in the heart of Kentucky’s Bluegrass region. In those seven years, we only had one or two students that ever made me wary regarding my physical welfare. We had a few with genuine psychological issues. Mostly, what we dealt with was immaturity and frustration. Clear, consistent boundaries combined with sincere respect and compassion go a long way in dealing with troubled youth and much of the remaining population.
Start pushing people into corners and embarrassing them in front of their friends, though, and you’ll usually end up with what you deserve: a fight on your hands. It’s bad enough when your insecurities disrupt your own classroom. When they disrupt a small school and everyone else has to deal with it, that gets downright annoying.
I had one or two teachers who deliberately provoked students for their own amusement. Fortunately, most of our staff had greater maturity and compassion. They didn’t tolerate behavior that threatened others or disrupted learning but they were very patient with the quirks and quips of adolescents who vibrated between childhood and maturity.
Probably owing more to their efforts than mine, we graduated a good number of students and helped many others through those awkward transitions. We also improved the learning environment of our own students and in the classrooms of the other district classrooms. Given a little personal space, constant supportive direction and a place where their good efforts were noted and encouraged, most of our students accomplished more than even they believed possible.
I think that model works pretty well in the other alternative spaces of our lives. Accountability coupled with appreciation for people and leadership molded by integrity aren’t just good things; I think they’re downright godly. Might have to try them out in this job…