THE TEACHER'S DESK: <span>Captain of the ship</span>  

Currently, I am working on a painting of an 18th century nautical vessel, a Frigate of sorts. I have been working on this painting for some time, playing around with the dark blues and blacks that make up its lonely theme. My intention is to show the ship has suffered some detrimental storms.

Reflectively, while leaving Kroger the other day, I met my principal walking in. As it is, Mr. John Crawford is stepping aside as our school’s intrepid captain. I was genuinely glad to see him because I was absent the last week of school (due to the lawnmower accident) and did not get to experience that final farewell. Ignoring “the new normal” we shook hands like men, and then talked briefly there in the parking lot about school and the upcoming year. After we said our goodbyes, I walked pensively to my car.

I guess that was that catalyst for where I am now, sitting in front of my painting thinking about Mr. Crawford’s tenure at Corbin High School. I first knew him as a teacher to my own children, whom he inspired to various degrees. I think my oldest daughter still loves the crossword in USA Today. As an educator myself, I knew him first as the history teacher passionately lecturing in the room next to me. His booming voice would carry into my room during reading time, and I couldn’t help but grin and laugh with my students, then scold them for not studying.

I remember when he became assistant principal, and also the year of the Falcon (which we will not discuss). And then of course, I remember when he became principal, and his impassioned induction speech, where he very elegantly thanked his wife.

As far as his principalship, I reflected on his whole duration as our school’s captain on the high seas of education. Many people want to be leaders. Indeed, prestige and power are potent temptations. However, wearing the mantle and steering the ship are two different things. To be the captain, the ship and its crew have to be able to weather the storms, and under Mr. Crawford’s management, we weathered more detrimental storms than under any other principal I am aware of.

In my opinion, one of those first major “storms” occurred when Kentucky was dealing with a sneaky and antagonistic governor that had a vendetta against teachers (at least public-school teachers). As a result, throughout the state, teachers were walking out in protest. I honestly remember thinking, I would hate to be a principal at that moment; However, as I stood in the hall and talked with my own principal, I truly felt Mr. Crawford had everything under control. Hours before we were in Frankfort protesting, I remember standing in the hallway under those halogen lights discussing civil disobedience with Mr. Crawford (ever the history teacher), and I immediately was taken back to my days of reading Thoreau. Eventually things calmed down, but it was ultimately nice to know he had our backs. And he did.

Then came the pandemic. Two school years are irrevocably damaged by this political and physical virus. In thinking about student and teacher safety, and dealing with society’s interpretations, and interpreting state guidelines, if ever anyone was caught in the middle, it was our principal. I truly think bureaucracy and understanding its mandates is as debilitating as what it intends to fight sometimes. But that realization does not stop the storm. And the storm did not stop our school.

Then there was the enigma of online teaching. This last year, by far, has been one of my hardest years in education and the most confusing. At every meeting, Mr. Crawford told us we were doing great, then he would push us further. Teachers have taught classes on levels I had never observed, not even in college. And once again, I reflected, I would not want to be a principal during this time, because once again, I felt he was stuck in the middle.

During these times, I would sometimes pass him in hall between classes, and his head would be turned down, and you could truly see the days weighing on him. That doesn’t happen to someone that doesn’t care.

Nevertheless, as the year dwindled down, I think we were successful. The above storms are just a few that were weathered and conquered. Our “Flag ship” has made it safe to summer harbor once again.

However, toward the end of this tempestuous year, I was privilege to a remarkable moment. While my seniors were working on their research papers, one of my students picked the topic about the Pledge of Allegiance in schools. She had a hard time finding sources for her paper, so I suggested she interview Mr. Crawford, a former history teacher. She agreed, but only if I went with her.

We sat in the teacher break room, and my student began to ask her prepared questions, as Mr. Crawford sat across the table from us, legs crossed, hands in his lap. It had been a hard week and you could see it on his face.

I think she only asked one question. He took it from there. The man sitting across from us, submerged in day-to-day bureaucracy, sat up and began to teach. I promise as I write these words, his face changed, his tone changed, and you couldn’t help but listen. I kept looking at the student next to me, who was nodding her head and listening intently as her principal shot off rhetorical questions and philosophical concepts on the prescribed notions of freedom. It was wonderful. I briefly wondered why he gave up teaching.

However, as great as that moment was, I think now, as the storms hopefully are settling, Mr. Crawford was where he needed to be, and he will be missed.

Brian Theodore is a language arts teacher at Corbin High School and lives in Corbin with his wife, who is also a teacher at CHS. He can be contacted at Theteachersdesk.theodore@gmail.com.

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