I heard a principal talk once about the repeat offenders she would find in her office. As the school year wore on, the referral slips came not only with increasing frequency, but included ever more petty offenses. The student might have first been sent to the office earlier in the year after the teacher had exhausted all options: called parents, had meetings with student and family, sent to counselor, place in time out, etc. The student was insubordinate and defiant. By the end of the year, this was usually still true, only the referrals had things written on them like "didn't bring a pencil to class." They were things the teacher would never have turned out a student for earlier in the year; but by this point, the teacher was looking for any reason to not have the student present. (If you've taught, you can likely think of at least one student like this.)
The principal's reflection on all of this was interesting. She said that teachers didn't really want her to punish these students (although they may have thought they did). What they wanted was for her to fix the kids. And the simple fact was, she couldn't. As easy as kids are to break, they are certainly not easy to repair. I think some of our frustration as educators is that on some level, we know this---and yet the feds want us to fix every kid and send them on their merry way to college. (If you missed TeachMoore's post about this a couple of weeks ago, I highly recommend reading her call to Get Real about Parent Accountability.)
All of this makes me think about how we interact as adults. Sure enough, as I consider the ways some teachers complain about peers or parents...or how one secretary will rage on to her boss about having to work with another...or any of the myriad of times I asked my principal to "do something," I wonder what we expect to happen. I'm not sure what I expected. I think I just wanted him or her to make any interpersonal issues just disappear. I think I assumed that the other person was the one who needed to be set right. You know, that probably wasn't so smart on my part.
I have found myself thinking about this a lot recently. I'm not asked to fix kids. I rarely deal with irate parents. I am occasionally called upon to navigate interpersonal waters. Diplomacy? Frequently. (My favourite moment from last week was telling someone that their work had been a great model for me. I didn't tell them that it was a great model of what not to do.) But most of the requests I get are for me to fix the system. I wish I could. I wish I could tell teachers that I will replace red tape with duct tape...but I can't. (At least some supes and school boards in the state aren't being shy in saying that the RttT Emperor has no clothes and are not going to participate in a Race to the Trough.) Sometimes, I really can make something happen to solve a particular problem. Most of the time, I can only listen and see if there is some sort of temporary solution to be had.
Many years ago when I got divorced, the court papers contained a statement that the marriage was "irretrievably broken." I wonder if the same term might apply to certain people or situations. But more importantly, I wonder what should happen next when it does.