Friday, March 09, 2007

More Evaluator Woes

Today, she requested that I "re-due many of the comment cards" on my report cards and turn them in to her by the end of the day [How many of you caught the misspelling that she repeated five times? Also, anyone have an idea when I'd have time during the day to "re-due" half the report card comments?] She also said that I don't use "positive words and phrases" and need to work on "building a positive relationship with our community." She did the annoying "we" thing too - like when nurses say, "How are we feeling today?" She says, "In building a positive relationship with our community we need ot use positive methods to express our concerns."

Give me a break. Every single one of these parents has my cell phone number and feels free to use it. They drop in to check on their children and check on me. They invite me to their churches, bring me food, tell me whom I should marry, and cry to me about having to put their mother in a home. I have a positive relationship with our community. None of them feel like she's approachable. She's the one missing a positive relationship with our community.

I am so angry right now that it's hard to sit still. The nerve of this woman telling me that I'm the one who's wrong here. She says I can't use the words "rude," "lazy," or "angry," because those are negative. For example, "'Lamar' has had a couple of days when he was rude to me but overall he is working very well and his attitude is improving greatly." Now, Lamar has no problem with me saying this. His dad has no problems with me saying this. In fact, the reason why Lamar is doing better with me than anyone else, I think, is because I don't talk down to him, sugar-coat things, or pretend his behavior is OK when it's not. I tell him that he's being rude. End of story. He knows exactly what I expect.

The same goes for the words "lazy" and "angry." I said that one student was a great writer when he wasn't being lazy. Those are his mother's words and his words. And the truth. I said "TJ" had a hard time when he was angry. It's the truth. I've talked to his mother, his counselor and him about it. This is part of the reason I am effective - that I don't waste words. If a child is doing something wrong, they know exactly what it is and what I expect. And I believe that is a major part of why I have developed such good relationships with so many students and parents.

I am so angry. I wasted all day trying to deal with her and write her a letter. I'll copy it below. And people wonder why so many teachers quit after a couple of years. It's not because of the kids as much as it is because of the ignorant and crazy-making administrators.

I won't "re-due" the report cards. I won't even redo them. There are a very few comments that made sense - I'll change those. As for the others, I'll explain to her exactly why I refuse to change them. She'll probably demand that I change them, and I'll refuse. Report cards may seem like a silly thing to take a stand on, but I've got to do it somewhere and I'm about DONE with this woman.

Here's the letter:

March 9, 2007

Thank you for the quick feedback on the report cards. I found some of your comments to be very helpful but I cannot agree with all of them. Please keep in mind that I know all of the students and their parents very well; in fact I have known some of these parents for years. I have definitely built a positive relationship with these parents – many of them knew me beforehand and requested that their student be in my class. While there is always more to learn and I have not come as far as possible with report card comments, I simply cannot agree with all of the comments. In fact, with some of them (the ones you just crossed out and didn’t say why they need to be completely redone), I cannot figure out what could possibly be offensive or hurt the positive relationships that I do, in fact, have with the parents of these children. I have showed these particular comments to colleagues and they also cannot see anything past maybe one or two words that might be changed.

For example:

  • Lamar has been rude a few times. He has no problem admitting it, his dad welcomes the feedback, we’ve worked through it all together, and I do not think it is offensive or unprofessional to mention that he’s been working on this.
  • Tatania has had problems taking out her frustrations out on other children. That is neither offensive nor unprofessional – it is something that her mother needs to know and that Tatania is working on.
  • The same idea with Ann – she does, in fact, try to make writing assignments short and she does not generally read directions but waits for others to explain things to her. If you have a specific way to reword this while keeping the idea, I'm welcome to suggestions. But I cannot take this out, as it is important.
  • I do not understand why I cannot say that TJ likes math best – it is his favorite subject, he gets very excited by it. That can’t possibly hurt the positive relationship I have with his mother! Also, he does have problems when he is angry. He knows this, his mother knows this - I've even talked to his counselor about this. No one is upset with me for using that word.
  • I see nothing wrong with the comments about Amani. Amani does get upset when she doesn’t do something perfectly and she needs to take time to calm down. She doesn’t like to read directions and her mother needs to be aware of that. I said positive things about her as well, as she is a wonderful child, and gave specific recommendations. Amani's mother has thanked me repeatedly for being honest with her and asked me to continue with it. She has said that Amani has never shown as much growth as this year because I am completely honest with her (the mother) and don’t put up with any of Amani’s ways of manipulating her past teachers. She wants this kind of feedback. And it is not without positive remarks – there are many.
  • I tried to copy Deedee's report card last time you told me to because of the smudges and there were no blank third-grade cards then. Now if I redo it, it will not have her mother’s previous signature and date of conference. Do you still want me to do it?
  • I’m not sure when all of the smudges on the report cards happened, but the folder I handed you in the CIC on Wednesday ended up on the floor somehow afterward – one of the other teachers gave it back to me and I put it back on the table where you had been sitting. I'm not sure how long it was on the floor or if any teachers stepped on it.

Please realize that nothing on these report card comments is new to the parents. They get good phone calls as well as phone calls when there is a problem. They are intimately aware of all of the issues that I have raised and have not been offended by any of them. Again, I always have room to improve, and I will change some of the comments. However, I cannot compromise honesty with the parents, especially as I have received extensive positive feedback about these particular kinds of comments from the parents (especially Lamar's father and Amani's mother) when they thank me for the growth their children are making.


There are so many more important things for her to waste my time on than this.


justducky said...

When my child was diagnosed with ADHD, I thought to allow poor work, due ti his problems with concentration.

The evaluating Psychiatrist told me "NO! keep the bar HIGH, he will work towards your expectations!"

A kid with ADHD called his teacher an idiot and the parent told her, "I appologize. He will face consequences at home for his rudeness, feel free to deal with him as you see fit."

Then we have this:
A teenager with severe ADHD and learning disabilities balked when the lifeguard said to leave the pool; he'd pushed 3 people in. "But I have ADHD and I can't help it!" he shouted to the lifeguard (who has ADHD as well, but has been raised to take responsibility for his acions).

An emotionally disturbed kid pushes other students and is patiently reminded of the rules, due to his disability. He keeps pushing and is given a 5 minute time out after several gentle warnings. He runs away screaming and throws things towards the other children. The other students must be removed for their safety. His parents blame the teacher. He has no consequences at home.

Am I teaching any academics? I thought that was my job. Instead I am dealing with behavior.

I'm lucky, our supportive principal jumps in to help when needed.

It takes my whole weedend to debrief, relax and psych up for Monday.

I think of quitting.

Oh! I still love the children. I just feel so sad that no one is holding the bar high for them.

Jessica said...

OK, this is my feedback, keeping in mind I'm in the business world, not the school system world. I recognize they are different but you'll have to "translate" and see if this can be helpful to you somehow.

First, let me just agree that this woman is a terrible manager. The very first thing you learn in managing people is that you *ask* them questions about their work, not tell them. The questions might be very loaded, such as "is there some reason why you use language like 'rude' in your evaluation?" but you always ask the question.

You do this because as a manager you might learn something surprising, because it's always less demoralizing to be told you've done something wrong if you're at least given a chance to explain your reasoning, and because, if the person is making a mistake, it "sticks better" if they figure this out themselves during the course of further questioning by the manager exploring the issue. (You'd think this would be obvious in an educational setting...!)


If this were in my workplace (someone who manages me, who is so atrocious that they work against the goal), I would first do as you've done repeatedly and explain why what they suggest will not work. If they say, "do it anyway," I would immediately forward all conversation directly to their boss or equivalent. (An alternative that might me more school system-y might be to consult with a union legal rep, or some other sort of teacher advocate or mentor resource?)

You should comment that you would like to call a meeting with the three of you because community relations is such a key component of success and something you've worked very hard to successfully cultivate, and as you're going on a sabbatical next year you're very concerned about the community relationship with the school.

You then go into the meeting with the ostensibly noble purpose of helping the manager learn how to do their job. (You are a teacher, I believe you can do this... even when you're angry!)

You go into the meeting with your manager and her manager, and talk directly to your manager (not theirs!) and go through their behaviors, and why you believe it won't work out they way they intend, and what you believe will happen instead, and WHY you believe that. It's important that you talk to the manager with respect, because it's important that the manager's manager see you as someone trying to get the job done.

That will put the manager's manager in the role of mediator rather than decision-maker, a much better idea because they probably have LESS information than either of you.

One of several things typically comes of this, assuming you can get into see the person in the first place:
- You are offered/requested something to do over your sabbatical that's helpful to the system overall.
- You are reprimanded for escalating the situation, in which case there's something seriously rotten in Denmark and you need to get out of the system in order to effect any change anyway.
- Your manager learns something and keeps their job; they either respect your knowledge or respect that you'll go over their head when they don't know what they're doing, so they take more care.
- Your manager is replaced.
- The same thing happens again, and you have to do it again.

In your case, particularly because you're already planning on going on sabbatical, I'd think it would be the first option.

Keep in mind that I'm almost always at the Director level (one up from Manager but below VP), so my point of view is usually the manager's manager one. (Frankly, I don't mind mediating, but I if it's he said / she said, I get irritable, because of course how would I know?)

One of the things that inevitably falls out of mediation, though, is who really knows what's going on. This is why I think that if the person you bump this up to has any sense they'll be all about hearing what you have to say.

You may need to schedule an hour of yoga before the meeting though... :)

Jessica said...

Oops one more thing. I almost would just write the letter as, "The parents of this community and I have a long standing relationship of trust. One reason they respect me is that I speak bluntly about their children in the context of caring deeply about them. This is what they also do, so it's an effective form of communication. I understand that in general using negative labels can hurt a child, so I don't do that. I do not say Timmy is a lazy boy, I say that when Timmy is lazy he doesn't do as well. Since I am labeling the behavior and not the child, your comments seem to me to "sugarcoat" the issues involved. "Sugarcoating" is not well-respected in this community, and so while I appreciate the effort and time you spent in pointing out what you felt to be errors, I believe I have optimally worded my comments so that the children have the best chance of succeeding in the future.