In the spirit of B2S, I want to give my fellow school psychologists a few tips for how to work with difficult adults in the school building. I think that when we first go into this field, we have a vision of working with kids all day long, in a cozy office, providing shelter from the storm of their troubles. And then, it turns out we don’t have an office, and if we do, it may be either Arctic tundra conditions or Bikram school psychology in there. Not cozy. Also, it turns out a lot of the work we do in school is consulting with the adults who interact with our students.
At any given school site, there is typically one teacher or support staff member that I find challenging to work with. Not everyone can be a teacher rockstar like my Internet BFF, Mrs. Mimi and the amazing Angela WatsonFormallyPowell. I really try not to be Negative Nancy on my blog, but there are a few archetypes of challenging adults that I’ve run across in the schools that make me wish I were in charge of hiring and firing with a regal flick of my wrist.
Remove her from my sight! *flick flick*
This one does not please me. Get rid of him. *dismissive wave*
This one amuses me. She can stay.
It’s weird though, as no one has granted me this power in the schools yet. So instead, I give you tips on how to manage staff members who give you, as I call it, a staff infection. One staff infection archetype is the no-boundaries staff member. They hear you are a psychologist, their eyes light up, and they talk with you as if you are their personal psychologist.
I remember in my first year on the job, there was this one parent liasion at one of my elementary schools who had always given me the heebyjeebies but I couldn’t put my finger on why. His name was Mister W. Fuzzy. Okay, obviously not, but I will call him that to protect his awfulness disguised as warm fuzziness. This guy dressed in African dashikis with a lot of beaded products adorning himself. Mind you, he was not African American, let alone African. But since we are all technically from Africa, and perhaps he was trying to connect with the students’ roots, I’ll let that go. He referred to everyone as his brother or sister, which was a little cringe-worthy, to tell you the truth. He spoke with a soft voice and nodded with affirmations, in a Stuart Smalley kind of way. He always complimented every kid that came in his office in the third person: “Mister W. Fuzzy knows you didn’t mean to hit your friend. Let’s walk on the Peace Path together and solve your problems. Now both of you give Mr. W. Fuzzy a squeeze.” Sounds like a decent guy, right? Maybe a bit over the top for my taste, but different strokes for different folks, I guess. Oh, but then…
One day, I came in our support staff room after a meeting with a family and he asked how it went:
MWF: Hello Sista B! [cringe] How was Marcus’s meeting?
Me: It went well, we talked a lot about strategies for limiting his violent video game time since he does that all afternoon instead of homework.
MWF: Well, video games can be addictive, and can breed an aggressive mindset. You become what you watch.
Me: *sipping coffee* Mmm hmm. Agreed.
MWF: Kind of like porn.
Me: *spitting out coffee*
MWF: I mean, I watch a lot of porn, and when I do, I can’t help but then transfer what I see in the porn onto my feelings about women…
Me: *looking around desperately for an escape route thinking: “Someone please make this stop. Ah! There’s a phone. Maybe I can pick it up á la Matrix and find me an exit!*
MWF: …I mean, after watching hours and hours and hours of porn, then I suddenly start looking at every young woman in real life and start thinking they’re a ho.
Me: Um. I have to…um…go away now. *backing sloooooowly away*
Can you believe that guy? From then on out, every time he looked at me, I couldn’t help but think he was turning me into a ho in his mind. Egads! I mean, who am I to judge someone’s private life, but I am here to judge sharing that private life with a young woman in an ELEMENTARY SCHOOL. Boundaries, people.
When I first started out, I didn’t know how to handle the no-boundaries staff member. I guess people hear you are a psychologist and think you want to hear all their intimate thoughts.* Or, for example, they ask you to make behavior plans for their cats. In one way, it’s a sign that they trust you, which I guess is good. For the run-of-the-mill over-sharers, I tend to handle it with a dash of humor.** I say things like, “Whoa, I’m a psychologist, not your psychologist” or “Sorry, my expertise ends at age 18, can’t help you!” However, if they are disclosing something very distressing or serious, then I definitely take the time to try and connect them with a mental health professional. Or if their problem is serious enough to impact the kiddos they work with, I will talk to a supervisor about the issue to get advice on what to do.
My last piece of advice? Don’t let the over-sharing go on unchecked like I did with Mister W. Fuzzy. Let’s just say that he thought my silence was a green light to continue over-sharing about his personal life. Yes, untreated, the over-sharer is a nasty school staff infection that will never go away…
*Happens on airplanes too. See my debut in the New YorkTimes on this topic.
**Are you dying of not-surprise yet?