Guest Column

Chocolate Milk Tastes Better When I Am Not Being Violated

by Michael Smith

There are lots of good things about being a school superintendent.

The stress, the long hours and the unhappy ______ (you can fill in the blank with staff, parents, community members, students, board members, state board of education or people at the post office who know everything we need to do to fix education).

In my estimation, the good superintendents are able to deal with these challenges and, more importantly, can focus on all of the positive aspects of public education.

Granted, some days are easier than others, but by forging ahead, being prepared, keeping a positive attitude, staying organized and always keeping your head on a swivel, it is possible to survive days, weeks and even years.

A Downbeat Moment
Some of the absolute best things about being an administrator are dealing with kindergarten kids. They have the ability to keep teachers and administrators smiling on even the most challenging of days. They are without fail the happiest, most upbeat students in a school system.

They come to school truly excited, they love their teacher (and sometimes even the principal and superintendent), and they certainly smile more than any other group.

I am sorry to report they also have a dark side.

Earlier this year, I was standing in the hallway, drinking my morning chocolate milk and trying to mind my own business as the students arrived for the start of what seemed like just another day. Unfortunately, I got complacent and broke one of my own cardinal rules.

I didn’t have my head on a swivel. This should be lesson No. 1 in administrative training classes. Always, and I mean always, keep your head moving at least 360 degrees and be on the lookout for trouble within a radius of two miles.

As I stood in that hallway, a gaggle of kindergarteners made their way past me. Most said “Good morning” or “Hi” — even the one I now refer to as “Touch Me Again and I Will Scream Like a Little Girl.”

You see, on that particular day, the last one in the group walked by and said, “Hi, Mr. Guy Who Always Wears a Tie.” He then proceeded to smack, tap or touch me right in the chalk and erasers. (I am still not sure what exactly happened because the shock, horror and nightmare continue to haunt my dreams.)

I nearly drowned in my own chocolate milk. The little guy didn’t break stride, turn around or even acknowledge that he had just broken 12 different school rules, committed at least a misdemeanor, compromised my personal space and left me a shamed and broken man.

No Respect
I looked around for an administrator so that I could file a grievance, a formal charge or just have this young person hunted down, but as usual they are never around when you need one.

The only adults in the vicinity who could have been of assistance were two teachers, and I noticed they weren’t much help. This occurred to me as I saw them doubled over and laughing hysterically (not with me, but at me).

That made three adults doubled over in the hallway on that particular morning.

As I reflect on this incident, I have learned two valuable lessons.

One, I always must be on the lookout for trouble (especially below me). And two, don’t expect people to rush to your defense when a kindergartner smacks you in the chalk and erasers.

Michael Smith is superintendent of Oakland Community Unit School District 5 in Oakland, Ill. He also is the creator of E-mail: