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An Unprincipled Principal

, , , , | Learning | March 8, 2022

I’m a high school teacher. In my first year of teaching, I taught at a school where the principal was a major micro-manager. He expected teachers to be in their classroom at all times except our lunch break. This included our prep period, when we were supposed to be writing lesson plans, grading papers, and doing other teacher stuff. If we left our classroom for any reason — for example, to use the restroom or make copies in the workroom — we were supposed to lock the classroom door to prevent students from getting in and leave a note taped to the door saying where we were going. If the principal found an unlocked door or a door with no note, he would make vague threats about “consequences” and send us off with a warning to “be more careful”. None of these threats ever actually amounted to anything; they were purely a power trip for him.

One day, about a month into the school year, I needed to make copies, so I wrote a note saying I was going to the workroom and taped it to the outside of the door. Ten minutes later, the principal walked into the workroom.

Principal: “Ah, this is where you ran off to, [My Name].”

Me: “Yeah, I had to make some copies for [class].”

Principal: “Would have been nice to know that. I stopped by your room and you weren’t there.”

Me: “I taped up a note just like we’re supposed to.”

Principal: “I didn’t see a note anywhere.”

With that, the principal said some stuff about “consequences” and “be more careful,” and headed out. When I got back to my classroom, there was no note on the door. I suspected the principal had taken the note down himself, but with no proof, there was nothing I could do about it.

A few weeks later, I left the classroom again to make some copies. Once again, I left a note on the door, but this time I took a picture of the note with the date and time to prove that I had taped it up. But once again, the principal “found me” in the workroom, talked to me about “not leaving a note,” and so on. I showed the principal the picture of the note, which caught him off guard, but he recovered by claiming, “Oh, well, it wasn’t there when I stopped by.” Again, not having proof that it was the principal himself who took the note down and not some random student messing around, there was nothing I could do about it.

The next time I had to leave my classroom, I hatched a plan. All classrooms at the school had small windows set into the doors, so instead of taping the note to the outside of the door, I taped the note to the INSIDE of the window and then locked the door closed. The note was still clearly visible through the window, but now the only way to take the note down was to unlock the door. I took a picture of the note and went down to the workroom.

Sure enough, the principal once again “found me” in the workroom and started his spiel about “no note”. I cut him off.

Me: “Stop. I have proof that I left a note on the door exactly as you require.”

I showed him the picture, which clearly showed the note in the window.

Principal: “Well, it wasn’t there—”

Me: “Then where did it go?”

Principal: “What do you mean?”

Me: “This note is on the inside of the window, which you can clearly see in the picture, and the door is locked. So, where do you think the note went?”

Principal: “Maybe the tape just let go and it fell off.”

Me: “Okay, let’s go look in my classroom. If it just fell off, then it should be lying on the floor just inside the door.”

By this point, the principal was starting to look guilty, but he put on a brave face and walked to my classroom with me. I opened my still-locked classroom door, turned on the lights, and pointedly studied the floor around the door.

Me: “I don’t see a fallen note anywhere, [Principal]. Do you see one?”

Principal: “I suppose maybe some kid tore it down as a prank.”

Me: “You just saw that the door was still locked. If someone took the note down, they had to have a key to my classroom. Do you know any students who have those keys?”

The principal stammered for a few moments and then promised to “look into this matter” and walked off down the hallway. Again, not having actual proof that it was the principal himself who unlocked my door and took down my note, I couldn’t do anything but privately enjoy what I knew to be a victory against the principal.

The next day, I told my fellow teachers about the whole series of incidents during lunch. Nearly every teacher said that they had experienced the same thing in their first years, but everybody just tolerated it because the threat of “consequences” never amounted to anything. Nobody had ever thought of the window trick, but every teacher started doing it after I told them.

The principal continued to find ways to indulge his ego throughout the rest of the year, but because he never actually disciplined anyone, we all ignored him and went about our business. I resigned at the end of the year and directly cited the principal’s harassment as the primary reason. As far as I know, he is still the principal at that school, but I have since found a job at a school with a much more friendly principal.

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