Wednesday, January 11, 2006


Monday's PD workshop was about giving feedback to colleagues. We are supposed to be doing something called "lab site lessons," which are basically lessons planned collaboratively by a group of teachers, tested by one while the others observe, and then revised based on the observations of the lesson in action. We in the Science dept. are not currently participating because there are only two of us and we are up to our ears just trying to keep up with teaching Science to all three grades. Personally, I thought the workshop was pretty useless* - the task was confusing, the context vague, and I'm not sure we left having produced anything substantial - but that's not what this post is about.

This afternoon, my principal took me aside towards the end of after school to tell me something serious. We stepped out of the room while my students worked on practice SHSAT problems, and she broke some bad news to me. I can't write all the details here, not to protect myself but because I've learned over the years that certain topics should not be written about on the internet. Suffice to say, I am not getting something that I really want, not just for me personally but for our school.

Of course, I asked her why. Her face contorted in the way that one's face contorts when one is trying to decide whether to say something that is going to be hard for the other person to hear.

"I want to know, even if it is hard to hear," I told her.

"It will be hard to hear," she said, "but I was just thinking about how to tell you."

Basically, someone who met me only briefly told her that I came across as "condescending and insulting," and as a result, I and my school are losing out.

It kind of floored me. I think I took it well, though. I asked my principal if the person had given any details, because I didn't want to replay our brief interaction over and over again in my head trying to figure it out. Thinking back, I could think of one or two things that might not have been perfect about our interaction, though I had only the best of intentions, but I could not think of any way in which I had been condescending or insulting to this person. My principal wasn't able to give me too many concrete details, which is really frustrating.

The hardest form of feedback, both to give and to receive, is that which is negative and unexpected. The only thing that can make it harder is when it comes without any concrete ideas for improving the situation.

This whole thing makes me wonder how many people out there are nice or civil to my face, but behind my back, think I'm a condescending b*tch. I know that I can be a snob about certain things, which stems directly from the fact that I hold myself to exceptionally high standards and hold those around me to very high standards as well. I also know that at times I wear my feelings on my sleeve, usually when I am under a lot of stress or really upset about something. But in this case, I wasn't stressed out or upset, I was actually happy and excited to meet the person. So it bothers me that my own perception of my attitude could be so different from another person's perception of it.

Anyway, my principal and I discussed it briefly, until I had to get back to my class, and we'll probably talk about it more tomorrow when the AP, who was present for most of the interaction, is there. She may have impressions to share that could shed some light on the problem.

I went back to teaching, and wrapped up afterschool, and it was as I was walking the kids downstairs that it really hit me and I felt like crying. I want to be a good and like-able person, I try the best I can to balance speaking up for what I think is right with being kind and professional, and it really hurts to hear something like this. I've been feeling kind of -- I guess the word for it is vulnerable, though sad comes to mind -- lately, and this is like being kicked while you're down.

*Just in case you need evidence that I'm a snob, here it is, right at the top of this very post. I'm going to go crawl under a rock now.


Blogger Virenda said...

I just wanted to start out by saying that this is the first time I have been to your blog and was surprised (like always) at how well written it is. Your story really touched me and I'm sorry you had to deal with it, I hope everything turns out as best as it can and I know what it is like to be side swiped. On your blog you don't sound condescending or snobby :0) at least to me you don't.

11:46 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

I don't think that statement you made reflects snobbery at all. I think it reflects an honest assessment of a PD, and most teachers, if they were as articulate as you, would say the exact same thing about the PDs they sit through.

As for the comment this person made, I know it seems silly to tell you not to take it personally but...don't take it personally. I don't know what this person's problem but my guess is that they are oversensitive, read into situations too much and get offended if people are not bending over backwards to tell them what they want to hear, or show them what they want to see. It's unfortunate but many people who are in a position to offer a school something or other, often have high expectations about how they'll be treated and base their decisions not on the merits of the school but on individual personalities, which is just wrong.

My other guess is that this person was the teacher that you wanted to hire...

Hang in there and remember, there are plenty of people out there who think the opposite of you.

4:02 AM  
Blogger pseudostoops said...

The problem is, being likeable all the time is often closely linked to being a doormat. I have been consistently impressed with the obvious thought and skill that you put into your teaching, and can only think of all of the things that your school and your students *have* gotten that they may not have had you not been there. Would the school even have been considered for this thing that you didn't get, for example? Granted, I don't know you or your school, but it seems more than reasonable to conclude that you have added more than you have caused to slip away.

11:30 AM  
Blogger First Year Teacher said...

In order for everyone to like you, you would have to have very little personality at all. personally, i would rather have people really like me because i am an individual. along with this, comes people who really don't like me because i am an individual.

if you feel fine about how you interacted with this person, don't give their assessment much thought. if you don't, just reevaluate and go on. don't beat yourself up at all.

12:05 PM  
Blogger Jenny D. said...

I'm with pseudo on this one. You are wonderful at your work, and it probably makes some people nervous. Don't worry. Keep going...

1:05 PM  
Blogger Kris said...

Personalities are a funny thing - sometimes two people Just Don't Click. I feel for you though - it's very hard to deal with the fact that somehow, something you said or how you acted gave someone the impression that you are condescending (me? I wouldn't have slept all night for fretting). But remember, it was just an impression - in another time and place, that person may discover that s/he was very wrong about you. Sorry to hear you didn't get what you wanted, though.

1:31 PM  
Blogger graycie said...

Your blog certainly doesn't read as snobby or condescending. YOu come across as knowledgable, dedicated, determined, and strong.

There are people who cannot handle dealing with a woman with these qualities. Maybe that's it.

2:24 PM  
Blogger posthipchick said...

I'm with all the folks who say that some people just aren't going to like you if you stand up for what you believe in. That's ok.

Also, you just never know what this person's agenda or perception is and it could be totally skewed.

But I'm sorry that you, and your school, lost out.

6:06 PM  
Blogger NYC Educator said...

People who call you condescending and insulting, as a rule, should be condescended to and insulted.

Generally, I don't much like quoting Henry Kissinger, but he said "University politics are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so low."

Be proud that you made this petty, small-minded sycophant nervous. It speaks well of your character.

6:14 PM  
Blogger leyla said...

You are kind of in a win-win situation...two options -- you can either have a newly-affirmed devotion to the ability to speak your mind and to the willgness to be irreverent or you can stop and think and assess whether the principal or the person had a point. either option can put you in a good place, no? option one is affirming and option two can be reforming.

the option you take is probably related to the person who made the judgement. if the person was an idiot, then you are more likely to choose number one.

but isn't it somewhat strange to make students miss out because of something like this? i guess i don't know all of the facts, but i hope that they weren't being as petty as it sounds.

6:31 PM  
Anonymous Schoolgal said...

Do not hold yourself responsible because whatever it was, there had to be more variables than you to come to a decision.

Can it be that the person in question needed some excuse and made you the scapegoat?

BTW all the "nice" teachers at my school who are really nice, are the same teachers who do not stand up for themselves. (And I thought women have come a long way.)

6:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really think that there are times when you don't have a lot of control over what people think of you. For example, a few years ago I said to someone that I had seen them somewhere, but I hadn't interrupted to say hello, because they seemed to be involved and enjoying themself. The next day this person told me that s/he was upset that I had been sarcastic because s/he really did enjoy her/his work. I was most surprised, because I had meant it as a serious comment (and a complement) not as a sarcastic comment. I still find it baffling.

I'm sorry you and your school lost out because of someone's unpredictable reaction.

3:31 PM  
Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

I feel for you. Have had the same thing happen to me. Never can understand why. I was once told that I knew something someone else didn't and that made that other person "uncomfortable." Mind you, I am really pretty retiring in person and usually only give opinions if directly asked-- that's why I have a blog, so I can be a smart-ass-know-it-all all I want after repressing!

I agree with graycie and pseudo as well. Those of us who are passionate will inevitable let our passion through-- and that is going to clang against the armor of some people.

7:24 AM  
Anonymous Chris Lehmann said...

Let me echo everyone's thoughts, and also say 'hang in there.' It is NEVER fun to find out that someone has spoken poorly of you, especially when you don't see it coming. I've never gotten good at handling it, and as others have said, when you are passionate and energetic and *CARE* as you obviously do, it comes at you.

Hang in there. You are doing right by your kids -- and that's what matters.

10:14 PM  

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