Friday, February 23, 2007

The "Piñata" Problem

There was an icy fear in the depths of my chest when my assistant principal asked recently to talk with me alone. I may be young, but I’ve been in the working world long enough to know when I’m in trouble. Wracking my brain I tried to come up with all the sins I may have transgressed over the last month…Did I fill out all my phone logs? Did I miss an IEP hand-in date?

“Ms. C, did you tell a student that your butt was a piñata?” The assistant principal asked me once we were seated and alone in my classroom.

“I did say that, assistant principal. But only after the student commented to the lunchroom that I had a big ass,” I said, baffled by why I was having a private meeting regarding lunchroom banter.

“That’s sexual harassment, Ms. C. I understand the student made inappropriate comments towards you, but you should have addressed the comment only by asking the student not to talk to a teacher that way,” said the AP, presumably as she watched my eyebrows crawl up onto my forehead. Would it help if I said that I was using a metaphor?

“It was a playful remark, AP, I didn’t think it was overtly sexual. I felt I could either give a flat ‘don’t do that’ response, or I could let the student know his comment didn’t ruffle my feathers. I honestly didn’t see the harm.” I said, trying to remain calm and not shout about the absurdity.

“If the comment was reported you wouldn’t be allowed to teach until the case was heard out. You might have thought nothing of the comment, Ms. C, but these kids are lunatics, and you’re a pretty girl; they could get the wrong idea.” Pretty girl? Did the assistant principal actually think I was flirting with students?

I salvaged the situation as best as I could, swearing up and down that I would never say anything untoward to students again, but inside I was seething. How could something so benign turn into a big ugly mess? And this happens in a school where a student can curse me out in front of the same AP, and nothing would happen. It’s over now, and maybe it was an inappropriate comment, but it makes me very uncomfortable about teaching. I’ll be watching my words like verbal eggshells.

It seems as though teachers are between a rock and hard place when handling administration and savvy students.

9 Comments:

Anonymous Laura said...

AMEN!

I think your comment was the only thing that would have defused that situation, and I, for one, would not have been able to explain as clearly as you did why it was.

This reminds me of when I had to go have a "talk" with the AP for using "half-assed" to describe their efforts and teaching my kids the German word for sh** as a reward when they DID put forth effort on their All Quiet on the Western Front quizzes. Said the AP, "Would you want someone teaching your kids those words in other languages?"

I thought, lady, my kids won't have anything to learn they didn't already get at home.

Friday, February 23, 2007 2:06:00 PM  
Anonymous School Teacher said...

Ohhhh! I am seething with (and for you) at this very moment. It reminds me so much of the experiences that I have had with my school's director of education (aka the DoE). Every time I see the woman coming, I wonder, what now or say to myself (hoping that God will hear), Please go away!

I've had students tell me what I could and couldn't do under the law or what they could say to administrators to try to get me fired.

The DoE covertly criticized me, in a staff meeting, when I told the girl who threatened to stab me that I would defend myself and could do the same. Sometimes, you have to respond in a manner that let's these kids, who are always looking for ways to intimidate or ruffle feathers, that let's them know that you aren't a wuss.

You're right. We really are stuck. I'm under the impression that most administrators are too out of touch and don't care and I don't think others outside of Education get it or care either.

Monday, February 26, 2007 1:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Schoolgal said...

As a former CC, I can tell you that the rules for verbal abuse are much the same. In fact using a loud voice can get you written up and the kids know that. Sexual abuse with get you a 90-day unpaid suspension while the investigation takes place. Your AP was CYA in this case because once an incident is reported to them, it's supposed to be called in.

Many teachers have been on the news, handcuffed and all, and later found to be innocent because these kids somehow know how the system works. Teachers in my school have been reported for something as innocent as putting their hands on a student's shoulder when talking to them about their behavior. So don't do that either!

Gotta love the DoE because your guilty until proven innocent, and if your admins hate you, you will be found guilty because they run the investigation.

Monday, February 26, 2007 1:44:00 PM  
Blogger Ron said...

I believe their reaction to you was bizarre and shows just how hard it is to be a teacher.

One question though: Had you ever heard the "pinata" line before or was it something you made up on the spot? It is kind of humorous - though I am sorry you got into so much hot water because of it.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007 5:11:00 PM  
Blogger Ms. C said...

Ron-

The pinata comment was all mine. If teaching teenagers has taught me anything...it's to be quick with a snappy remark.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007 6:57:00 PM  
Blogger Ron said...

I am very impressed...that was quite the snappy comeback - apparenty, we are not allowed to be as witty as we want no matter what the children say to us.

That was a very offensive comment that the students said to you and really has no place in an educational environment - I think you handled it as well as possible.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007 7:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Schoolgal said...

Read Norm's Ednotes about a teacher he knows that had 5 cops waiting for her and escorted her out of the school in handcuffs.

She was set up by the principal and a parent. And even though the cops finally believed her, she is now in a rubber room with a 90-day unpaid suspension.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007 7:22:00 PM  
Blogger 17 more years said...

Amen schoolgal- I was just about to send the URL to Norm's story, but you beat me to it.

Bottom line- there's a lot of things I'd like to say to the kids at times- many of them are inappropriate on a daily basis, and it gets tiresome and aggravating listening to them- but quite frankly, I won't risk my career over something a kid says. I have learned that the best reaction to inappropriate comments is no reaction at all. If a comment is particularly offensive, I write it up and forward my anecdotals to the dean.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007 4:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Never attend a meeting with an AP or principal without representation. Always take another teacher (union member) with you as a witness. Had this incident gone to the next step, as was threatened, you would have been on leave without pay while things were sorted out.

Your comment to the student was cute and clever, but it's inappropriate to banter with the students in that way. Professional distance can be maintained without sacrificing warmth, humor, or approachability. You need to find that balance.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007 12:56:00 PM  

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