I sponsored the school newspaper at Newton County High School for many years. It was, for the most part, an enjoyable experience. The students were enthusiastic and often had visions of publishing great exposés about various school activities. They were disappointed to learn that stories actually had to be based on fact and that there was little or nothing at the school that would be suited to an exposé.
The paper and its members won many awards. Twice we received from the Georgia Scholastic Press Association the General Excellence Award for large school newspapers. That award meant we were the best paper in the state.
The first time we won the award, the staff was so excited. It was unexpected, and while every student strived to create the best stories and newspaper he could, no one dreamed that we would win the highest award.
The awards ceremony was held, and still is held, at the University of Georgia Journalism School on a Friday in the spring.
The class was jubilant on the Monday they returned to school with the plaque. During the journalism class which met fourth period and had lunch in the middle of the class, several reporters in an excess of high jinks took the plaque and hid it in a locker and left a ransom note. The note said that the plaque would be returned when a ransom of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich was paid.
I was not particularly worried and took the note in the spirit of fun. However, another student did not find the joke particularly funny.
He told an assistant principal about the note. The assistant principal called me to his office and asked what was going on. I said it was just a joke and that the plaque could be found in one of three lockers and gave him the names of the students who pulled the prank.
The principal took his master key and went to all three lockers and opened them and found the plaque. He took it to his office and hid it and then called the three students to his office and told them to return the plaque to him immediately or there would be serious consequences.
Panicked, they ran to the locker only to find the plaque was not where they had left it. Imagine their consternation.
When they returned to the assistant principal's office empty-handed and after some moments fraught with fear, the assistant principal produced the plaque and had a good laugh. I loved that assistant principal from that day on. And the students learned a valuable lesson.
That assistant principal was Coach Smalley.
That particular incident happened probably over 25 years ago.
Can you imagine what would happen today if students pulled a prank like that? Even better, can you imagine what would happen to an assistant principal if he pulled such a prank in return?
What has happened in the last 25 years that makes something like this unimaginable in schools today? Yes, school is serious business, but everyone learns and works better when the day is lightened with a bit of levity.
I just recently read about a principal or assistant principal in Georgia who lost his job when he played for his faculty a tape of a comic who used somewhat unsavory language.
The principal did not endorse the language or the message of the tape. He was using it to say to his teachers that they could make a difference.
Maybe what he did was in poor taste, but I am not sure it was grounds for dismissal.
I don't know if it is the lack of interest in learning by some students, the pressure of standardized tests or the litigious nature of our society today. But something has changed in the schools.
The climate of schools today is often tinged with fear. I'm not blaming anyone. I'm just sorry for all those involved.
Paula Travis is a retired teacher from the Newton County School System. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.