I was about to learn a very unpleasant Lesson in Life. The high school principal was a lover of Jazz, even willing to concede the acceptability of Rock & Roll, as long as it was musically presented, which might have seemed an oxymoron to some. After hearing our first few rehearsals down the hall from the main office (not by choice, but by volume), he requisitioned a rehearsal room which we made our own. In previous years, a progressive school administration had instituted innovative modular scheduling which made it easy for students to schedule their class times according to their interests. We made sure the Jazz Workshop could meet on the same days certain times of the week, allowing us to rehearse the rhythm and horn sections separately. Every Friday was group rehearsal. The principal often visited our rehearsals, and would invariably call me aside to congratulate me on the direction we were taking.
“I hear what’s happening in there, Jeff. I gotta tell you, that’s some pretty good music. I may not understand it all, but I’m impressed. Keep up the good work.”
The whole school had by now heard about The Magnet and the Jazz Workshop. They eagerly awaited our first planned assembly program in December, to be followed by a public concert in the spring. By October, rehearsals were proceeding beautifully. That’s when I was blindsided by a printed invitation to appear in the Superintendent’s office the following day, subject matter unknown to me. The board had hired him after the semester had begun to restore law and order to Dodge. A small but vocal group of parents was counting on him to put the school back in order after years of anarchy. I met a bushy eye-browed , retired military officer in full dress uniform. Well, actually a business suit. Same thing to me. No pleasantries were exchanged before getting down to business.
“I’m afraid we must discontinue your rehearsals during school time,” he began without emotion. “We will not condone Sex and Drugs in our school. As of this day, you will be required to restrict any rehearsals to after the school day has ended. Furthermore, there will be no in-school or public performances allowed. Do I make myself clear?”
“Excuse me?” I befuddled.
“I believe I have properly informed you of our official policy.”
For a moment, I couldn’t catch my breath long enough to speak a single word. He made to stand, the meeting having ended as far as he was concerned. I didn’t let him finish rising from his chair.
“I quit,” I responded.
“Excuse me?” He mimicked my earlier question.
“I said I quit.”
“You quit what?”
“I quit this job.”
“You can’t quit your job! You signed a contract to teach here for the year. Should you not fulfill your professional obligation, the consequences will be dire, I assure you. I will make it my personal mission to see that you never teach again, anywhere. Do we understand each other?”
His voice was no longer without emotion. I refused to back down.
“I was brought here to teach the Music that is important and meaningful to these kids, many of whom have returned to school after dropping out, and that is what I intend to do.”
“Which brings me to my next ruling. Those students who are no longer officially enrolled as full-time students will not be allowed on campus to participate in school activities,” he intoned, reverting to lawyerly manner.
“Let me understand this!” I shot back. “Rehearsals can’t be held in school during the day, but can be held after school hours. Then why are all students not allowed to participate?”
“As I have already explained, we will not condone Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll in our school. This meeting is over. I expect you to comply with my orders.”
Orders? Was I ‘in the army now’? Sex, Drugs, and now Rock & Roll added to his list? Was I indeed living in the 20th Century, or had I been dreaming the whole time? I drove home desperate for the emotional support my wife was sure to offer. She did. What a woman.
I was tempted to pack it all in and split Dodge without delay, but she convinced me that I was too good a teacher to let them get the better of me. So, I returned to school the next day, dreading my new duties for the hour-long commute. As I pulled into the school parking lot, the local newspaper publisher approached me. Yes, you have correctly remembered that he was a member of the Board of Education, and had indeed been part of the interview process that led to my hiring. It would appear that premature word of my demise had spread quickly through the community. The Press can indeed be a powerful tool. I had no idea that I had built up such a loyal following of parents, but they proved most unrelenting. The very next day, there was a full page spread in the newspaper, complete with a picture of The Magnet at the podium directing his students, with a powerful exposé about the political turmoil embroiling the school as it retreated into a previous century. A letter-writing campaign was initiated by the local community. Back-room negotiations were held. Several weeks later I was informed in writing:
1) I would be allowed to continue rehearsals during school hours;
2) The students who had not officially re-enrolled in school would be allowed entry, provided I vouch for them and promise that no Sex or Drugs be allowed on school grounds. (Notice that ‘Rock & Roll’ had been omitted);
3) The December assembly program would be allowed only as an experiment in school behavior control. If there were any problems during that assembly program, the Spring Concert would not be allowed.
Of course, the administration would exact their pound of flesh, my meaningful Lesson in Life. In exchange for everything given to me, I had to sign a letter of resignation, effective at the end of the school year. I didn’t like it. But I signed it. Frankly, I had lost all interest in returning. That was also the moment I decided to grow my beard back; let my hair grow; and, start wearing those old torn jeans and tie-dyed t-shirts to school!