Principal, What Principles? - Part II

 Zmack Attack

 The following is neither humorous or pleasant...please skip unless you have the stomach for it

 Update June 2010:  The Principal referred to in this section has just been removed by the Vancouver School Board from her latest school because the staff threatened to transfer en-mass if she wasn't removed...I feel somewhat vindicated although I'm curious as to whether she was "promoted." Having grown up near Crofton where I noticed that in the pulp mill effluent pools the scum would always rise to the top. I've discovered that in large bureaucracies, the truly incompetent are "promoted to head office."  I guess any day now I should be getting an apology from the V.S.B....fat chance!

Chapter 1: Enter the Dragon

Ah! the first day of a new school year! - smiling-faces -  Freshly waxed floors - a music room whose rugs have been cleaned and briefly are spit-valve-release free..  but wait!  Senior strings students are coming up to me in tears because they have been told they can't take strings...apparently the class has been moved on-timetable in the same block as Grade 12 English.  A student would have to choose not to graduate in order to take strings.

I said "don't panic - we'll do the strings in the early morning ahead of the regular schedule just as we have in the past."  (we did one morning of just strings and one morning with the Senior band to form an 80 piece full orchestra).  I then went to the counsellors and asked that they please sign the students up for strings.

A little later in the day I came into the office and was asked by the new Principal if I was Mr. Ludwig.  I was.  In a voice loud enough for the entire office to hear, she berated me for having talked to the counsellors and students without first consulting with her.  "That was very unprofessional", she said.  Although I had never met her before, I had been put on the defensive and I responded that "What is unprofessional is to make major changes to a program without consulting any of  the stakeholders - namely the students, the parents, or the person responsible for delivering the program: namely, me."  She turned and went into her office.

the blush of the first day was gone!

Over the next few days I discovered that the Jazz Band was also being cancelled.  With a cloud of uncertainty hanging over everything, I approached the Principal and asked her to attend our meeting of the Parents Committe coming up in a week.  I asked that she speak "regarding her vision for music at Prince of Wales."  Rather than have her feel like there was any potential for an ambush, I listed some of the concerns which students, parents and I had been expressing so that she could prepare her response.  She said she would be pleased to attend.

On the morning of the meeting she came to me to advise me that she wouldn't be attending because she had a meeting at the School Board.  I told her that I was distressed to hear that because we really did need to know what her plans for music were, and that I had arranged for her to be on the Agenda.  She replied that I was not to speak regarding any of this or give a copy of my letter to anyone.  While I agreed to do so, I said that I had already given one copy to the President of our Society in order for it to be placed on the Agenda; and that the last minute nature of her no-show placed me in an awkward situation as there were sure to be questions asked.  She reiterated that it was not to be discussed.  That evening I had to defer all questions, which must have been very frustrating for the parents.

Shortly subsequent to this I had to leave for Vancouver Island to preside over the passing of my mother.  The Principal was very aware that she had been failing for some time.  The day after my mother passed away, I was process served (a legal term, meaning "you have been served") at home with a formal, hand-delivered legal letter from the Vancouver School Board advising me that I was accused of "infidelity to the employer."  When I phoned the union rep and asked what the heck this was..I said that I was married to my wife, but wasn't aware that my job placed similar obligations of fealty on me.  I was told that because the Principal deemed me critical of her, then I was deemed to be critical of the entire Vancouver School Board.  Now this was the same school board that thought highly enough of me to have let me represent them on the Provincial Curriculum Committee meeting over the course of 2 years, in Victoria.  I was stunned, not only by the timing of this, but also by the fact that I hadn't criticized the Principal (other than the first day response to her accusations regarding my  being "unprofessional") but had actually gone out of my way to give her a chance to represent her position.

I was called to the Board offices to be interogated and threatened.  This process went on at some length but eventually, because I had done nothing wrong or unprofessional, I was given a letter of "non-discipline".  This letter, while acknowledging that I had done nothing wrong, threatened me with discipline if I discussed anything with parents or students.  It also advised me that my senior band students were not to participate in the West Point Grey Community band.  The students had opted to additionally attend the Wednesday night adult band and we would play at hospitals and care facilities for the elderly.  The parents had given their permission and very much wanted to have their students involved.  The student themselves really enjoyed playing more difficult music and saw how much our presentations meant to the elderly.

Because this letter was insulting, threatening and completely out of line, I responded with a letter which stated that one of the articles placed in the curriculum during my tenure on the committee, was the value of life long learning and the community aspects of music education.  I stated that to deny the students this opportunity was a violation of the curriculum which is entrenched in law.  Well, now I'd done it!..How dare I tell them what the curriculum is.  I was now to be disciplined fully.

Chapter 2: What-a-Boarding

The game was now a-foot. Because I was now being "disciplined," a letter was forwarded to the College of Teachers, the governing body with the power to suspend teachers deemed in breach of any code of conduct.  I was still not overly concerned because I knew I had done nothing wrong.  What I did not know was that the Principal could now communicate directly with the College without having to inform me.  Furthermore, I would not be able to respond to such charges even had I known what she was saying.  It was only through my Union rep that a picture became clear as to what evil this woman was perpetrating in order, as it turned out, to get her boy friend to be the music teacher in my stead.  Oh yes, it took another 6 months and my eventual transfer to figure out what this may have been about.  More on this, later.  I was so angry at this point that I took some "sick days."  In all my years of teaching, I had not taken sick days because the School Board deemed music so unimportant that they wouldn't supply appropriately trained substitutes.  Instead, a math or P.E. sub would come in, either give the students a "spare" or completely waste the class' time.  In later years, to save money, an administrator would come to the class and do the same thing.  I felt that I could do a better job, sick, than most substitutes, so would soldier on.  A few skilled music subs were available in the early days, but we couldn't specify which one we wanted and in the latter years none seemed to show up.

What this Principal did during my time away was call in all my senior students one at a time into the office.  It went like this:

Principal: I understand that there are problems iin the Music Department.  What is it that Mr. Ludwig is doing to cause this?

Student: Mr. Ludwig's not the problem.  We love Mr. Ludwig.  The problem is the cuts to the program.

Principal. Next.

After 2 days, she had the following dirt on me; Nada, nothing, zippo, Buenos Nachos.  These students had taken classes from me for over 3 years and knew exactly what I did for the school, the program, music, and of course in support of their learning and school fullfillment.  They were, however, very traumatizerd by her interogation tactics.

To get a clearer picture of this woman, it is significant that she was willing to throw any student under the bus to get at me.  For years, starting at Lord Byng, I had established the tradition of having a student piper (bagpipes) pipe the grad class out at the end of the graduation ceremonies in June.  At P.W., I was fortunate to have a very accomplished piper who sang in my Jazz Choir and Concert choirs.  He returned even after he graduated to help with the ceremony.  He went on to study music at U.B.C.  During these interrogation sessions, his younger sister was especially vocal in her support of me.  She was in her 4th year of band and played in the adult Community band.  The year following my departure, she approached the Principal and asked that her brother continue with the tradition of piping out the grad class, especially since she was now graduating.  This lovely piece of work (Principal) said, "No, we don't have that tradition here at P.W.  Because the student had continued on in the Community band, she came to me in tears.  All I could do was offer to have her brother pipe out the grad class at my new school, which seemed to help.  It is one thing to attack a teacher, but to be so cruel to a student, to me, is an unforgivable offence.  For this alone, this Principal, should have been lynched.  That she was still trying to lash out a year after I was gone, is astounding.

Meanwhile back at the disciplinary process;  I was to be questioned once again by a panel of School Board officials.  Their only case against me was that they had, in writing, my comments regarding curriculum and community building.  The meetings were not pleasant and my Union rep did a wonderfull job of keeping me from losing my temper.  The panel were insulting, accusatory, often resorting to belittling me in an attempt to get me to lash out.

As the year wore on, the Principal attempted to enlist others against me.

Chapter 3: The Drama Queen

the previous year

Even though I had a wonderful relationship with the senior drama teacher developed through working together on producing "Fiddler on the Roof" at the school, and in general our mutual support of the Arts, I had little dealiings with his other drama colleague.  She was an interesting  character who usually wore a leather jacket and was best know for taking a lot of "sick days" in which she flew to Hollywood to attend gala functions with her somewhat famous husband who was one of the "geeks" on the X-files.  I digress.  For every school music concert, I had involved drama tech students in setting up the lights.  In the fall, the drama students who had commited to help, let me down and we ended up doing the concert in partial darkness.  For the spring concert I approached them with a fresh mandate and clear understanding of what was expected from them.  They assured me that they were on board.  Two days before the concert, I came into the auditorium and found them working on the lights, but they seemed to be involved with something odd and had taken all the chairs and stands off the stage.  They advised me that they were setting lights for a drama class presentation.  I expressed my concern that I hadn't known about this and had the hall booked for our concert for some time.  They assured me that they would put all the chairs and stands back and make sure the lighting was in place for the day of the concert.  Even though the drama presentation wasn't a formal event and they were really just tinkering with the lights, I accepted their assurances.  When I came into the auditorium on the day of the concert, I discovered that the stage was still empty of chairs, stands, drums, amps etc. and the lighting was all skewed.  I immediately swung into gear and had my early morning senior band set the stage.  It cost us more than half of the rehearsal and we didn't get to run all our material.  Needless to say, I wasn't pleased.  In the first on-timetable block I was working with the Junior band.  We were missing an item so I quickly ran to the music room to get it.  When I entered the room, there were the tech students having a lovely chat with Ms. Leather.  I said to them that I had trusted them to put the equipment back and do the lighting and that they had let me down.  They told me that they were at that moment planning out the lighting and it would be taken care of.  I was so angry at this point that I left the room and went back to the rehearsal.  Now so angry that I couldn't continue, I stormed back into the music room where the happy little group was laughing and having a wonderfull time.  I roared something about how they were clearly not doing anthing to do with the concert lighting, were really hurting the music kids, (did not use any profanity but I was yelling), that I didn't like being lied to, and walked out slamming the door.  What I did not know was that I slammed it so hard that the right hand door (they were double doors) had jammed behind the left hand door, making it difficult to open them.  Ms. Leather had immediately phoned the Principal (the previous one) to say they were trapped by the evil Mr. Ludwig who had gone berserk.  By the time, the Principal had been notified, I had already returned to the room and opened the door with a little extra tug.  Leather gave no indication that she had called the Principal.  Of course there was another exit from the room at the back which they could have used but she was apparently too traumatized.  To his credit, and because he deemed there wasn't really a huge issue, the Principal didn't say anything to me that day but allowed the concert to go ahead (more or less in the dark).  There was noone operating the lights.  The next day, instead of congratulations on another fine student presentation, I was advised of the door incident.  He asked what I thought he should do with me.  I responded, "You should send me to anger management, as I'm really angry."  Even though I had said this somewhat in jest, he thought this was a lovely idea and would show what a sage administrator he was...a real Sololmon cutting the baby in half.  So I was booked off and went to an anger management counsellor.  After 2 sessions, the anger management specialist basically said that I had done all the usual things such as walking away, counting to ten (I counted to 20 before letting fly verbally at the recalcitrant youths)..and that anyone else in the same situation would have done the same thing and that it was unfortunate that the door was so flimsy.  I phoned the Principal to ask when I would be able to return to teaching.  He said, he needed a letter from the counsellor indicating that I had been "cured".  Of course, the specialist couldn't guarantee a total cure from anger but did write a letter which the Principal deemed sufficient to allow me to return to class.  more on this Principal later...

Flash forward to the next year (the new Principal)

As our Fall Concert approached I happened to run into one of the drama techies who had been part ot the fiasco the previous year.  He said that he was sorry and that he would like a chance to do better in this new year.  Always willing to forgive and forget I agreed.  We managed to get some lighting and he was generally following procedures.  Part way through the concert though he failed to bring the lights up as one group finished and was exiting the stage.  I had to ask over the P.A. that the lights be brought up enough that noone would trip but not up full.  Just before the group was ready to start the lights were to be brought up full.  The band was ready and I approached the centre of the stage...but no lights up...After waiting a reasonable time I approached the microphone and said "could we have the lights up please."  The concert proceded without further incident.  The next day I was advised that the student had reported to the Principal that I had yelled at him repeatedly and had been mean to him during the setup and concert. The drama teacher informed me that she would be registering a complaint with the College of Teachers.  When I said that I didn't understand this accusation and that we should set up a meeting with the student, drama teacher. Principal, and myself, I was told that no such meeting would be held and that I was not to speak to the student.  It was very upsetting that this should go unresolved.  It wasn't until the Spring when I happened to walk into the auditorium and the student and a group of friends were sitting there.  I decided to ask the student why he had gone to the Principal to complain and if he really had been upset.  He said that no he hadn't been but that he had been told by the drama teacher to look for any instances of me being tough on the drama students.  The day after the concert she had asked if anything had happened and the only thing he could come up with was the comment re the lighting.  She then had him go directly to the Principal.  The College of Teachers was notified and I had to attend another interrogation session at the School Board.  The students was not present so the entire discussion rested on hearsay extrapolation and hyperbole by the Principal.  Needless to say the entire event was so contrived that there was nothing the Board or College could really do although it was kept in my file as part of a general collecting process.  The smear campaign was obviously in process.

to be continued

Kids in the Hall Too Long - (@ my previous school)

Once again I was hauled into the office.  "I understand, Mr. Ludwig, that your recording students are staying in school on a Friday night till 9:00 p.m."  Yes, I replied but their parents know, the custodial staff are o.k. with it and keep an eye on them, & I am available the entire time on cell phone.  They leave at 9:00 so that they don't get in the way of the custodial staff as they do their lockup routine. "But Mr. Ludwig, last Friday, students were seen taking a drum kit out the side door."  Yes, I replied; one of the participants had brought their own drum kit in for the recording session.  It belonged to them.  Nothing more was said but on enquiring, I discovered that the administrator involved had seen them exiting and instead of enquiring what was going on, came on with guns blazing; accusing and threatening them.  At one point, one student who happened to be one of the kids band members but who actually went to another school told the administrator to "go "bleap" herself.  I went through what was acceptable and unacceptable with the students who had really come down hard on their peer for potentially blowing it.  To her credit, the administrator involved let the situation go and had not mentioned this other aspect of the exchange.  My biggest question of course was the fact that students being so keen as to stay at school that long (their parents knew where they were and had give approval) should be a positive.  More and more it became another issue.  My Friday afternoon jazz band would start around 3:00 and I would have to drive them out around 5:30 with comments like "don't you guys have parents or homes you need to go to?"  The recording students (some of whom were in the jazz band) would wait til the end of rehearsal to start their recording projects (usually their rock band endeavors).  These students were completely responsible and trustworthy as they appreciated the access to the equipment (mostly my own) and the chance to learn

Part 2.  Whose equipment is that?

When I agreed to transfer to Prince of Wales (the outgoing teacher said he could retire happily if he knew I was coming to replace him).  I advised the Principal that I would be removing my personal equipment.  She said, "You'll have to show me receipts for anything you remove."  I said o.k.  I have kept everything over the years, and have receipts dating back to before Trooper including the Hammond B3 organ which still graces my studio.  I then phoned the school board and asked them to send me the last inventory list I had sent them.  I had been religiously updating them every year that I had been at the school (5 years) and every new instrument etc. was accounted for.  After about 2 weeks I got a letter saying that they were just about to update everything and that the last inventory they had was from my predecessor and would I kindly update the inventory again.  At this point, I thought to hell with that.  They had clearly discarded all my previous work over the years.  What I didn't know till the very end of the school year was that the Principal came into the studio with a camera and went through all the cupboards and around the room and took pictures of all the equipment.  As most of the school instruments were in cupboards in the main room, most of the studio equipment was mine.  She then brought in my recording students and quizzed them on each item...she would say, "who does this belong to"  The students would reply, "Mr. Ludwig".  "How do you know?," she continued.  "Because each time he brought something in he would show us the receipt so that we knew the cost of each item for future reference and so that we wouldn't treat the equipment recklessly."  She also discovered that the students knew the stories behind other bits of equipment because they had references to bands and musicians in the community and history behind them (ie. the Wurlitzer piano that I bought from the bass player from "Bread")

She eventually gave up and it only came to my knowledge because the students would tell me everything.  I advised her the day I would be removing my equipment and asked her if she wished to be there at the time.  She declined.

footnote: I was on the ferry just the other day and a mom of one of the recording students came up to me to say how much positive impact the classes and I had and that her son was now playing professionally in bands, suporting himself through his art and enjoying music...the classes had to have been at least 15 years meant a lot to me to hear this and I'm sure other teachers can take comfort in the fact that they do have a major impact on lives notwithstanding the 'adult' politics that so often seems to "steal the joy"

The Mighty Erudite

At this point, I'd like to interject a more positive story, especially as it reflects how wonderful young people are.  One day in Jazz Band at Byng, one of the students responded to a comment by one of her peers by saying, "that was very erudite."  The entire band broke out in laughter.  I said, "Wait a minute, what's going on here?  That's the kind of word I use."...They said, "didn't you know? Mr. L.  When you use a big word in class, we go look it up and the student who uses it appropriately in class within the next 48 hours gets 'a point'.  With erudite, that student had pulled into the lead in their ongoing contest.  The real significance of this is that most of these students had started out in grade 8 as E.S.L. students with no knowledge of English. This clearly demonstrates their keen desire to learn but also the sheer enjoyment they derived through the process.  I think it's also significant that music played such a great part in all of this.  Many of this particular group went on to excel in the medical community and elsewhere.

The Curse of Copernicus

You Don't Like "That" kid do you?

In the fall one year, our jazz band, acted as a pep band for the basketball teamI liked to show support for other disciplines and colleagues.  It turned out that that game was being scouted by the coach of the University of B.C. basketball team.  He was so knocked out by the band that he invited us to play at the UBC games on Fridays and Saturdays.  Although an extra commitment, the band enjoyed it and we were given an honourarium for the music program.  I had written short 8 bar rock themes which were instantly identifyable, allowed for a whole horn section, and which could be stopped as soon as the opposing team took the ball after a basket by the UBC team.  (this is mandatory under college rules)...anyway, one week our drummer, whose dad had been a successful Pop star and who knew every song we did (so that I didn't have to write out the drum parts), came to me to say that a releative had just passed away and that he couldn't attend on Friday as he would be on his way to New York.   I happened to be in the Principal's office later that day and mentioned that even though I had an alternate drummer, that we were really going to miss this kid and that he was really an integral part of the band.   She said, "You don't like that kid, do you?...I was stunned.  I replied that he was a really sweet kid who has had some problems (mostly because of the challenges of being the son of a "rock star")and that he was really growing as an individual, especially with the encouragement of the senior band students who recognized both his contribution and effort and also how much he'd grown.  She went on to say how she had to constantly be dealing with him.  I also questioned whether liking or disliking a student was part of our mandate.  This didn't go over well.

A while later he came to me to tell me that he was being transferred to another school because they had a shop program.  (remember streaming?)  I was very distressed, but he seemed resigned to it and had been coerced by the admin and counsellors.  Of course I told him how much we would miss him.  Needless to say in the fall of the next year he came to me to say he had quit school and was going on tour with a band.   The last I heard from him was when he phoned from Italy to say he was doing well and not drinking or doing dope (which I figured was a good indicator that he was keeping his head on straight) meant a lot that he had thought to call but I couldn't help getting in a few teacher bits about eventually getting back to finishing his education.

but at the end of the day, this was one Principal who didn't like being inconvenienced by a needy student.   She didn't see his talent, growth, or his really good nature.  I tried once to gently hint to her that if she would just visit the classrooms occasionally the students would see her more as an ally rather than the enemy, but she preferred to sit in her office putting out fires of her own creation.  If she had once seen that student in action in the music room, she might have seen his potential.