First Days…

So, school started yesterday when a meeting that was supposed to start at 10:30 began at 10:00 am, continued with me being up at midnight, and cycled round with me doing t’ai chi with and at 5 am this morning. was great, and we had a wonderful weekend.

During a lull this morning, while most of the kids were off at testing, a colleague of mine comes up to me and asks if we’re going to take our regular days off this week. The rule is that everyone is on duty during the first week of school — I have my door open and he has his door open. But no… he wants his Monday and Wednesday nights off, apparently. I said, “Look, aside from the fact that we’re supposed to be on duty, it’s so important to set the patterns and standards for the whole year. We can’t do it effectively if we’re bailing out on the kids on the second night. Skip dinner, eat with your family — but have your door open at 8:00pm when the kids come back from study hall.”

He got it, finally. I was relieved. I wasn’t really looking forward to managing fifteen fifteen-year-olds quite so early as tonight.

I also got called upon by PB to run a session with the eighth and ninth grade on leadership with ten minutes notice. OK, maybe it was more like half an hour. Still, not a lot of time. I had a fifteen-minute segment from the George C. Scott movie Patton, and five empty chairs on the stage. So I invited everyone to come down into the seats at the front of the auditorium, after the younger grades went off to lunch. But most stayed in their seats, and it was hard to talk to them all at that distance. So I walked away for a bit. After the kids had had about ten minutes to get rowdy, I asked loudly if anyone wanted these chairs, these five empty seats. Now these are nice chairs — they’re black, they’re wood, they have the school seal carved on them — very fancy. So a dozen hands went up, and I got to pick five kids from the crowd.

I picked six. One of the guys deferred to the one lady. I then said, “I’d like to welcome this morning’s panel on leadership. Martin Luther King, Jr. wound up leading the Civil Rights movement because he happened to be the pastor of the biggest church in town. These young men and women have the best chairs in the house, so they get to share their thoughts about leadership.”

Which they did… stutteringly at first, and then with more confidence. I called up a few ‘leaders’, too, from the audience, and made a few off-the-cuff remarks between kids. (Mind you, this is a hard room of 40-50 eighth and ninth graders).

Then I showed the clip from Patton. Him in front of the big American flag, addressing the third cavalry, telling all his men to stick it to the Hun. The audience began to lose interest (anyone who thinks more technology in a classroom is a good idea never had to sit in the back of the room dealing with the bored ones — sometimes the old ways are best).

I concluded by saying this. “Thanks for giving your attention to your classmates today on the issues surrounding leadership. Being a leader is a hard thing, but more of you will have to be leaders than ever before. Some men who sat where you now sit are fighting for their lives and this country in Fallujah, and Najaf in Iraq, or are on the DMZ line in South Korea, or are patrolling the streets of Kabul. The U.S. Congress is considering a law which would reinstitute the draft, and call up perhaps as many as 300,000 new soldiers by the end of 2005. None of you are all that far away from the age of eighteen. Learn how to be leaders, or someone will be giving your marching orders. Not next week, and maybe not next year. But soon. Learn how to lead, or someone will teach you how to follow.”

There was silence as I left. Maybe I got through to them.

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