Wednesday, February 28, 2007

bully

It was a long day. Started early (6:15) with a call from the school, could I come in? And by the way, it's field trip day... yes, sure, I'll be there.

School was fine, the field trip was fine, everything OK. This particular class I have subbed for before, so I knew the kids' names, which is very helpful on a field trip.

The last time that I subbed for this class, there was the usual "oh, there's a sub, let's see what we can get away with" behavior, which I worked hard to squelch with only moderate success. Part of the squelching efforts included telling one kid not to abuse classroom privileges by making distracting noises.

That reprimand started what has become for me a situation, because the kid's parent also works at the school. The next time the parent saw me, I heard about it: You yelled at my kid. I wasn't sure whether or not it was a joke, and I didn't realize that this person was the kid's parent. I didn't even remember having issued the reprimand until the details were laid out. Apparently -- again, I'm still not sure whether or not the parent was just kidding with me -- I made the kid cry. I certainly didn't see any tears at the time, that's for sure; they would have been a disproportionate response.

Anyway, since then, which is 5 weeks ago to the day, whenever I see this parent I inevitably hear things like, So, did you make any kids cry today?, or comments to other staff members like, She's really mean, you know. She yelled at my kid and made him cry.

To which I can only shrug my shoulders and respond, I didn't yell at the kid.

Up till today, this has irritated me but not to the point where it followed me home, so to speak. Today's encounter was different, because I was once again subbing the kid's class. Today I got something like this: You better be nice to my kid or I'll beat you up. That's not an exact quote, but it gives the gist.

Understand this: I'm not a small woman, even just wearing tennis shoes I'm fully 5'8", but on the thin side. This parent is at least 3 inches taller than me and could definitely beat me up. My response to the comment was(resorting to humor because really, what choice did I have?): Yeah, you probably could. I have to put on heels to even look you in the eye.

That happened mid-afternoon, and then I was busy, and took DD to try out for the swim team (she endured the entire practice!), came home, had a quick supper, and headed up to Scottsdale for the thyca support group meeting, which was actually a "stuff folders in preparation for Saturday's workshop meeting." And then home again.

And during those long drives to and from Scottsdale, I realized that I was being bullied. Even if it's unintentional, I still have to put a stop to it.

I talked this over with DH and he agrees. So my strategy is to say nothing unless I hear another comment, and then my reply will be: You know, that's getting old. I wish you'd drop it. And then if it's not dropped, I can talk to someone in the administration about it.

I'm not trying to get anyone in trouble here, but I'm tired of being bad-mouthed this way, even if "it's just a joke!" (Which is what I'm sure the parent would say.) I am an inexperienced teacher and I do make mistakes, but I don't need this kind of second-guessing. Worst of all, I can't tell whether or not the parent really is upset with me; when the subject was first broached, I answered the questions about what happened sincerely and apologized if the kid got overly upset by being told to hush. But seriously, am I suppose to let a kid do whatever for fear of a parent's nasty reprisals?

Being a substitute is hard enough, and for the most part I'm flying by the seat of my pants. I'm happy to listen to criticism if it is paired with advice on how I could've handled that particular situation better. I'm not happy, and never will be happy, with being threatened with a beat-down and being tagged as mean, even if those are supposedly some kind of joke.

Am I overly sensitive? Do I even have a sense of humor about my own faults? No to the first, yes -- hell, yes -- to the second. But this stopped being "just a joke" at least a week ago. Now it's just old, and it's got to stop.

3 comments:

nina said...

How about this: you say to her (is it a her?)-- this issue is clearly bothering you. Can we sit down and talk about it? I am willing to listen to your concerns, but then I would also like you to listen to mine.
...At which point you say that you are a sub, you have discipline problems, sometimes kids do things unintentionally, but you still have to be concerned about maintaining order in the class, it's hard to know what's at the bottom of a kid's behavior when you are just stepping in and yet you really have to react, etc etc and then finish it by saying you certainly understand that, from her point of view, her kid's feelings matter and you care about them too bla bla bla.

To me, it sounds like she wants her feelings and those of her son's acknowledged. SO acknowledge them without agreeing with them. That's sort of my favorite parenting approach -- and it sounds like she is behaving very childishly at the moment...

Pogo said...

Tough call. Sure, you have to respond. What to do, though?

Your idea is already a good one.

But I favor instead calling out someone who makes a veiled threat. When someone says something they think they can excuse with "it's only a joke" (and you know -or at least worry- that they're not kidding), it can be helpful to respond the next time they say anything with,
What do you mean?, as if you really don't understand what they're getting at. And then say, "I still don't understand." until they either state something quite explicit (which would be really really stupid of them) or they back off, saying in effect "never mind" (and this is the more likely tack they'll choose, because most people who do this passive aggressive stuff are cowards).

If they keep on, do NOT go to the administration alone. Instead, invite them to go to the administration office WITH YOU RIGHT NOW to sort this out. They'll refuse. Then go to the admin office and explain, including the refused invitation.

Play dumb and make them speak plainly.

Sheik Yerbootie said...

The funny thing is it can happen in reverse. Parents become involved in their children's schools to "keep an eye" if you will and sometimes it can become a problem for teachers. In this case, I can tell you exactly what is going on

Handle it the same way anybody else would. Address it openly and fairly by simply saying when I'm his teacher I expect him to behave according to my instructions and the student handbook. If that's not acceptable to you, let's go talk to administration.

Works every time.