Friday, November 15, 2013

"Books and Butts" chronicles high school life in the 80's

Published in the September 9, 2013, edition of the Boerne Star
With the ink barely dry on his school administration certificate, in 1980, Joseph F. Doenges, Ed.D., accepted the position of Assistant Principal of Boerne High School. During the chaotic year that followed, Doenges very quickly discovered that he would be called upon to handle disciplinary problems on an order that he could have never anticipated during his training.
            It wasn't as if he had not been forewarned. The Assistant Principal position was a new one, established in response to demands that something be done about the discipline problem in the school.
            “The graduation ceremony in May was a farce,” Superintendent Bob Chambers told Doenges during his interview for the position. “It was held in the football stadium. Some of the kids were drunk. They were throwing Frisbees and spraying shaving cream at one another. The whole thing was an absolute disgrace. All summer long there were letters to the editor in The Boerne Star about graduation.”
            “The purpose of this book is to reveal the frustration and failure, as well as the joy and success that exist in any public school system,” Doenges writes in the preface of his new book, Books and Butts: Diary of an Assistant Principal (, ISBN13:  9781300827177, July 4, 2013). “It is difficult to do so truthfully without offending someone. It is certainly not my intent to tarnish reputations, damage carefully nurtured images, or cast doubt on the ‘sacred cows’ of education. Nevertheless, if some are offended, reputations tarnished, images damaged, or doubts cast, so be it.” Doenges changed the names of the students whose discipline problems he chronicled.
            From the first day of school, Doenges was called upon to deal with truancy, disruptive behavior, fights, students selling their free lunches, irate parents defending their childrens’ bad behaviors, and students who repeatedly set off strings of firecrackers and deliberately clogged up toilets. 
            Three weeks into the school year, Doenges wrote in his journal, “One discipline problem after another came through my office. It was the busiest day yet. Two boys knocked a hole in the sheetrock wall in English class. Several students were put out of class by the teacher for incessant talking. Three girls were sent to the office for passing notes in class, and two more for chewing gum. Most of these problems should have been handled by the teachers involved, but it was one of those days when tolerance and patience were in short supply.”
             There were serious discipline problems, too, that were difficult for Doenges to handle. Most of these were incidents of vandalism, drinking on the school grounds, or worse, drinking and driving. In these situations he had no other option but to call the Boerne Police Department.
            Doenges kept his wife’s old sorority paddle on display in his office. It served as more of a threat than a viable method of disciplining disobedient teenagers. That is until one day he had to call a student’s father to discuss his son’s constant interruption of his teacher. The father immediately came to the school. When he saw the paddle in Doenges’ office, he got right to the point.
            “I want him paddled, and I want him paddled every time he gets in trouble in the future.”
            Doenges had never actually used the paddle, but this time he did.
            “I got Martha’s old sorority paddle from my desk, where it had been stored since August, just in case I ever needed it. The boy bent over and grabbed his lower legs while I gave him three swats as dad witnessed. I knew by his reaction that the paddle stung, and thus the desired effect had been achieved. I then reached out and shook the boy’s hand, told him there were no hard feelings, and sent him back to class. Dad thanked me, reminded me that future problems were also to be handled with the board, then left.”
            At the end of the school year Doenges did some soul searching about his role as Assistant Principal. He felt that his greatest accomplishments were that he had helped to establish order and control at the school and that he had earned the trust and respect of students, teachers, and parents. It was a frustrating year but he was satisfied that “things were better in May than they were in September.”
            Doenges was conflicted about renewing his contract. That one year had been more physically and emotionally draining than any he had experienced as a teacher. He  returned to his job in August, but it didn’t last very long. During the year the principal resigned and Doenges was appointed in his place. By May, he had decided to accept a position overseas. He returned as Assistant Principal at Boerne High School in 1985. When the superintendent of schools retired, Doenges was persuaded by the Board to take over as superintendent. He served in that capacity for eleven years.
            Books and Butts is an entertaining read filled with humor and wisdom. At the conclusion of his book, Doenges reflects upon his many years of experience as an educator and provides the reader with his personal philosophy concerning issues such as corporal punishment, school and class size, advanced placement, and foreign language instruction.

            The bottom line, says Doenges, is that expectations are too low in the American educational system. 

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