Mr. Salman’s truce making attempts shows that the best intentions can often lead to the worst outcomes.
Immersed in notebooks and papers, Mr. Salman sat relaxing and enjoying some rare moments of tranquility in his ever-noisy class, a class like any other in the school or anywhere else in the world. These peaceful moments were not easily achieved because at this young age, children prefer talking about food and being boisterous to quietness and docility. The children would never have voluntarily proffered this silence; it was only because they were ordered to do so by Professor Salman who had asked every two students sitting next to each other to pair up and read a set of sentences and conjugate them correctly.
The silence and calm didn't last long. Soon enough the sounds of skirmishes began, turning into scuffles that brought Mr. Salman’s peaceful interlude to an abrupt end. He peered at the children to pinpoint the source of the commotion and the screams that ensued seconds later. The yelling was coming from two children in the second row of the middle aisle, apparently arguing over something and deciding to settle the score on their own, as if Mr. Salman - despite his lofty stature - was invisible, as if he’d been swallowed up by his papers!! If it weren’t for his timely intervention, the children’s verbal exchange would have descended into a physical brawl. With his familiar strictness and without allowing room for discussion he ordered the troublemakers to be separated, seating one on the far right of the classroom and the other on the far left. He promised them they would be punished for their bad behavior. However, this punishment was not acceptable to either of the two rivals. One student believed that Mr. Salman was partial to his adversary since he had seated him in the first seat on the right, which was customarily reserved for bright students, so it was a reward disguised as a punishment!! Meanwhile, the other student was convinced that the teacher had favored his rival by seating him on the far left of the classroom, near the window, which was an enviable location given the searing summer heat!!
When the strident sound of the bell rang out, it disturbed everyone but the students, who were delighted to have come to the end of the first half of the school day and the beginning of the break. They usually stormed out of the classroom like popcorn bouncing out of a hot pot. The two students who had quarreled were the first to leave the classroom. After the students had left the class Mr. Salman shut the door in the face of the rest of the class?! In the midst of the schoolyard bustling with students the school vice-principal caught sight of an ominous gathering of children; his years-long experience told him something was wrong and he felt compelled to raid the suspicious gathering to minimize any potential trouble or damage. His instinct was spot-on. As soon as he reached the crowd and looked over the clustered heads, he saw at the center of the circle of kid two children locked in a scuffle punching and slapping each other. Some of their blows struck the vice-principal as he stood between them trying to put an end to the fight. With his arrival, the clamor abated, but the two student’s anger did not. Using a stern tone, he scolded both children and then ordered the school social worker - who had rushed to the scene as soon as he was called - to fetch the two culprits’ files so marks could be deducted for their misconduct as partial punishment for their behavior.
The crowd dispersed and the students went their own ways. The two adversaries walked across the schoolyard to their class after the vice-principal’s rebuke. And they immediately started insulting each other again as soon as they met at the entrance to the school building, using language that can only be described as inappropriate and unworthy of students at such a reputable school. Much of their insults reached the principal’s ears who overheard their exchange by chance. The principal became very angry and ordered his assistant to summon the two children, their teacher and the vice-principal to his office - an office whose walls were decorated with accolades and certificates of distinction - to discuss the matter. The principal’s knowledge and expertise, accumulated during his voyages to Europe and the United States, drove him invariably to strive to address the root of the problem rather than its branches. The principal therefore decided to summon the first child to hear his side of the story; and so Hafez began telling the principal why he and his friend had quarreled while they were trying to decipher and conjugate one of the sentences they were supposed to help each other work on, as instructed by Mr. Salman. The sentence read:
(Muhammad and his father went to the park.)
And this was how the argument had started…Hafez maintained that the word ‘Muhammad’ should be conjugated as the subject of the sentence – exactly as he had been taught in grammar class, while his friend A’asem insisted that the word ‘father’ should be conjugated the same way as well since Muhammad and his father had gone to the park together, rendering them both subjects and not a subject and a noun!!
"But the principal apparently has become accustomed taking the easy route and punishing people without listening to the viewpoints of the parties to the problem themselves, you and I in this case!”The story was confirmed by the second child when it was his turn to tell his version. The cause of the row was so simple it made the principal smile, but he winced in anger at the superficial solutions that had been applied by the teacher and the vice-principal, complicating the situation further. He put the blame squarely on the teacher and the vice-principal for letting the situation escalate to the level it had reached. The principal then lined the two students next to one another and explained to them in a wise fatherly tone that no matter how different people’s opinions were, neither party was entitled to pass judgment without listening to the other side of the argument. Both boys were convinced by the principals’ words and they hugged each other and walked out of his office as if nothing had happened, as is typical of children who are easily provoked and just as easily calmed.
The principal resolved the first problem and now it was time to address the second, and so he had Salman - the teacher - summoned along with the vice-principal and reproached them roundly and he flatly rejected what he described as their flimsy excuses for the way the tried to resolve the student’s disagreement and which they used to try to justify their “hasty resort to punishment without listening to the viewpoints of the parties to the problem themselves, the children in this case” as he put it. The principal decided to deduct a full week’s pay from the vice-principal and Salman’s salaries as punishment for both men. He then called for the janitor to open the door for them… and they were left with no other option but to leave the office.
The principal sat in solitude, with a sense of self-admiration for his successful handling and resolution of the problem in a calm and scientific fashion. So, he decided to reward himself by listening to his favorite song “Way to Success” by Columbian-born British singer Marco Ivantich, as was his habit upon achieving any victory. Outside the walls of the principal’s office the vice-principal and Mr. Salman walked together each of them heavy-hearted with regret and restlessness. Expressing his feelings, Salman spoke in a low tone: “What is this injustice?! I took my initial decision to temporarily separate the two children so I could then figure out what the problem was about by listening to what the other students had to say about the fight during the break in order to find out what the truth was behind what had happened and then take the correct steps to address the problem. However, the principal interrupted the session and had me summoned before I could finish what I started and furthermore he did not hear me out and deducted a week’s pay from my salary as you have seen.”
Speaking in the same somber tone, the vice-principal said: “As for myself, when I saw the two children fighting I asked the social worker to bring their files, not so that I could deduct marks as I had threatened them, but to find out whether they were suffering from family or psychological problems and to determine whether this was the first time they had been involved in such an incident. I wanted to avoid making a hasty decision; but the principal apparently has become accustomed taking the easy route and punishing people without listening to the viewpoints of the parties to the problem themselves, you and I in this case!!”
Salman and the vice-principal sighed deeply then each went back to work as the music floated out of the principal’s office, coupled with the sound of his voice as he sang the lyrics of his favorite song out loud.
Ahmed Rabah has a Bachelors in Business Administration from Ain Shams University in Egypt. His articles have been published in many newspapers in Egypt and he writes articles, short stories, and scripts.