This article was first printed in the Fall 2006/5767 issue, issue #9.
Interview by Mushka Ciment, from Arkansas
Chaya A.’s mother is the elementary school principal of a large school in Brooklyn, NY. There are about 1,000 students in the elementary school, about 450 in the High School and 400 in preschool. She shared with us what it’s really like to be the principal’s daughter.
Was your mother always your principal? When did she start?
The school was opened approximately 55 years ago, so she wasn’t principal when the school began, but when I was born, she had already been working as a principal for around two years.
Have you ever considered going to a different school?
No. I feel that being in the school that my mother is principal in is only proper, and what type of example would be set if I attended another school?
Do you feel safe at times knowing your mother is just a couple of feet away from you?
Well, of course it’s always good to know you have your mother near you when you don’t feel well, or if you forgot to bring money for the class trip, or you forgot to sign a paper, or simply if you forgot your snack- to see if she might have something to eat. But as is normal, there are times when I wish that I was like everyone else, without their mother for 8 hours- if they can manage, why shouldn’t I be able to?
Before every year starts, my mother speaks to the teachers, that’s regular, but she also tells them that her children are to be treated like everyone else. If they call out, give them the same assignment as you would with someone else, etc.Are you treated differently by your teachers?
Are you excused easily if you are late or if you don’t have your homework done, or are teachers less likely to punish you?
I’m not excused any more often than other students. If I have a note, I’m excused, if not, I’m not- but since my mother has to be on time every morning, I go with her, and then I’m not late.
Do you get to find out before school starts who your teachers and classmates are going to be? Do you get to pick them?
No, it wouldn’t be fair to the other girls in school for me to know who my teachers are before they do. Picking my classmates is most definitely out of the question. The only thing extra that I do is go to help my mother like a week before school, doing things such as giving out chalk and erasers to the classrooms, and giving each classroom supplies like scissors, staplers, and tape. I also go to school with my mother to see if there are any teachers who are in the process of decorating their classrooms that could use some help, like cutting and gluing (usually for the younger grades).
Does your mother volunteer you to do work for school after school?
Well, she’ll only volunteer me if I agree, I usually agree with it anyway, but I am most definitely asked.
Are you afraid that your mother knows every single thing you do in school?
My mother doesn’t act as if she knows exactly what is going on, she waits for me to tell her. If I choose not to tell her, then I obviously have a reason, and she won’t mention it.
Do girls in your class hide their bad feelings about the principal/school, or do they express themselves in front of you?
Well, sometimes if they are especially upset, I can say that they do hurt me unintentionally (because in essence, saying bad things about someone you love, hurts you). But they know that it was their fault that they were bad in class, and were sent out to get a note or sent home…. so usually they keep their mouths shut.
Do teachers and friends ask you questions about the school’s plans?
Yes, it’s a natural habit to ask anyone who might know- only students ask though… Of course, I know just as much as they do, so it doesn’t really help. After a while, girls realize I’m not helping them in the least, and they stop asking, but basically there are always girls asking.
Living in the principal’s home, do you get to help your mother decide on a bad weather day if there should be school or not?
Well, if you knew that the person to decide a day off or not were right in front of you, wouldn’t you beg for a day off? So I beg, but it usually doesn’t help with their deciding– the weather is what does that part.
Do your friends ever try to bribe you into saving them from trouble from the principal?
Yes. I have no influence on my mother over whether or not they should be punished- right at that stage the only influence is them: to sincerely change their behavior. Their teacher could also have an influence.
What would you say is the hardest part of your mother’s job?
In my opinion it is the hours- of course, everyone thinks that as soon as a teacher or principal walks through their door, they forget everything about school. My mother, even when she comes home, is busy with school. When we go shopping, we stop in at a store, just because the school ordered something there and it needs to be picked up.
Knowing what it’s like to be a principal, would you want to be a principal when you grow up?
In a sense yes, and in a sense no. Yes because I want to take after my mother’s footsteps, but no because I think it’s probably way too much work for me. But I would (and probably will, G-d willing) be a teacher. It’s not as much work as being principal, but it’s the same type of thing.