Grapevine, Rumor Mill, & Little Birdy: the three evils of education.

Unfortunately, this is one aspect of the profession that no one can avoid or ignore. Its the once piece that mostly resembles the culture of school at its most basic level. From Kindergarten to our senior year we have had to deal with this variable. When does it stop? It doesn’t… so don’t expect it to and you won’t be shocked. I definitely assumed that when I joined the profession, any profession, that things would be different and this type of behavior would not exist in the professional workplace. I was so wrong. The grapevine, rumor mill, and the mysterious little birdy are very prevalent in our workforce no matter what profession you are in. However, I am shocked at the level to which these things exist in the education field and how much clout they are actually given. So how do we combat this invisible enemy? We don’t. You can’t. Its like an cancer cell that keeps multiplying no matter what the treatment. The funny part is that some of us entering the profession were naive enough to believe that these things didn’t exist in our professional workplaces. Its those people unfortunately who fall victim to the three evils. I have been one of these unfortunate souls multiple times. Experience is the best teacher, I fully believe that (three educational graduate degrees later). Sixteen years in this field has taken an emotional toll, both for my students, and for the level of unprofessionalism I have truly seen in multiple districts. These three evils are at work 90% of the time when I have encountered an unprofessional situation or been dealt an emotional blow from a colleague or administrator. We sign a code of ethics every year that details the types of behaviors we should treat each other and conduct ourselves with as teachers in the field. So why isn’t there a decent protocol and outlet for this type of harassment in the workplace? They say there is… the policy book outlines it. But really…? IS there one? If there was such a venue and it was taken seriously then why are these three evils so prevalent on a daily basis?

Whats Yours is Mine and Whats Mine is Mine

So existing mindsets in the teaching profession run the gauntlet of perception. So many people interpret the “rules” the district sets in place in various ways. To each their own interpretation. Yet, the district is VERY black and white when they set forth the policies in the contract and what ends up happening 80% of the time are frustrations felt on the teacher’s end of the stick. For example, sick leave. Lets do some real talk about sick leave. Why would you use sick leave? Well…. duh… your sick, your child is sick, or a member of your household is sick and in need of your care. Great. Everyone understands that one. Districts normally alot 10 days of sick leave benefit. Should you go over that number, well… here’s were it gets squirley. Its not a secret that most people perceive teaching as a work of heart. A valiant vocation like a knight in shining armor. Good. Teacher’s feel this way too. The district, however, not so much. Yes and No. Its definately viewed as a rewarding and noble profession and kudos to you until… you step outside those policy boundaries. Then, its black and white. This is where teachers and district conflict. Teachers feel there should be understanding and compassion imbeded within district decision making. Why? Well, thats how teachers make decisions for their students, with love and understanding. Yea… um… NO. One mistake most teachers make in general is misunderstanding that at the end of the day, this is a money making business. When you are absent for sickness, personal day, etc you are costing the district money. They not only have to pay you when you are within your alloted days but they also have to pay a substitute teacher to teach your class at the going rate of 100 bucks a day. SO please, don’t make the mistake of thinking that your sick days are yours and its ok to use them with abandon if your not feeling up to par, its not. Suck it up buttercup. You will find that as you approach that 5 day absence mark, things will start to change for you. You may recieve notice from the principal that you are past your 5 day mark and you need to improve your absences. This is a sweet little letter (hope you feel the sarcasm there) that goes in your personnel file. Should you go over your 10 days, well honey you need to consider FMLA. Otherwise, you ARE in danger of termination….. period. This will not be an obvious up and coming situation, they will blindside you with a termination hearing letter that will likely end in your termination of employment. FMLA is your friend. If you do not qualify for FMLA at the time, then you need to figure out a way to decrease your absences. Period. The district does not care if you are a single mother with two children who get sick often and have no support or family. THEY… DO…. NOT…. CARE. Once you realize this fact, you will be better off. No, they do not care. You are costing them MONEY. I find it imperative to educate young teachers with this fact as they are often clueless to how ruthless a school district HR department can be. The universities could do a better job in this area of learning for graduating educators. You won’t find that information in a text book. You will, however, find that information in your employment contract…. often too late.

The Lion and the Mouse

After 16 years in the profession and three educational leadership degrees later I have come to realize that some of the “education” I was sold at the graduate level for LOTS of money, may have been crap. Oh sure they go into depth about the “types” of leadership… transformational, transactional, bla, bla, bla. Yes, ok…. those are guidelines an administrator can use to help them shape themselves into a leader. Lets get real for a second. We need to speak in languages that accurately describe people and that all persons can understand. The universities are GREAT sales people and of course you should listen to what your professor and the text books teach. They are great “basic” foundations for your career. That’s about all I have gotten out of it. The real “teacher” is experience. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can teach you like living it can. However, in that real experience mode, I have given categories to the different types of administrators that I have had the privilege of working with.

  1. The Coach: This is my favorite type of administrator. Easy going, fun-loving, deeply genuine and caring about his or her teachers, but if you make a mistake they want you to learn from it, build upon it, and walk away with growth. Type of person that will give you a “what for” and then hug you.
  2. The BFF: This is one of my least favorite types of leadership personalities. The BFF can make you feel like a million dollars. When your in their presence you feel at home, you feel accomplished, and ten foot tall… they will let you do it wrong all DAY LONG… Why? They despise conflict with such abandon that you will be blindsided and shocked when you find out you have actually made a mistake. Problem is by then its too late.
  3. Jekell and Hyde: Not a fun leadership personality. Like the BFF they enjoy being well liked to the point that they go out of their way to make you feel at home and comfortable. Watch it… these leadership personalities come with a bite. Hyde can emerge at any moment most frequently when mistakes are made or the organization is made to look less than in someway. Or it could just be cloudy out side and suddenly….HYDE emerges. This is a very unpredicatable leader and often a toxic culture/climate accompanies this person.
  4. El’ Matadore’: Can you say “OLE!”? Again, a tolerable leadership personality but manipulative. Supportive and comforting on the surface they are great at distraction. You may think you are in good graces and then … “OLE!” Nope! You thought wrong. Very much like the Jekell/Hyde leader, this administrator is a master at manipulation and can draw you into just about anything. Take this one with a grain of salt. Much of what they say is not true and a fishing expedition to fit their needs.
  5. The Pitbull: Of all the leadership styles, this one is the most annoying. That’s the goal of this leader. To be annoying. They enjoy the chase and chaos. They actually enjoy breeding a toxic and hostile work environment. YES these people are out there! They are principals and leaders in the district! A combination of El’Matadore’ and Pitbull they have manipulated their way into position and are now in a place of bullying teachers to suit their needs. They are masters of manipulation and usually well versed on teacher contract issues. Probably because they are used to grievances. Just do yourself a favor, if you find yourself in the employment of a leader with the pitbull personality /leadership style….. transfer.

Introductions

In the beginning, I was doe eyed and innocent. Not just to the depravity of society growing up on a farm in West Virginia, but to the deranged things that could befall a child in my educational charge. I was ignorant to poverty and the cycles that lie within. Being raised with loving doting parents, I was ignorant to neglect and abuse. Living in rural West Virginia I was ignorant of diversity and the ongoing battles of racism that occurs in our country. I had yet to hear another language spoken directly to me other than from my eclectic french teacher in high school. I was ignorant. Basically folks, I was brand spankin new… not just to the field of teaching with my brand new shiny degree, but to the world.

Like all new teachers, I had a valiant idea of purpose and mission to change the world one child at a time. I think of that doe eyed naive girl with a pony tail and literally a head full of hopes and dreams. She’s so refreshing to think about. Untainted by reality, that girl had yet to sit across from a parent teacher conference where the parents had overdosed in the living room and the children were with their bodies for three days before being found. That girl had yet to buy shoes for the child walking to school in the snow in sandals or buy pull ups for the kindergartener who had multiple accidents daily due to the trauma his rear end had suffered at the hands of a sexual predator. That girl…. was that girl equipped to handle that 8th grade class in the depths of inner city central Florida where the Latin Kings operated in back of the school and the Crypts to the East of the playground? Good lord, no… but she did. How? I had a mentor who actually wanted me to succeed, number one. I was lucky. I had a buddy. My mentor was the 6th grade Dean of Students and she helped me craft a skillset that fit the needs of my struggling special needs 8th graders most of whom were products of their own traumatic environments of which there was no way I could ever relate. So how did I reach them? Mandy Hale said “To make a difference in someone’s life you don’t have to be brilliant, rich, beautiful, or perfect. You just have to care.” Thats how that young doe-eyed farm girl was able to reach the children of gang bangers and drug lords in inner city Orlando, Florida sixteen years ago.