I have a confession to make to all of you out there in the blogosphere. I think it either relates to my previous post about growing up in poverty or it’s a result of some of the negative life experiences I’ve had. Maybe if Ms. Payne reads this, I hope she has some insight that I lack, but here goes. I have an unhealthy, almost pathological, some may even say suicidal lack of respect for authority of all facets and flavors, but especially for supervisory authority. I don’t respect “offices;” I respect people. Period. For instance, I would crawl through Hell in kerosene overalls for my present principal, but I’ve had other supervisors earlier in my life that I wouldn’t [insert colorful, but Biblical (at least in KJV) word picture of bodily function here] on if they were on fire. As the Apostle Paul puts it, I am not one to “suffer fools gladly,” even if I don’t think myself particularly wise.
That is bad enough. Unfortunately, I am also a horrible poker player (Daddy was a great one, but that’s another story). What I mean is I have an impossible time trying to keep from showing obvious disdain toward someone I don’t much care for, especially if that someone happens to be in a position of authority over me. I don’t necessarily mind being told what to do, but I am extraordinarily sensitive to how I’m told what to do.
Here’s the essential problem as I see it. Management is made up of two types of people. On the one hand are born leaders. These women and men exude confidence, vision, and control. They will be leaders no matter what they choose to do or where they choose to do it. If a born leader like I have in mind ended up on a chain gang, he or she would be a trusty within a month and working for the warden within a year.
Born leaders have followings because people believe in them. They inspire. They calm. They care, or do a really good job of acting like they care. On the other hand are those who are not born leaders but who have risen through intelligence, hard work, or possibly Machiavellian guile to a position of authority. These leaders rely on their position for their authority. They are not naturally inspiring and they completely lack vision. All too often the only way they can answer the question, “Why?” is with “Because I said so and I’m the [assistant principal, shift supervisor, President of the United States or whatever]. These people expect respect but have little in the way of getting it or earning it.
When I was in the classroom teaching high school English, I always gave out a single sided sheet of my expectations for my students on the first day of class. They were consistently amazed by #3 “I do not expect you to have any respect for me until I have earned it from you.” That blew them away. Now I’m not saying I’m a genius or anything, but I am a realist and I’ve looked around enough to know that the days of being respected because one is an adult or teacher or anything else are long, long over . . . if they ever truly existed. Respect does not come from a tie or heels and hose any more [although I FIRMLY respect most any woman who can wear heels and hose all day on a Monday night Parent Open House in August, but I digress].
I told those juniors and seniors I taught that if I couldn’t earn their respect, they had every right in the world to diss me. That bothers some people, but it’s the way the world works. Sorry if some of you don’t think it’s fair. To you I must say what I’ve told more than one student in my time in education, “Fair is a place where you go to ride rides and eat cotton candy until you puke.” Life, as the great man said, is not fair.
Now, all that rant leads to this. I had a fire hydrant day today. That means I was the fire hydrant and not the dog. First thing, I’m hit with email being down. If you want to see the truth in human nature, don’t put people on an island with no food or water, put them in a school with no email. Then I have a teacher who has found a great lesson using the Internet only to discover that all the links showing examples of propaganda are YouTube videos and YouTube is blocked for students in our school so her students wouldn’t be able to complete the exercise. Well, they can now because I downloaded the videos and got them into a usable form for her, but that’s a post for another time.
In the midst of all this, a member of the “School Leadership Team” comes in to my office at 9:30 and says, “Has Chris [my assistant] burned the video of our presentation to DVD yet?” Okay, the day just got interesting because this is the first I’ve heard of a DVD.
In any event, a person is in the office waiting for this DVD and it’s VERY important. I won’t go into detail, but apparently it’s pretty much a life or death situation to the Leadership Team so, apparently, it’s a life or death situation for Chris and me. Anyway, I find out that this all-important DVD was plopped in Chris’ lap at 9:00 this morning. No deadline given, no instruction, no nothing. Just “we need this put on DVD.” Fast forward to 2:00 this afternoon. The DVD is still not done because it’s freaking 45 minutes long. That means it took 45 minutes to capture, 45 minutes to edit, 45 minutes to transcode, and 15 minutes to actually burn to a DVD. The SLT “didn’t think it would take that long.” Perhaps that’s because no one on the SLT bothered to ask the doofus who usually makes the DVDs (that’d be me if you aren’t keeping up) how the process worked. Oh yeah, and I had those annoying students to check books out to and help with computer questions. Imagine that. Meanwhile, Chris is working on the DVD with limited success.
2:00 an A.P. walks in and asks, for the fifth time today, “when’s the DVD going to be ready?” Chris and I told her we didn’t know; it was transcoding then. She left angry and I later apologized because she’s actually usually very kind to me and it wasn’t like it was her fault. I can’t really say it was anyone’s “fault.” Fifteen minutes after the A.P. leaves, the original SLT member returns and wants to know when the DVD will be ready.
Folks, I’m not proud of this next fact, but it is a fact: I can go from zero to full redneck in about 4 seconds. I did. In spades. We had been hounded all day about a problem we did not create that was TERTIARY to any teaching or learning going on in the building. By the time she left the library and I sat down at my desk with a splitting headache and that awful coppery adrenaline taste in my mouth I hate so much, heated words had been exchanged (which, thankfully, I later apologized for). Then, as the cherry on the top of this poop pie sundae of a day, Chris and I went up to the studio to find that the DVD would not burn to disc. The studio burner was DVD+R and all the DVDs we had were DVD-R. We are already “behind” in a game we didn’t even know we were in and the ball we were playing with just blew up.
At that point, I did all I could do. I laughed out loud. Chris thought I’d lost my mind. I transferred the video files to my 16 GB flash drive and went to my computer. About halfway through the second burning attempt, my principal herself appears. She is a born leader, remember? She’s calm. She’s smiling. She wants to know where the DVD is. I point to my computer and tell her it’ll be ready in 54 minutes. She stopped smiling for a bit. It was already 4:30. I assured her now that I was handling it, everything would go fine. She reluctantly agreed to leave after I begged her to just let me finish what we’d started. I finished the DVD in the 54 minutes. It worked perfectly and we tricked it out with a cool label and jewel case we’d made. I made a copy to keep at school and on my way home, I dropped the other DVD off where it needed to be. Problem solved. Why? Because a true leader who didn’t know squat about how to fix the problem turned the problem over to someone who did and got out of the way after a positional leader had hovered all day and couldn’t make the thing work any faster. As I explained to my principal, “I can do a whole lot of things, but I cannot change the laws of physics and I cannot alter the space time continuum.” The DVD turned out perfectly though. Isn’t all well that ends well? I dunno.
Moral of the story? I don’t know if there is one. In no uncertain terms, I certainly don’t advocate being as much of a jerk as I was to my A.P. OR the other SLT member. I guess if I have a point it’s this: don’t be a doormat. If you don’t stand up for yourself, no one else will. Remember to show respect to those who earn it. They’ll have your back later on most likely. Also, push to be in the loop in everything. That way, you don’t get blindsided. Most of all though, remember — they can kill you, but they can’t eat you. Stand your ground and do what you get paid to do, which is be awesome 🙂
Don’t forget to wash your feet, y’all.