Saturday, April 6, 2019

We Don't Do That Here

From a friend:

As a teacher in NYC's DoE, you meet all types. The successful teachers (of which I do not claim to be) learn how to deal with all of these different types of people and personalities. The really successful ones learn how to deal with them while smiling and being happy. My wife calls this 'being a duck' and just letting things roll off your back while going on your own way.

Speaking for my own skill set, I can be a duck where students are concerned. Just this week, I was threatened, had my phone charger stolen (my own fault. I left it out in the open around teenagers) and had to contend with a litany of criticism around the way I dress (literally 15 minutes from an articulate student about how jeans and shoes don't go together about how I need to at least pretend I know how to dress (I have a reputation of being a good dresser, so that one hurt my heart). Such is the case when you teach teenagers, so I have grown quit good at letting it all just roll off my back.

You know, like a duck.

If I am famous for anything in my building, it is for having no such patience with the adults. As understanding and flexible as I am with children, I am rigid and impatient with my colleagues. The way I see it, they are paid good money to do what they do. They have somehow landed in a school that many teachers would consider a dream assignment and they should not get to act like a kid every chance they get. So if an adult launches into a dialogue about someone's manner of dress (something the adults in my building have done to people in the past), they are usually greeted by me in a very different and hostile way.

I had an interesting encounter with a colleague this past week. He had gotten into an argument with another colleague about how and where to decorate a certain part of a public space -space that isn't part of any classroom. Apparently, both teachers wanted to use the same space and they argued over it. The argument was loud and it was almost raucous and, unfortunately,  it was public. It was just the type of dispute that we've all seen in schools before; it had no place in a professional setting, much less at a school, but it is something that happens.

After all, it's Spring and most of us who hear about these disputes just shrug it off and try to move on. This is the time where teachers grow tired of pretending to be nice to one another and it's the time when they quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) bicker over ridiculous things. That's sometimes how things go in a school (if you're experiencing anything like this in your school, it doesn't end anytime soon. It all ends with June nonsense. Feel free to read up on that here. My best advice to you is to just buckle up and hope summer comes quick. Invest in a few bottles of really Gin).

Anyway, five minutes after the disruption, the teacher burst into my office to break to me the big news: That he had just been in a big argument. I was unbearably busy at the time but that didn't seem to matter to my colleague (it never matters when you're one of the few people in a school with an office. It's just how it goes).

But this seemed different from the start. My colleague had, in tow, the student helper of the teacher he had been arguing with. He told the student not to worry about heading over to math class, that the student could just sit here with us for the period ('uh-oh' was all I remember thinking). He then proceeded to launch in to a blow by blow description of the argument he had just engaged in with the colleague. This happened in front of the student, with me as the intended audience of discussion.

Being an experienced teacher, I did what all cool headed, responsible, professional educators do; I stepped out of the room. (Ok, that's a lie. Me being a guy, I did what all guys do when they're confronted with craziness; I ran away. Sometimes running away is the best move)

I returned five minutes later expecting to discover an empty office and the mound of work I had to do that was waiting for me.

And yet, even those expectations were quickly dashed.

I instead found my colleague, sitting at my desk engaging this same student in details about how long the student had been helping this other teacher and how many hours the student had spent helping this teacher and how perfectly unperfect this other teacher was. I apparently, hadn't been the intended audience of the previous discussion after all. The student was the intended audience.

My colleague interrupted even my entrance into my own office to reengage me (I mean whatever I was about to do wasn't as important as this drama, right? So my colleague relived me of my papers and my  coffee cup and insisted I listen). He then asked the student to recite for me details about how the teacher was not a perfect steward of a student's good will. I stood there listening to stories from the student about how promises of extra credit and snacks for being a student helper were never kept. I listened to the number and amount of markers and colored pencils the student had used over the course of two years of being a student helper (the student remembered every detail. Who would have though you used 6 yellow colored pencils to decorate trim on a word wall? That's just not something you think about very often).

My colleague then completed his path to the dark, muddy water of character assassination: "Well, don't help that teacher any more. That's all I can say".

If I need to explain to you how destructive this act is and how dangerous it is for a school community, then you can stop reading now. Chances are you'll never understand the need to work together and be positive.

But I do understand it. And, when confronted with this ugliness, I would like you to know that I did what any responsible educator would do: I told him "Look man We don't do that here."

OK that's a lie. I did what any normal guy would do: I -literally- climbed my desk, took back my coffee and left my own office for the rest of the period. This teacher has been a drag on my time for months now and I accomplish less with this teacher around than I did before he was around so what's one more period, right? Run Forest Run. That's what I did! ✌

But at some point, sometime soon,  I have to have a conversation with this colleague about community; about how we build communities within schools and about how we don't. My immediate concern is that this teacher will respond poorly to this discussion. My real concern is that this person will find my student helpers and spend time with my students helpers helping them to articulate specific ways about how I am not perfect.

But a line has to be drawn somewhere and involving students in your own agendas and disputes should fall way (way) past that line. Character assassination of a colleague using children should fall so far past that line I shouldn't need to vent about it over a blog. Because, we're teachers and we are modeling behavior whether we like it or not. And we don't use children to cut our colleagues down like that. We don't do that here in schools.

We just don't do that here.


  1. It's like I'm reading about my own school. Haha. Hang in there, Mr. Nuts. Spring Break is around the corner.

  2. I cannot really blame your colleague. I don't know why you do.

  3. Have you ever thought about not being a dick? He probably stayed there hoping to grab your attention. How do you just leave a colleague like that?