The First Floor Is On Fire

But that's ok, because the second floor is flooded.

Mike Russell

Mike Russell
Portland, Maine, USA
July 16
baby vegetable murderer
The Yoko Ono Scream Catchers
I grew up in the country in Arkansas, spent 12 years in Philly, was widowed at 30, taught five years in a rough inner city high school in Philly, then moved to Maine in 2007 to be with my hubby. At this rate, we'll be living at the North Pole when we're 60. Being with my hubby Jason is the best thing that ever happened to me. I believe I've created a powerful novel and want to show it to the world. It's available on Kindle:


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AUGUST 27, 2009 3:18PM

First Floor on Fire, chapter two

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Chapter Two: James Price

These kids are me. I mean, my kids are me. They are not “these kids.” I am responsible for them, so they are mine. “These kids” sounds as if I do not care for them, that I want them to be someone else’s responsibility.

Just like so many of my kids, I have ADHD. Right now, I’m drumming my fingers on my desk, tapping my toes. I’m full of energy, have to keep moving. Being the principal is the perfect job for me. I can keep moving, multitask, get many things accomplished at once. Doing only one thing all day would drive me crazy.

I know how my students feel. They are good kids. These callous, uncaring teachers simply do not know what it is like to be a disrespected child here. I grew up in Philly. I had teachers just like the ones they see here, and they had no idea how to reach a boy like me. I wanted something more challenging, but those goddamn – I mean, those uninspired teachers refused to reach out to me. To them, I was just a problem.

My kids will learn and do the right things. My wife understands that. She has hardly seen me for the past two weeks, but she understands. She has to. She may have threatened to leave me if I keep working these fourteen-hour days, but she does not really mean it. She will come around, because what I’m doing is logical; my correctness is a matter of empirical fact. Everyone needs to think outside the box, and they’ll know I’m right.

How can these middle class teachers know how I – I mean, how my kids feel? No, don’t just attack professionals for being who they are. I don’t want to divide people. But all these other people have no idea what they are talking about. They honestly believe they do, but their criticisms of my methods are ignorant, hidebound nonsense.

Our new program to improve test scores and keep my kids in school will change everything. It will work if these teachers don’t get in the way. My kids are starving for good teaching. They’re waiting for it; they need it.

Nobody has any right to call me a suckup just because I think the new educational programs are good and will solve our problems. I am merely treating my bosses with the necessary respect. They won’t help my children if I do not manipulate and coax them into doing the right thing. Getting results from the school district building is not easy. It takes finesse; you cannot just blunder in and make demands. Fortunately, the Lord has generously blessed me with finesse.

I am only rough on my staff to help my children. Anyone can see that I am very consistent; I am astonishingly brave, actually, to be so complex, to keep so many plates spinning to help my precious children. I will not let any of them down. Every other adult has failed them, but not me. I might not get the credit I deserve for saving them, but this is not about me. Oh, no. Dear Lord, you know I speak the truth. I don’t care if my kids fail to realize that it is I who will make their bright future possible.

I get here early every morning. Well, most mornings. My children are my life. I am here for my kids. I know my sons understand that, even though I do not see them as much as I would if I had more time, if God had not called me to work for the greater good. I keep a picture of my younger son sitting on my knee displayed proudly on my laptop. In this very moving photograph, full of the love I have to share, I am reading to my boy. Good fathers read to their sons. Anyone who comes to my office can see my desktop picture, and they know I love my sons. I sometimes tear up just looking at it.

But my students are my kids, too. They have to escape to a better life. They must know I’m here to help them. Even if they lack the maturity to give me credit, they need to know they can turn to me. They’re just like me. How could I not help them? Every neglected boy in this building the teachers don’t understand, that’s me. They do not understand my culture, the kinds of lesson plans I can relate to, the material I want to learn. They won’t put themselves in their students’ place. They lack empathy. It is a good thing I have a lot of empathy. It is not easy to have enough empathy for the entire building; fortunately, I am self-aware enough to prevent myself from having a big head about it.

But I am running against time. Tap, tap, tap, I must keep running. My kids are already in ninth grade by the time they get to me. I have to fight against nine years of neglect by the school system. Someone has to, and I have been chosen. I will fight against the neglect with all my strength, me against a world that merely pretends to care, fighting for my kids, for the boy I used to be. He would never forgive me if I let him down. So I must never forget him and what he needed but never received.

I could have taken an easier job. I could see my wife and sons more often. I’d really love to fix my boys dinner and help them with their homework. I will do it soon, but I have too much to do today. I sacrifice so much for my students. They have to know, to respect me and appreciate me for what I do. And really, let’s be honest. I am working hard here for my sons, too, because I want this school to be a good, safe enough place for them to attend when they get older.

I could have picked an easier life. I’m young for a principal, still very young. Not long ago, I was in college. Back when Neneh Cherry was popular. That girl was fine. She should have been my wife. She was already married when her music career took off. Otherwise, I know she would have gone for me, and I would have graciously accepted. I never bought her albums, because only homosexuals listen to women making music. There was no point in anyone getting the wrong idea. But I did like to look at her anytime she showed up on TV.

The music then was so much deeper, not like today’s ignorant mess, not at all, but I have hopes that soon our young people will be as cool as we were and still are. I can mentor them about music, too, show them the errors of their ways. Without a doubt, I am making a difference, getting more work done than other men my age. These days, even if I were single again, I might even turn Neneh down. I would. My wife had better appreciate my faithfulness.

I know what can save our kids. But all my teachers can do is be offended when I tell them how they persist in doing things wrong. Yesterday at a staff meeting, I told them that too many teachers treat our kids as if they were the scum of the earth. And it’s true; they do. But instead of listening to me, sitting back and thinking about the truth of what I said, I heard a rumble of voices acting all offended. So I reached out to them. I tried to make things better by telling them not to take it personally, but they didn’t have the maturity to listen. Why are they so touchy? All I am doing is telling the truth. They just can’t think outside of the box.

Yesterday, I really made some genuine headway with Nevaya. She will do the project I assigned her and get back on the right path to college. She will learn to listen to me. I have a lot of wisdom to offer, a rich bounty of experience, even though I am still quite young. With my training, I can easily see through all the psychological defenses she feels she has to put up. And I can’t blame the poor girl. After all, so many adults in her life have already let her down. I am a patient man. I know it will take some time for her to realize that I know what is best for her.

I even got to show her the light about what good music is. I could see the sparks light up in her eyes when I proved to her how relevant Run-DMC still are. I have no doubt she will look them up tonight. Obviously, there are more important things than music, but we must relish the smaller victories before moving on to larger glories.

Even now, in the middle of the day, I am certain that she is beginning to consider what I have said to her about what she needs to do.

(c) Michael Russell

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