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A Difficult Man

A Difficult Man

True story. On Friday my wife Coletta and I attended a retirement party for a long-time friend, Jill Murdoch. When we moved from West Virginia in 1988 it was to pursue new positions in Maryland. We were among more than a dozen hired at Greensboro Elementary School, the “Dirty Dozen” plus one. As the “plus one” I was not a full-time staff member, but a school psychologist with three schools Greensboro being one. Although I had been promised many things when I was offered the position, including “automatic certification in Maryland” which turned out to be taking two courses, Statistics and Theories of Learning, a course I could have taught after earning my advanced graduate degree in school psychology and working in three school districts across two states with 14 years experience. I would subsequently be awarded National Certification and an Educational Specialist Credential during that year due to my being recognized for my efforts and accomplishments. But dear old Caroline County still insisted I take the courses required by their state credentials board, oh and I would be on “secondary status” at reduced pay until I earned Maryland State Certification. But that is another story.

I arrived for my first day of employment and was given my three-school assignment, Greensboro, Ridgely, and Federalsburg. What I was not given was a “home school” or an office to use as my base of operations. My supervisor suggested I ask my three principals if they could find me an office, or a broom closet to keep my books, my files, my test kits, and the professional gatherings of my 14-year career. My first stop was Federalsburg and I came up empty. No help from that administrator either. My next day, my next stop, was Greensboro Elementary where Dave McCarthy was Principal. When he heard I had been given short shrift at Federalsburg, he went to work finding me a space in his building. When I arrived he greeted me warmly, showed me to my office and explained how he knew that having a school psychologist based in your school meant ready access and a wealth of knowledge and expertise at your disposal. Needless to say we got along swimmingly.

Jill Murdoch was the media specialist and we hit it off right away. We were in the process of building a house that spring and she made ready to help paint when the walls cried out for color. I well remember sitting on what would become our screened porch talking about where we came from and our life stories. Jill asked what year I graduated from high school and I told her 1967. “Ha….” She exclaimed. “That was the year I was born!” I pointed out that I was old enough to be her father, and we all laughed about that one. We have remained close friends since that day. And here we were, 31 years later, and she was ready to retire.

The party was great, you could readily tell the love and respect her staff had for her. They wrote songs and poems and “odes” (the longest two-page ode to be hung in a place of honor in the school). There were gifts and jokes and testimonials from past principals and just a lot of fun for all. It was also an opportunity for my wife and I to reconnect with colleagues we worked closely with so many years ago. Of the “Dirty Dozen” Plus One, only Jill remained. Some moved to other schools, other positions, other states. My wife of 35 years earned her Counseling Degree and with no positions open at Greensboro, moved to another of my schools Ridgely. I was reassigned to a number of other schools and for reasons I will not go into here, left the County after more than eight years to finish my 38 year career in Delaware, where my last 15 years proved to be more satisfying for a host of reasons.

So here we are meeting and greeting people we knew and loved and respected all those years ago, many we have not seen for more than 20 years. It was a grand homecoming. There were some people I was glad to see, and there were hugs all around. There were some I saw, knew they saw me, but there was an unspoken agreement to keep our distance. Like the principal who set me up, called me into his office, closed the door and exploded, shouting at me, banging his hand on his desk so hard books and papers flew off onto the floor. He then came around his desk, literally got into my face and told me I would never work in this district if he had anything to do with it. He then threw me out of his office. I literally slinked out, head down past the two school secretaries who I knew heard the commotion and sympathized with my ordeal. I did not acknowledge him though I would have been respectful had he approached me. Even that gesture would have been an acknowledgement that I did not deserve to be treated in that fashion. Similarly, his assistant principal who I called in to verify my version of events on that day, and lied… I gave her a wide berth as well. They will carry that with them…my conscience remains clear.

Then there was E. An old-time school teacher, who never smiled, never laughed (in my experience), but was an excellent teacher who commanded…commanded respect from staff and students. I always respected her for her standards and her professionalism. I was seated when I spotted her, and got up, stood in the small group where she was talking, and waited for her to recognize me. “E?” I asked, and she turned and gave me one of her well-known “looks that could kill.” Then she said, “You need to stop writing those letters.” Now I am a life-long liberal Democrat, and prolific LTE writer. Without missing a beat I said, “E. I would sooner stop breathing.” Now my most recent letter, written a few weeks earlier called out a political cartoonist for the local paper, one who also wrote a regular column, from the opposite side of the political spectrum. I essentially accused him of drawing cartoons and writing articles “completely devoid of facts.” E. let me know, in no uncertain terms, “I like Kollinger…and you know he is not well.” Now I knew she was referring to his medical condition, but never missing an opportunity for a snappy comeback said, “That’s obvious from the way he writes,” suggesting that he also had a mental condition. That pretty much shut down the conversation and I started to turn away. “Give your wife my best, will you?” she said and I told her that Coletta was there and pointed her out to E. I then went across the room, tapped Coletta on the shoulder and pointed E. out to her. Go over and tell her hello, she was asking for you,” I said.

Coletta walked over, I remained where I was. She later reported that E. asked her; “How can you stay married to that man, he is a difficult man?” Without defending me out rightly, my wife told her, “Well E. I can be difficult too.” Aren’t we all?

FLM 6-3-19

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