Names have been changed.
During my year and a half in high school so far, I have never been absent or late. I have had consistently high exam scores and grades. So when a trip to Florida with my family conflicted with a presentation for a final grade, I thought I could reschedule it with
my teacher, and, as required, let the principal know.
But when I told the principal, he said no.
“Your parents will just have to reschedule your trip,” he said.
I was stunned. I texted my parents to tell them, and my father called the principal. My mom texted to tell me their conversation was more like an argument.
I still spoke to my teacher. She told me it was fine to do my presentation the week before the trip.
As the bell rang for lunch, I went to the principal’s office to fill him in on my conversation with my teacher. Since he and my father had argued, I felt anxious. I wasn’t sure how he’d react.
“I talked to Ms. Davis last period and she said I can just do the presentation on the Friday before Regent’s week,” I said.
He was furious. He confirmed again that I was not excused and said he’d speak to her. He was acting as if I had committed a terrible crime. I didn’t know what he was so angry about. How could it not be OK for a straight-A student to miss one day of school?
Condescending and Disrespectful
Prior to this incident, my principal and I had a great relationship. I’m in student council, so I see him more often than most students. I thought we had a mutual respect for one another. So I was disappointed and sad, but most of all confused.
When I got home, I spoke to my parents about it.
“I don’t understand what the issue is,” my mom said. “But don’t worry, we’re still going. He probably just had a bad day.”
But over the next couple of days, he continued to embarrass me. One example was during my student government meeting. We typically meet on Fridays and the principal is always present. I was nervous to go, but I swallowed my fear and entered the room with the rest of my peers.
A few minutes after we began, he called me out in front of everyone.
“Some people here think they can use their position in the student council to get special privileges like taking off school days to go on vacation,” he said.
I was shocked. He looked at me while he said this, as did everyone else.
“I want you guys to know that you should never expect to be treated differently than any other student in this school,” he finished.
I felt my face get hot and my heart began to beat faster. I was afraid that everyone would think I felt entitled. It would never occur to me to take advantage like that. What was his motivation? It felt like he wanted to make me look bad in front of everyone. He wanted me to lose their respect.
Is the Principal Messing With Me?
It didn’t stop there.
Part of being in student council is telling the principal about improvements that students want in the school. During the meeting, I told him about a minor issue with a teacher where she failed to grade assignments in a timely fashion.
The next day he asked me to be present while he sent an email to that teacher, so the following day, I went to his office during first period.
I watched over him as he wrote the email. He wrote that the teacher lacked professionalism and acted inappropriately. He wrote that her late grading had been an issue for many years. At the end of the email, he fired her.
I was stunned. I asked him for a late pass and left.
I began to think her firing was my fault. The teacher had kids. I felt guilty and responsible.
Later, I overheard the teacher he “fired” talking about her future lesson plans. But how could she be doing that if she had been fired?
By the time I got home, I realized he hadn’t actually fired the teacher—he was just playing mind games with me. When I told my parents what happened, they began to consider filing a formal complaint to the superintendent’s office.
Exposed and Vulnerable
The day arrived for the class presentation that had been moved up so
I could go to Florida. I was nervous, but I kept telling myself I’d do fine. I wore black dress pants, black dress shoes, and a blue button-up shirt. I even had my cuffs buttoned. I wanted to look professional.
When I reached the classroom, my principal was waiting for me. He blocked me from going in. He looked at what I was wearing.
“That is inappropriate clothing. Go to the main office and get a tie,” he said.
I quickly walked to the office. I was frustrated because he was making the class wait on me. Still, a nice man in the office helped me tie my tie, and told me I was going to do great.
When I got back to the room, he stopped me again.
“Can anyone guess what is wrong with what he is wearing?” he asked the class. I stood there while he waited for kids to answer, but no one did.
None of us had any idea what was wrong with what I was wearing. Having the entire class examine me made me feel exposed and vulnerable.
No, I Am Not OK
After he finally left, my teacher asked if I was OK. I couldn’t speak, so I shook my head. I kept it together for a few minutes, but I ended up crying. The teacher and some of my friends gathered around and hugged me. It was quiet until the teacher told me I could go for a walk.
I went right to the guidance counselor. I didn’t care that there were students already in her office; I just sat down and tried to take deep breaths. I wasn’t crying anymore, but I was shaking. I sat there and listened as she tried to comfort me.
After about 15 minutes, I made my way back to the classroom. With shaking hands, I logged into the computer and put my slides on the screen.
The presentation was terrible. I was anxious and stuttered repeatedly. But many of my classmates told me I was great. I ended up getting a 98.
I Couldn’t Give Up
If his behavior was intended to “teach me a lesson”— that in order to succeed academically, you can never have a break—it backfired.
He upset me so much that after, I felt unmotivated to do any schoolwork.
I was an honor roll student, a representative for my grade in the student council, and vice president of the newspaper club, yet for some reason my principal was furious that my parents were taking me out of school for one day.
If school was like this, that no matter how hard you work, you can’t get cut any slack, what was the point of trying? These thoughts flooded my mind for the next couple of weeks.
I stopped doing my homework and my performance on tests dipped. Typically, I studied for all my exams and would be upset if I didn’t score in the 90s. When I got my trigonometry midterm back and saw that I’d gotten a 76, it didn’t bother me.
Going home and immediately lying in bed while scrolling through my phone had become my new routine.
“Are you OK? You haven’t done any homework in days,” my brother asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine. I just don’t want to do anything.”
“But don’t you have something you should be doing?” he said.
“Yeah, but it’s fine.”
Fortunately, this attitude didn’t last long. I knew I couldn’t let my principal’s lack of professionalism get to me.
I also talked to my friends and family about how I was feeling. They all said the same thing: I had always put so much effort into my schoolwork, it made no sense to put all of that hard work at risk. I went back to my old hard-working self and began to bring my grades back up.
Principals Should Be Role Models
I see the principal every day when I walk into school and every Friday for student council meetings.
On the first day of school after break he asked me, “How was your vacation?”
I just said, “OK.” (It actually was fantastic.)
I still get nervous if he’s around me, thinking he might spontaneously embarrass me again. But weirdly enough, when we end our student government meetings, he makes a point of saying things to me like, “Good night” or “Have a nice evening.”
I don’t understand our relationship at this point. But for now I’d prefer as little contact with him as possible.
My parents are still thinking of filing a formal complaint. In the meantime, I won’t let what happened impact the way I perform in school or the aspirations I have.
This was the first time I experienced someone in power using their position to belittle others.
In a school, the principal is the boss and the role model. They are expected to adhere to all the rules and respect the students, teachers, and parents. But in this case, I feel my principal acted cruel for no reason.