The Mutinous Souvenir

by Greta Olsson

Seven students wanted the principal to fire me. They floated a petition and secured a meeting with me in the principal's office. They didn't know that the former principal, Mr. Cheetham, had acknowledged my being the person with the strongest discipline among a staff of slightly over one hundred people.

We had had an assembly. My youngsters were in their seats, quiet, and ready to begin seven to ten minutes before the rest of the room finally settled down. My class stood out as an efficient unit in the surrounding bedlam. Hence Mr. Cheetham's comment.

Because I'm only 5'2", Mr. Cheet-ham couldn't understand my no-nonsense approach, and the fact that hoodlums and budding gangsters would check into my class one day and disappear forever within a week. They sensed immediately that I was as consistent and predictable as gravity.

I admire gravity. It plays no games, won't succumb to a con, and couldn't care less who you are or what soap opera you run. You jump from a certain height and you will get smashed. Damn understanding or babying you. The result is that students don't try to exit the classroom from second or third floor windows. It is far kinder to give them a secure steady line creating peace, than to make exception after exception to the rules, creating the mess and lack of respect that is evident in the schools today.

Another practice in modern education is that no principal is ever on the side of the teacher, no matter what. The school rule states that after twenty-five absences, you fail. And yet a mother and son argued that I should pass the teen with thirty six absences or he would not graduate, accusing me of being prejudiced.

The principal offered no support, explanation, or help. Thus in musing about my "being fired meeting", I counted the odds as eight to one, and finally decided to take Throckmorton Olsson with me into battle. Everyone showed up on time - a novelty - and the students presented their case. They were a little surprised at the presence of Throckmorton, a toy baby gorilla with a coat like very dark sable, black leather paws, and black unblinking eyes. When I introduced him, I said that he was there to balance the odds. Throckmorton kept his mouth shut, sat on the conference table next to me, and just stared, hopefully unnerving a few of them.

I complimented the students upon their courage to confront me, and answered their complaints. I pointed out to the principal that we had just finished studying Mutiny On The Bounty, and The Caine Mutiny, and that the students were running their own mutiny. In class I had not stressed that it could be argued that the ocean mutineers lost or had at best a pyrric victory.

Since the principal didn't have the power to fire me - especially so late in my 41 year carear - the students also lost. But I promised not to hold their mutiny against them. Rather than being a bad instructor, I'd given them a lesson which none of them would easily forget. I asked them to look, but not tell me, whether they too had had someone who spoke strongly for their taking this action, but failed to arrive for the showdown. That is, had they too been betrayed?

Ah, the joys of teaching! Throckmorton is a good baby gorilla. He still sits on a ledge near a window in my bedroom, still protecting me. He does occasionally remind me of the pupils' mutinous nonsense.

"Throckmorton, you were steadfast," I tell him. "Thanks. You made all the difference."

He never answers me either, just stares and continues to look very alert.

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