A Memorable Meeting

This is a cross post with one at Julia’s Place. It is one of my reflections for the tenth anniversary of 9/11. It was a memorable day.

As head teacher, it was my job to field those difficult parents. You know the ones who don’t take any notice when the teacher explains the reasons behind a certain decision. The ones whose children never seem to be able to follow the school rules for specific reasons unheard of to anyone else.

Mrs Shaw was an articulate, black mother. That put her almost into a class of her own as the school was in a virtual 100% white catchment area of social deprivation. Her daughter had her mother’s confidence but not always her logical approach and it wasn’t always her colour or size that brought her to the attention of the adults in the school. The class teacher always did her best to answer Mrs Shaw’s questions but just occasionally she had to be referred to me, often because of the protracted time it took to provide her with an answer to her satisfaction.

Over the years I had learned that meetings with Mrs Shaw needed to be thoroughly prepared for. She was not one of those mums that you could see without an appointment because there would always be the need to gather information; to check the details of the incident because it was always an incident. Personally I always felt a bit nervous of meeting her. There were parents who unnerved me and she was one of them. I always felt as if I was a racist when I spoke to her because she managed to bring her daughter’s ‘difference’ into the conversation. Colour was never mentioned by either of us but I always felt it was hovering there. I always wanted to say ‘The action the school has taken has nothing to do with your daughter’s colour’ but felt I couldn’t because she was waiting for me to ‘bring it up’.

So, I prepared for a meeting with Mrs Shaw on the afternoon of September 11th. I always made certain that coffee was brought in and we met in my office (comfort blanket for me) which was very comfortable. When she arrived, she seemed distracted. Usually she would come straight to the point which was always helpful as it clarified for me what her concerns were.

This time she was almost in tears. I asked what was wrong, offered the box of tissues and directed her to a chair. She spluttered out that there had been a plane crash in New York. I wasn’t sure why it would distress her so much so made the inane comment of ‘Oh Dear’. I was waiting for some explanation possibly along the lines that a family member had died or something but she didn’t proffer it. She did say that she thought it was a terrorist attack but didn’t know anymore details. Again, inane comment from me.

By this time she had dried her tears and begun to drink her coffee. She seemed calm enough for me to ask what it was she wanted to see me about. She briefly explained. I briefly told her what I knew and she accepted it and left. To say I was stunned would be a huge understatement.

As you can imagine I was more than stunned when I get home to watch the news.

As someone in education, the memories will often be linked to children or parents. I can remember very clearly what I was doing as a youngster when Kennedy was shot. I would not forget 9/11 but Mrs Shaw has made it even clearer for me.

I share an amazing piece of music called The Armed Man. It was written by Welshman Karl Jenkins and is subtitled ‘A Mass for Peace’. Many choirs will be singing it to mark the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Do listen. It is uplifting!

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