THE BULLY IN THE PRINCIPAL’S OFFICE
A Guest Post and Giveaway from Sandy Goldsworthy.
It was the third week of school, when I was whisked away from my friends to live with my paternal grandmother in a city an hour away. She was retired and old fashioned, and forbid me from ever using the term “orphan.” Grandma lived through the depression, various wars and more presidents than I could name. But she was tough and kind, and the only family I knew.
When the time came to go to school, I was enrolled at Washington Elementary. I don’t remember my teacher’s name, or even what she looked like, but I do remember that she was nothing like the cheery first grade teacher I had before.
Walking into that classroom was difficult. Even though no one really paid attention, I was nervous. Kids talked and screwed off, I guess. They went about their business. No one looked up, except a girl with brown hair. She smiled at me and I immediately liked her.
The teacher put me in the second row from the window, in a seat beside Donny. Back then, I didn’t realize he had a disability. I just knew he looked different than the rest of the boys in our class—shorter and stout. He didn’t even notice me. But I didn’t care.
I blended in.
Here, no one knew my parents died. I didn’t have any ugly stares, or gasps, or whispers behind my back, like the neighborhood kids did those last days back home.
I was normal. I was me, again.
Things seemed fine that first day. My teacher talked about the alphabet and pointed to the cutout letters taped on the walls around the room. I started to like my new school, and for an instant, I forgot I was an orphan.
And then it happened.
Mr. Hartmann entered the room. He was the principal—the man that met with Grandma and me the day I registered for school.
At the time, he was friendly; a taller man with a receding hairline and remnants of thinning gray hair. He wore a brown plaid suit with a tie and looked incredibly important. I was both intimidated and comforted as he smiled at me. He shook my hand before we left and told me he’d see me again.
Walking into my classroom that day, Mr. Hartmann held up his promise. He said something to the teacher, looked at me and waved me outside. For a second, I actually felt important. I knew the principal. I guess I was too young to think that wasn’t a good thing.
In the hall, Mr. Hartmann told me to wait. So I did. I lingered near the stairs.
I’m not sure how long he was gone, but by the time he came back, he instructed me to return to my classroom.
This time, as I walked in, the room was eerie and silent. All eyes were on me. Even Donny stared at me like I had three heads. No one spoke as I walked back to my seat. At that moment, I no longer blended in.
At the time, I didn’t realize exactly what Mr. Hartmann said, or did, but in the weeks and months that followed, I felt it.
I was ostracized.
Kids avoided me. They didn’t pick on me or tease me. They just ignored me. Boys and girls would stare at me, or walk away. Even the girl that smiled at me, that first day, was reluctant to acknowledge my existence.
Then, months later, while our class waited in line at the end of the day, a boy named John said a bunch of kids were going to play kickball after school. When I said I wanted to play, too, he agreed. He even smiled. For the first time, I fit in. Excitement overwhelmed me. It would have been my first friend outside of school since I moved.
“Sure. Ask your mom,” John said as his friend nudged him. As soon as the words came out, John must have realized what he said. His face went pale, and he covered his mouth with both hands, in a panic.
“What?” I asked, but John shook his head and wouldn’t answer. His friend even refused to speak. When I turned to a girl in the line next to me, she, too, was reluctant to say a word.
“I live with my grandma, so I’ll ask her,” I said, matter-of-factly. I didn’t want to be left out, but it was too late. The bell rang and everyone dispersed, without me. I had no idea where they were playing kickball, or what time, or even if it was still okay for me to join them.
So I didn’t.
Years later, as a teenager, I learned Mr. Hartmann told the class I was orphaned. Don’t talk to her about her parents was the message he presented—and first grade kids took it literally.
As an adult, I understand he had good intentions. But even the best intentions can come out wrong. There can be unintended consequences to words or actions. Messages can be construed and feelings can get hurt. In my case, throughout elementary school, middle school, and even high school, people knew I was different.
I was labeled, The Orphan.
Mr. Hartmann wasn’t the stereotypical bully we see frequently today. But his actions led to me being treated like a bully victim.
Today we see a variety of bully types. It’s not just the playground bully like it may have been generations ago—the ones that plagued the school yard and made fun of kids during recess. Today’s bully has technology supporting them. More bullying occurs after school hours on social media sites, than ever before. Bullies can hide behind computer screens and blast harsh words without seeing firsthand the implications.
In order to stop this epidemic, we need to support one another. As parents, we need to recognize the signs of a victim, and the signs of a bully. Ask your kids about their day. Get to know their friends, and their friends’ parents. Be a part of your kids’ lives to understand what obstacles they may be encountering at school, or outside of the classroom.
Mr. Hartmann passed away many years ago, and I have long since moved on, but the impact of his instructions lingered, long after his life ended.
ABOUT SANDY GOLDSWORTHY:
Her passion for putting pen to paper began when her high school English teacher inspired her to be more descriptive in her work. Ever since, Sandy has dabbled in creative writing, searching for that perfect shade of red.
Sandy’s first novel, Aftermath, was signed by Clean Teen Publishing, in 2014
When not writing, Sandy enjoys traveling, cooking, reading, and hanging out with friends and family. She resides in southeastern Wisconsin with her husband, Mike, two children, Brittany and Kyle, and their English Mastiff, Miles.
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