Over the years, I have come to realize that I don't like criticism.
I know, shocker.
Fortunately, I have gotten better at managing my reactions to criticism. Rather than instantly lash out, I am more likely to take a step back and process through my reaction...BEFORE running my mouth. It is not easy by any means, but it is easier than it used to be.
I had a chance to further exercise that skill a few days ago when someone anonymously posted a comment on this blog. The individual asked if I ever got nervous about driving students in my car. (I had mentioned driving Buggy to deliver his application.) They said they knew that their district took a hard line on this, and would FIRE people who drove students around. They asked if I thought that I was above this, because I was trying to help him. Especially since I was a female, and he was a male student.
Now...I'm not sure...the person could have been asking this totally innocently. It's hard to tell, because tone of voice and inflection are lost via the written word. You have to rely on word choice.
Word choice told me that this person was sitting in judgment....of me.
It took me a couple of days to process through my reactions...my emotions....and come up with some conclusions/observations:
1. I'm a pretty confident, competent, as well as decisive, individual.
2. My background in the liability-quagmire of higher education has given me a huge paranoia complex. (You'd think I invented the Worst-Case Scenario Game, I'm so good at playing it.)
3. I make decisions after giving them this incredibly careful consideration...and then move forward. At that point, I don't hem and haw - it's go-time.
4. I reallllly don't like criticism (be it real or perceived) ...because I don't like having my carefully-weighed decisions second-guessed.
5. I especially don't like criticism when it comes from anonymous sources.
6. Because my core tells me people should personally present their thoughts, criticisms, etc...my instinct is to place exactly zero value on feedback given anonymously.
7. Knowing this about myself...I have to work really hard to rein in my first reaction, and have to force myself to make a conscious effort to root out the person's message.
In my attempt to find the person's message in this case, I have to assume that the person did not intend to come across as harsh and judgmental. I can only suppose that they haven't been reading my blog for long. I'm relatively certain that longterm readers (LTRs) are aware that I don't make it a practice to drive any and all of my students around...I am far too concerned about the legal ramifications of such a decision. I would never give a student a ride if I didn't have their parent's express, personal, permission.
LTRs know that Buggy's mom is fully aware of my involvement in her son's life....and is incredibly appreciative of it. I have her full permission to drive her son(s) around...to keep them at school doing homework/working concession stands/getting college plans together, you name it....and to get in the middle of their business and line them out when necessary. She and I have teamed up numerous times against the stupidity that is the Teenage Male. She knows that I have their best interests at heart...and that I view them as if I were their aunt. An aunt who would walk through fire for them, but doesn't let them get by with squat.
One thing that I wish I weren't capable of is the ability to see both sides of an issue. This makes me CRAZY sometimes...because I would love nothing more than to be able to stay pissed off, but I can't. Because I can step into that person's shoes and see the issue through their eyeballs. dammit
To be fair...I'm guessing this person has watched the news and Oprah and Dr. Phil and has seen the stories about all of the teachers who have had inappropriate relationships with their students....and has been disgusted and horrified. Her conclusion? Probably that teachers should err on the side of caution...it's better to keep students at arm's length than to risk what "others might think".
She is probably a very black and white thinker...and sees no shades of grey where the school district's policies are concerned. And...she is probably from a more affluent community where the students have all the resources they need....be it parental involvement, transportation, money, etc.
So it's probably hard for her to see that sometimes:
...in order to get the students to perform to the best of their ability, you have to get into their bubble...and let them into your heart...so they'll let you into theirs....which makes them care what you think and how you feel about the choices they've made....and only then, when they know that you're truly committed to seeing them succeed, will they do what you want them to.
...the parents are so busy trying to keep the basic bills (rent. electricity. food.) paid that they don't have time to help with homework...or keep in constant contact with their kids' teachers....or follow-up with the kid about their essay for your class.
...you have to find the grey in the policies...especially when the family doesn't have transportation of their own. Because, if you stick to The Rule of the District (even though you have the PARENT'S PERMISSION to transport their kid) the student would not be able to get the tutoring they need...or get basic life-business taken care of (like turning in a job application)...et cetera...
...while still staying true to your core values and ethics.
Ultimately, I know that I have to be able to sleep at night...and I would not be able to do that if I took advantage of the trust placed in me by my students and their parents. (and my colleagues...and my administration...and my family) I also would not be able to sleep at night if I knew that I didn't take advantage of every opportunity I have to reach my students. Some lessons do not diminish with time.
To my Anonymous Commenter:
I think you'll agree that I've made a concerted effort to see your point of view. Yes, I had to make some assumptions along the way, and have offered probably far more explanation than anyone had a right to expect....but I hope I've offered some insight into the mind of Ms.H.
This is a mind that was raised in a series of small towns...small towns where yes, you are aware of all the bad things that could happen...and you do what you can to control/avoid them...but you ultimately realize that you can't let them paralyze you and keep you from reaching out to positively impact your world.
So, please, the next time you start to say something that might be perceived as judgmental....please take a moment to see things through that person's eyes. And give them some credit. Please.