He’d stepped quickly in and out of our designated classroom, about to be introduced to our faculty collective by the Superintendent of Schools. Upon his return he’d stood, on the sidelines – black suit, white shirt and tie, black hair neatly trimmed in a conservative cut – as the Superintendent announced his name. I remember thinking how his presence harkened back to the men of my own extended family, the good boy still visible in his countenance and bearing.
I wondered, then, as he stood being lauded by his own boss, what the goals were for this man. Was he being groomed for something bigger? That was usually what happened within the hierarchy of The School District of the City of Erie, PA, the town that forever clamored to be just like all the big cities.
He wasn’t an Erie boy; of that, I was certain. Face a bit too clean, features smaller and more refined, frame just too tall to match its counterparts in the full figured strata of city workers and dutiful sons which populated our familial landscape.
What set the man further apart was his poise. He was only momentarily still; even when his feet stopped, the rest of him – his mind, his purpose – kept moving. He was ever forward thinking, yet reserved in the company of people.
The Superintendent introduced him as Jay Badams, the new head of some curriculum level; he was to be a force in the implementation of the latest plan. I remember thinking that, perhaps that year, the latest plan would actually have functional legs; this man seemed equipped to engage.
But, being the music teacher, once that convocation had ended I’d set about to perform the many tasks to which I was committed, and rarely gave another thought to the machinations of the District and its administration. The next time I heard about Jay Badams, he’d become just another of the multitude of parents in my building, the entire population of which were my students. He’d risen in rank and stature; but, to my purposes, he was Emma and Jack’s father.
Emma was quiet, a watcher and listener. She was bright, and talented, too, and perfect for the lead in A Christmas Story, and not because she was Jay Badams’ daughter. Her little brother was also on the quiet side, but a typical boy of his generation; both children were clean, like their father, well presented, respectful toward their elders, good students, and well liked by all.
I met their mother, Tiffany, and her mother, for the first time in the hall behind my stage door. It may have been on Parent Teacher Conference day; it might have been after a concert, or the show. I do remember that she made a point of expressing her appreciation directly to me for a job she deemed well done, and did so with grace and warmth. I also recall wondering if a woman of her presence had found a happy life in our town. Lord knew, I had become so fixated on my own work that I could hardly have been a friend to any parent, even if I’d wanted to be.
I remember, however, the next time I saw Jay Badams.
The day had been exhausting. It was production week, for the extra-curricular drama club, and the final concert of the student body. I’d managed to cram everything into the last days of the semester, every year, my mind and body paying the price and the students feeling the fall out.
There’d been a contingent of first grade boys that had worked my final nerve. And, while I knew that testing the teacher’s patience was a prospect anticipated with very great enthusiasm by many children, I always reserved my fiercest expressions for its limits. On that day, my pent up inner monster – raging against a system which had become increasingly thankless toward its hardest workers – had roared long and loud, sending more than one unblinking stare back to the classroom reeling from the onslaught.
School had dismissed, and there was the usual bustle of movement down my stage door hallway as the buses flanked in the lot outside. Something, perhaps it was the long, black topcoat, caught my peripheral vision. I looked up, as a father with his son passed quickly by the stage door toward the parking lot exit. His expression was one of concern, yet resolute; Jay Badams had his small young boy’s hand in his own.
A father, in black topcoat; a white collar professional, walking his boy to the door and holding his hand. He was not rushing. He was with his son. They were simply walking, with purpose, to leave the building at the end of the school day. But, the image of the two of them pierced me.
Had my ferocious bellowing frightened his child, that day? Had I scared all the children? Was I hurting my students? Would the Assistant Superintendent find out from his little boy, on the ride home from school?
So many parents had taken, in recent years, to reporting teachers to the school principal. A child coming home, with a story of alleged behavior, would frequently result in a closed door session between said parent, the principal, and the teacher being accused. And, these sessions rarely found the teacher anything but guilty as charged; rather, many an educator, usually a woman, would exit such a meeting in tears.
If I had traumatized Jack Badams that day, I never heard about it from his parents.
Needless to say, I would not forget that image. Nor would I forget Jay Badams, or his children, especially his daughter, who was musical; she took to the xylophone with the same determined purpose I’d seen on her father’s face.
A full year after my own father’s death, followed by my retirement, I ran into Jay and his wife, and Tiffany’s colorful father, at a local social establishment. Tiffany spoke to me as I approached their table. She wanted to know if I taught the xylophone. I gave her the name of our premiere local piano teacher, Linda Kobler and, within the year, Emma was performing as pianist in recital, reflecting a relationship forged between student and teacher that would endure to this day.
Jay had said to me, that evening, and every time I’d seen him since: “We miss you.” He said it with earnestness, and I knew that he meant it. He’d become the Superintendent, and, if I’d had even one second thought about leaving the District, it had been because Jay had become our leader. I knew him to be a supporter not just of the arts, but of every committed teacher who broke her back to make creative, nourishing, and memorable things happen in the lives of children.
This man has been a tireless worker on behalf of the students in our District. The forces of resistance he has encountered might very well vanquish the mightiest among us. One thing I do know; as teachers, we are trained to recognize. We learn to read behavior, body language, inflection, intent. To that end, I know Jay Badams. I’ve met his wife, his in laws; and, I knew his children, when he and his wife were raising them. To witness the entire community rise up against him in the ongoing crisis that is our public school system in this Commonwealth is to endure the sight of public betrayal.
If Jay leaves our city, the loss will be ours. I wish him the longest vacation his body can withstand, followed by a welcoming and warm contingent of dedicated educators and leaders who know the meaning of accepted responsibility. If he stays, we need to stand up and thank him for facing Harrisburg head on. He is the genuine article, a man of integrity and courage, and our town has been starving for a leader like him for a long time.
© Ruth Ann Scanzillo 12/20/16