Thursday, March 19, 2009

Maybe I should have been a counselor

As a former special education teacher, there were many, many days that I was more of a counselor than a teacher. Kids who are hurting or raging are not usually good students. And for the record, I went to school to be a teacher. Because I like to help people. However, there were no counseling classes in my course of study to become a special education teacher.

I once mentioned this to one of my former professors and he told me I should remember my role as a special education teacher. I wasn't a counselor. Do my job and let the counselors do theirs.

But wasn't my role to help children? No matter what?

If they were hungry, I don't think anyone would have argued the need for anyone (even the teacher) getting the child food. We wouldn't look at a teacher handing a child a banana or some crackers and say, "Well, look at that. This teacher is obviously confused and thinks she is a nutritionist. We should get her a hair net..."

Teachers wear a variety of hats every day. Sometimes all at the same time. All in the name of being everything for the children. And often, school becomes one giant therapy session.

After teaching for only three years (yeah, yeah, screw up, move up), I became a special education coordinator. This basically meant that I helped the special education teachers with meetings, writing IEPs, and with classroom issues. At first, I was shocked at how needy many of the teachers were. I expected the neediness to come from some of the parents. Without a doubt, it is emotional when people are sitting around a big table to discuss the issues your child is having. But time and time again, most of the tissues were for overwhelmed, frustrated, overworked, tired, and burnt-out teachers.

During my year as the special education coordinator, I applied for an assistant principal job never expecting to get it. First of all, I was still in school working on my leadership degree. And second of all, I didn't have much experience. Applying for the job was meant to be for interview practice. I just wanted to see how what to expect. Besides, I really wasn't convinced that administration was for me.

You could have bowled me over with a feather when the announcement was made during a board meeting that I was the new assistant principal. Seriously, I swallowed my gum and almost choked and died on the spot. Since then, I've never chewed gum in a board meeting (and besides, that was just tacky of me to try to sneak that contraband inside a school building).

As an assistant principal, I spent many hours counseling with the students trying to encourage good behavior. I spent many hours counseling with parents, too. Basically, trying to encourage good behavior (you know, good parenting skills - not that I am the master but it does stand to reason if Lil' Johnny gets in trouble at school, it isn't a good idea to beat him with a belt until purple welts show up). And I counseled with the teachers. Again, trying to encourage good behavior.

One part of me knew that adults could be so needy. I have been in enough relationships to teach me that. But teachers are professionals. They aren't supposed to be needy. Yet, they are human and therefore, they aren't really like the teachers in the movies that replay in my mind (and have I ever told you how much I LOVE the teacher in Little House on the Prairie - you know, when Laura and Mary were little).

This is my third year as the principal. The needs of students, parents and teachers can overwhelm me. And during these current challenging times, people are experiencing more and more stress. And the cracks are beginning to show. Sometimes, I want to run away rather than tell the teachers about one more mandate or one more change that has to be made. They are giving it all they've got. Teaching has consumed them. The more time they dedicate, the less their nose is above water. It is a cruel cycle.

Then add in the parents who can't be pleased, cancer scares, children who are beaten, lack of personal money, family issues, cancer realities, shortage of instructional money, kids moving in and out and back in, parents who can't be found, unrealistic standards for kids who can't even speak English, PTO meetings (again), children who are starving, a newspaper who has a deep seeded hate for all things education, parents who think that because they were once students they could be teachers, female issues, lack of time to go to the doctor much less exercise, and on and on and on.

But I try my best to counsel them through it all.

And have I said lately how much I LOVE wine. And beer. And my new favorite drink, the Georgia Peach (try it! - vodka, peach schnapps, OJ, and cranberry juice). If only I could stay awake long enough to drink it.

Yesterday, I found out that my school is losing four teaching positions. Thankfully, no one is losing their job. But four teachers will have to be relocated within the system.

So, I emailed the faculty to announce a brief faculty meeting scheduled for this afternoon. Already, I can feel the hysteria settling in. People don't like change. Unless they order the change. And this change hasn't been ordered.

Fortunately, I'm trying to be ready with my counseling hat. And the tissues.


Beth said...

I just reread my own post and I sound so down. I know it'll all be ok. I'm just losing sleep and I hate, hate, hate to be the bearer of bad news. These teachers are more or less like my class or my children. I just feel so darn protective of them.

Sorry for the lack of humor. I think I just needed to vent.

only a movie said...

This is a good place to vent. I feel like a counselor more than a teacher for the most part - and often a counselor for co-workers. A school is a stressful place to be. Everyone works so hard (for the most part), and this limited resource shit hits home every single day.
Good luck today. I'll be thinking of you...

Michel said...

I'm so sorry you have to go through that. It is not right. However, perhaps I could schedule 30 minutes of your time?? I'll bring my own couch....

Also, just wanted to note that I LOVE the new design. Very natty, very trendy, very chic.

Unknown said...

What an awful position you're in and I certainly don't envy you, but before you go into that meeting this afternoon, give a few moments to think of all your blogger friends that have your back and stand tall.

We all know that you're a compassionate educator/administrator and that you will do what needs to be done in the best possible manner; they're lucky to have you delivering the bad news that COULD turn into something positive in their future.

I, too, love your new look. Poppies speak to me of hope and happiness and your red one is shouting.

Kulio said...

Yes! Something so simple as a new look for the blog (very cool) can distract us from everybody garbage can't it? I think you are qualified to be everything you have been...because yes, you have a degree, but more than that, because you care. I think you might be the kind of person that if you can't help someone yourself, you will find somebody who can. This teacher position thing is beyond your control - gather them in and care for them and you're doing your job. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Hey - your blog is supposed to be the place you vent (unless you happen to work for/with your husband and he reads your blog religiously, then you're SOL).

Have you considered a job as a U.N. diplomat? Sounds like you have the right kind of experience.

Crazy Charm said...

I couldn't agree with you more. If people only knew all of the jobs performed by a teacher through the course of a day.

I like to think of mental health in the same way I think of physical health. It is absolutely acceptable if not expected for us to have yearly physicals. Why not the same for our mental health?

If you ask me, everyone needs a little therapy. Imagine the problems that could be solved.

Single Mom Guru said...

You have so much compassion which will be your guide through whatever life brings your way. It's good for the people who need it and it's good for you to share it with those who need you. What could be a more beautiful calling?

Unknown said...

I like the new look. I don't envy your position a bit. I hate being in charge. I don't wanna be the bad guy.

I have seen the special needs classes, my heart can't handle it. I bow to the teachers and other people who can take on such a task year after year. It takes a very special angel.

A principals job has got to be one of the toughest in the education system. From what I have read about you, they are lucky to have you.

Thanks for introducing me to a new drink.. vodka's my poison but I'm tired of the fuzyy, hairy navels and screwdrivers.

nikkicrumpet said...

I don't know how you all do it. It has always annoyed me that we pay athelets and movie stars outrageous sums of money to amuse us....and yet the people who educate our children and in reality shape the future of the world get paid peanuts by comparison. To me there is something so wrong about the way we think as a society. Hang in is a tough and thankless job. But as a parent...I certainly appreciated the people who were willing to do it, and do it well!

Sarah's Blogtastic Adventures said...

Oh man! There are so many things that go into just a title of a job no? Good luck with the meeting (if it hasent happened already, I am soo behind this week)

I love your new page by the way!!

Smart Mouth Broad said...

You're such a rebel chewing gum in the schoolhouse. Your new cocktail sounds great. I will have to hunt and gather the ingredients this weekend. It's OK to sound down when you are down, you know. We're all human and you can't be expected to be Pollyanna ALL the time. *wink* I hope the staff takes the meeting well. Everyone should be glad that no one is losing their job. Hope your weekend is lovely and relaxing and filled with fun and happiness. Cheers. *muah*

Pseudo said...

School is a very stressful place to work. I'm glad you like wine (and all the rest).

followthatdog said...

Anyone who thinks a teacher or a principal is not also a counselor, a social worker, a therapist, a prison guard, a muse, a friend and a lot more is clearly delusional. I don't envy your position, but I'm glad to hear there are principals out there who get it.

amy said...

oh, beth. it is so, so bad. i know. i watch the parents drive up every morning--the depression is just all over their faces. I stood in line at the doctor's office today (child with conjunctivitis--I'm sure some little kid with poopy hands touched her face on friday) listening to someone tell someone else how her money's almost all gone, she can't find work, and her husband's now trying to get a taxi cab driver job. It's bad out there--I feel really, really fortunate when I hear other people's stories. There but before the grace of God go I.

And I think we had a good 300-400 displaced teachers this year. Our school was pretty lucky--no one got displaced. But no one's hiring right now, unless someone's leaving and needs to be replaced.

I get pretty ticked when I think of all that $$ that went to AIG and the banks. What could we have done to help our children with it? Don't even get me started on celebrities and sports stars with their high salaries still expecting bigger $$ contracts. (sigh) Frickin' people, I tell ya.

Also, I always try to shove my drink of choice (the chocolate martini) down people's throats. But don't get it just anywhere. Outback Steakhouse makes a good one. And so does The Melting Pot. And I think Applebee's except sometimes they can be sketchy depending who's bartending that night.

......I actually don't drink that much. But maybe I should start. I will have a glass of wine at dinner tonight in your honor.

(PS--I had to leave the classroom because of burn out. It was either: find another education job or get out of education. I'm happy with ESOL--there's stress, just different kind) (And PSS- most of my stress tends to come from the needy teachers I work with. One day I'll blog about it, but I have to find a way to do it nicely. Maybe after summer vacation starts and I've been away from them for awhile. :-P)

bernthis said...

I could not hold my tongue long enough to stay in a job like yours past the third day. A LOT of what goes on has to do with the parents and their ridiculous behavior. I tip my hat to you. Without you and people like you (saints I believe they are called) all our kids would be up the river with no paddle