I have been in the school biz for over a decade. Wow. That’s a long time! And before that I was deep in the school game. I went to grammar school, preparatory high school, university and two versions of graduate school (JD, MA). I don’t list this all out to be self-important, but to underscore the fact that I am not a new teacher or lawyer who is shocked easily. In fact, it can be argued that lawyers and teachers are exposed to so much they are some of the least shockable professions. Again, not to stand on circumstance, but it takes a lot to shock me. Now as an advocate, I unfortunately live in a realm of non-stop disappointment. Don’t feel badly for me, though, with non-stop disappointment in the infrastructure of school, I also get to live in a world of amazing hope. Every day I get to witness both the shackles of bureaucracy and overwork and the magic of the human spirit, which makes those wins so much greater. The advocate life is for me, as I am well-equipped professionally and emotionally to deal with the rigors and upset of these broken systems and equally elated by the joys of success.
I wish the story would end there, with the mostly unsurprising disappointment in our beloved institutions and joy of success against administrative entanglement. Unfortunately I have to tell you about the rare time where I am shocked. Yes, I still get shocked at least once a month by the audacity of some mistreatment. As a lawyer who litigated administrative and educational law cases for a number of years, shock doesn’t come for the illegal or clearly negligent things. While those still happen and are incredibly unfortunate, they can be more easily solved. The situations I hate the most and I find truly shocking are those that involve an element of gaslighting and obstruction for no apparent reason. Where a school is being unfeeling and uncooperative for no apparent reason, I am shocked.
Katie, you still get shocked? YES! I do. I get shocked, flabbergasted, gobsmacked, irritated, irate and end up saying:
Dudes (or dudettes as the situation implies), why are you doing this to this poor student? Why are you forcing him or her to grow up and relentlessly fight before his/her time?
Besides rage listening to Brittney Spears and crazy dancing Jersey Shore style, I have come up with a few suggestions on how to handle this crazy-making that schools indulge in on occasion.
1. Admit it. Shout it out loud. If something is happening to you, a friend or your child that sits terribly with you and you are sure that there is no good reason for it, admit that it is a little shady. Don’t do anything about it but be OK in the knowledge that sometimes people become administrators or school bureaucrats who aren’t very kind or inclined to be helpful. In fact, there are people who are outright destructive and obstructive.
2. You are not the first. Everyone, including me (you saw that whole shameless litany of my accomplishments above) thinks they are a special unicorn. Oh wait, maybe I am a unicorn, but, not you, just me. Sometimes someone is just having a bad day and behave in a shocking way, but, other times, the person who is upsetting you to such a degree has also behaved like this habitually to other students, friends, colleagues, donut store employees, etc. So if you complain about them or you go above them, if you look closely enough, you will often see a glean of fear mixed with a dose of knowledge and anger of the person who has seen this despicable behavior before.
3. Gather your angry mob. OK, this is not what I actually advocate for and in general I think more disciplined and measured moves yield better results, but in some circumstances it is ok to talk to other students, parents or people in your community (even if that is an online community of like-minded or like-experienced individuals). Get ideas, vent and get assured in the idea that you or the student in your life were very much wronged. As an FYI, this tactic can backfire and they may tell you that you are way off base, but that’s also amazing feedback. Thank them and save your advocate outrage for something else.
4. Step up the Self-Care (or Family Time as the case may be). Now at Step 4 when I go through the three steps of advocate anger, I begin doing some self-care whether it be a decadent baking session, a dinner out, a pedicure, tennis game or some chill time with my dogs. I need to get in a calmer place for the final step to combat the shock/gaslighting.
5. The Dreaded Plan. I think you knew this was coming. Get ready to do some serious strategic planning as to how you you will defeat this administrative bully and stand up for yourself or the side of right. Write out what your GOAL is. Yes, if your goal is as “simple” as to prevent a behavior from happening, write that! Don’t overthink this. In the smallest amount of steps figure out what you can and will do to get to that goal. Who do you need to talk to? Sometimes a more important question is what information is unnecessary to accomplish this goal? The second answer to the second question is often the toughest one. Sometimes your own advocacy has to become deserved righteousness and shock. Think goals. Not personal satisfaction. Save anger for your mob.
I hope you didn’t find yourself on my site because you are shocked by something someone did to you, but if you did, let me know in the comments or drop me a line. We live in a global community of teachers and learners where we all live somewhere in an arc of self-knowledge. Remember someone will help you, eventually and to turn that shock into measured and decisive action that will serve you or your student in the long run.