Monday, August 22, 2011

Looking for context and perspective, looking for some kind of distraction

Today I met half of the parents in my class. All the meetings went well except for one, with J2's parents, which was the source of a little bit of drama in my room.

I sat across from the parents and Assistant T sat to my right. During this orientation conference, J2's parents looked only at T. It was not a natural thing to do; the mother was facing and directly across from me, and had to almost turn 90 degrees in her chair to speak to T. I would ask a question, and she would turn and direct her answer to T. I'd ask another, and she'd do it again.

Now it ought to be pretty fucking clear that I am the teacher in the room. Assistant T is an assistant. Her name is not on the class list, her name is not on the name tags; I send out all emails to parents, I ask the orientation interview questions, I write down the answers, etc. So this mother's bizarre turning to address T, who was not asking questions (but was responding with affirmation interjections and a few comments), was baffling to me. I think the bewilderment and frustration showed on my face --- I was doing everything but point to myself, trying to non-verbally get the parents to look at me, sending psychic waves: You should be talking to me, lady! They did not work for some reason.

Okay, so that's not really so bad, although it was bothersome to me. The parents do need to be aware that I'm the one to refer to about everything, good and bad, in that room, and should use that time to get to know me, but whatever. One conference where they don't bond with me isn't going to hurt, and they'll get the idea soon enough. The real drama came afterwards.

The instant they left, I just looked at Assistant T, and she knew immediately what was in my mind, and noted that it was a strange and awkward situation, but, she was quick to say, not her fault that she was being spoken to.

"That is true," I said, "but what would have helped was if once you saw that was happening, you had stopped responding to her at all and just looked at me."

Well, that rubbed T the wrong way, and she said I loved power and would not be a good co-teacher.

This was, unfortunately, the wrong response. I am, after all, her supervisor, a fact she doesn't seem to want to admit. (Literally --- this has come up before, but only in conversation, not in this problem context.) Here, we may have a problem.

I'm not the supervisor type, and her unwillingness to hear criticism is partly my fault in that I talk irreverently and jokingly most of the time, so that when I do try to correct or suggest something seriously to T, she dismisses me as if I were talking in my usual manner. I'm also extremely lenient in most ways; some teachers don't have assistants sit in on conferences at all. I also give T a very long leash in interacting with the kids, because she's good at it. So I have not really delineated the authority lines.

And this doesn't have anything to do with a desire for power. It's just a fact that assessment, curriculum, behavior issues, and everything that can possibly happen to these children is my responsibility.

So I spoke to the Vice Head, who was appalled at T's reaction to me and said that in fact she should have known enough to actually leave the room if she was the source of some distraction from what that meeting ought to be about. And that perhaps she should not sit in on conferences tomorrow. And she told me to have a sit down with T and make some things clear.

So now I have to put on a supervisor hat and talk to T seriously, which I can do, but she's clearly highly sensitive about being given redirection in the workplace, and I don't want to push her into the other extreme of dropping all initiative. But of course I have to do it, because we have to make sure we're all on the same page. Otherwise, the Vice Head says, "the problem gets worse and then she'll have to go, and we don't want that."

Authority makes my stomach hurt.

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