I’d like to tell you about a friendship I developed with a fellow teaching colleague, one that grew from a complete loathing for one another.
Michael Crump was our school’s athletic director, basketball coach and dean. He was also a licensed social studies teacher. In the role of a dean, you are responsible for maintaining discipline within the school. Generally, because of this responsibility you are not teaching classes. Trust me, this can often be a full-time job.
My first real encounter with Crump (Not, Mr. Crump, not Michael, everyone called him Crump) was as a result of a fight in my classroom. I had only been teaching a matter of weeks when two fifteen-year-old girls in my first period class got into it one day. They hurled insults at each other that I cannot repeat. I was unaccustomed to young ladies speaking this way. When they began walking towards each other and removing their respective earrings, I knew I was in deep sh_t. While the “Madea” movies were years into the future at that moment in time, I’d seen enough episodes of “In Living Color” to know what was about to jump off.
I worked very hard on my Master of Arts in education degree, but I don’t recall the course on students fighting. I picked up the classroom phone and dialed the dean’s office for Crump. I told him there was a fight and implored him to come right away. I hung up the phone and hoped he would get there soon — really soon. However, things in the room escalated further very quickly. Not knowing what else to do, I physically lifted up the young lady nearest to me just before blows were struck. I carried her out into the hall and saw Crump as he turned the corner of the corridor of the hallway. To me he was slowly sauntering towards my classroom. I exploded!
“Why are you taking your time?! Do your damn job!” I yelled at him furiously and publicly.
Not my best moment I’m sure. As I said, I was new to teaching. My assistant principal at the time gently reminded me not to speak to my colleagues in this manner. I promised to try not to going forward.
For the next couple of years Crump and I kept each other at arm’s length. We wouldn’t so much as say hello to each other if we passed each other on the street on the way to school. Yet things changed. A situation arose where Crump had to take over two U.S. history classes in the middle of the second semester. I don’t recall the circumstances why. What I do recall is that these students had a Regents Examination to pass in a matter of months and that they were not prepared. Crump jumped right into the task at hand.
When the Examination results came in that June, Crump’s students had a pass rate in excess of 75%. This was remarkable. I was in our current Assistant Principal Ms. Rozmus’ office when I saw the results. I reacted honestly and said, “Crump should be very proud of himself.”
A few days later, I’m in with Ms. Rozmus again on another matter. She tells me matter of factly that she told Crump what I’d said. She said that his eyes opened wide and his face lit up a bit as he remarked, “Mason said that?”
She told him that indeed I had. Now I’m not sure if Ms. Rozmus had a plan in mind in telling me this (but I’m betting she did). I left her office and went to Crump’s office and told him myself that he should be proud of what he’d accomplished with the kids.
Our chilly relationship thawed that day. The mutual disdain we had for each other disappeared (thank you, Ms. Rozmus). Not exactly right away, but in time we became friends. We would co-plan lessons together. We would support each other with difficult students. Other than the occasional phone call about an upcoming TV show or sporting event, we were connected by the dynamic of school. My favorite call from him was letting me know that MeTV had changed its weekend programming lineup to westerns. We were both fans of “Bonanza,” “Gunsmoke,” “Wagon Train,” etc.
We would occasionally have our lunch in the classroom we soon shared with each other for part of the day. Not lunch together, mind you, but lunch in the same space. This is because lunch for me was woofing down a sandwich quickly as I read the day’s news online. For Crump, lunch often meant lunch. A full meal with 45 minutes to relax and rejuvenate without any disturbances by students, or, more especially, by administration.
Sometimes during these lunch periods we would tease each other about our past relationship.
“Because you were a jerk!” one of us might say.
Followed by, “But less of a fool than you were!”
“Probably too much testosterone.”
“Yeah, I can agree with that.”
One of my favorite moments with Crump was when I went ballistic on a fellow teacher. (It’s a learning process.) This teacher was slacking off, and in my mind his failure to do his job meant kids suffered. This also meant more work down the road for me—getting the students to pass their history Regents Examinations.
My explosion caused a bit of a stir. A few teachers and staff gathered at the door to see what was going on. Suddenly Crump made an announcement to everyone to ease the tension.
“Damn, the last time Mason went off like that it was at me!”
No one could help but laugh.
Then it happened.
I got the phone call on a Sunday morning. Crump was gone. As best as I can explain it, he had an aneurysm while he was in the shower. He was only 47 years old.
The next day we had an assembly for the students and staff. Grief counselors were brought in for the kids. As the principal was speaking he became overwhelmed and motioned for me to take the microphone. I could not do it. I just shook my head no and looked down. Thankfully, one of our colleagues stepped up.
Crump’s son—Michael, Jr.—was enrolled in our school. He was a senior, graduating that June. He has since moved on to college. His father would be very proud.
What did I learn from my friendship with Crump? Many things, I believe. One is to be patient with one another. Another is to be a bit more tolerant. I’m not saying I’ve accomplished these things. I’m not saying that at all. But I’m certain that I am a better person for having known Michael Crump.