Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Tale of Two Ripped Papers

"If we’re managing good people who are clearly eating themselves up over an error, our job is to help them through it.”
-Jack Welch as quoted in Mindset by Carol Dweck, Kindle edition location 2133 of 4714

Ripped Paper #1
One afternoon, Joan, a teacher in the building, came to tell me that her colleague, Anne, was crying and feared an angry phone call from a parent. Joan could/would not tell me what was going on, but wanted me to go to Anne. Of course, I went right away. Anne, a fantastic, young teacher, had gotten frustrated with a very challenging student and tore up his unattempted homework page. Between tears, she told me that she was embarrassed and humiliated. She was angry at herself for losing control and letting the student get under skin. Once she calmed down, I let her know how much I thought of her as a teacher and a person. I let her know that I would continue to support her as she figured out how to repair the relationship with the student and the parent. We decided together that Anne would call the parent that day and apologize. The next day, Anne would talk with the student. Anne would solve the problem, with contrition, and make things right. In other words, a good person, eating herself up over an error and then making reparation.

Ripped Paper #2
Months later, I got a phone call from a parent in Sally's class expressing anger that Sally had ripped her child's paper and thrown it in the recycling bin. The parent said that she was too angry to speak with Sally today and wanted to know what was I going to do. I promised only to look into the situation and get back to her.

Sally, an experienced teacher, was unrepentant. She told me that when she received homework papers with no name on them, she put them on the table and asked the students to claim them. In this case, she said that she knew whose paper it was and needed to teach him a lesson about forgetting his name. Sally mentioned that she had been telling thee kids to put their name on their papers all year; they should know by now. She must have seen the look on my face or known deep down that she'd done wrong because Sally then asked me if she wasn't supposed to tear up papers any more. She told me that many of the veteran teachers in the building have torn up papers in the past.

It was tough to keep my cool. I was shocked that I had to explain that humiliating students, while possibly effective in teaching students to comply with rules, was never acceptable. I made little progress with Sally.

The bottom line is that teachers are people who do stupid human things all time. What separates that adequate from the great is attitude. Sally's attitude was crap while Anne's was right on target.

Jack Welch would have me support Anne and help her get past this episode. I wonder what Jack Welch would say my job was in relation to Sally.

Note: While both ripped papers are real, all names and many details have been changed.

Image credit: Flickr user pineapple9995 CC