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Week 3/25-3/29

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graphic provided by author
graphic provided by author

In any job, there is always office politicking going on. In public education, district-wide politicking is the norm. The cycle is never ending. Policymakers are pressured by parents who then pressure school leaders and they pressure teachers who pressure students who then complain to parents and the cycle continues. In the midst of that cycle, there is so much that goes on that we (teachers) have to deal with in the way of school and district-wide politics and it often gets in the way of our ability and opportunities to teach.

For some, teachers deal with the politics of having student athletes and what that means for grading in relation to their eligibility. Other teachers deal with the politics surrounding which students can and cannot be disciplined.  And still others deal with the politics surrounding the academic achievement of students and the fiscal implications of poor performance. At my school, there are a few things that I and my fellow faculty members have to deal with in the way of politics… one situation we wrestle with is that of the school lead cook who holds the title of “executive chef,” who happens to be the significant other of our school’s founder.

Moment of the Week

Personally speaking, I’ve never had an issue with the “chef.” Due to my previous position working directly for our school’s founder, I’ve known him before he became the school’s “executive chef,” and so he’s always been cordial with me and I with him. But I have heard stories about his treatment of others; specifically how he talks to the adults and student and how he runs back to the founder with information on the happenings of the school. Needless to say, we all tread lightly because of his connection to the founder. Rarely does he get into any “trouble,” he’s allowed to leave early and he’s paid well. Indeed, we all know the politics surrounding his hire and his continued “service” at the school. We just deal with it as best as possible.

This week, I had a run in with the “chef.” On Tuesday, lasagna was for lunch. The next day, baked ziti was for lunch. Upon observation, the lasagna and the ziti looked similar with respect to the pasta used in the dishes. One of our students asked the “chef” what kind of pasta was for lunch to which, according to the lunch ladies, he replied that “it’s just pasta why are you asking, just take the food.” The “chef” comes to me and says that I need to tell the kids to stop being disrespectful and asking about what’s for lunch. I said to him, Michele (that is his name), go ahead and talk to the kids yourself… my thought is if you have a problem with the students, you deal with it – you are not my boss and I am not an administrator. When I have an issue, I deal with it myself. Long story short, I call him and the student who asked about lunch together to discuss, the “chef” starts talking fast and using hand gestures that can violate one’s personal space and appear to be disrespectful. I told him that his gesturing can be offensive and how he needs to check his tone when reprimanding a student but all he wanted to tell me was about the student for the sake of the lunch ladies. He got his point across, but so did I. I went to the lunch ladies and asked if they could relay any future issues with students to me and not the “chef.” They informed me that there weren’t any issues with any students and that it’s was “chef.” I then went to the student who was in the middle of all of this and told him to calm down and from now on, not even look at the “chef” let alone speak to him. My student understood and the “situation” was dealt with – I guess it was.”

Lesson of the Week

Unfortunately, while I was able to get my point across – or at least I thought I did – there really isn’t much that I can do. The “chef” will continue to be the “chef” because of who he is and we (the lunch ladies, teachers, students and administrators) will have to continue to deal with him for as long as they work and learn there, because he isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. And so the lesson that I was reminded of is that in any office/work setting, there are various constituencies that one is accountable to and that one must work with and there are connections and circumstances that govern them all. In addition to the “chef” and his relationship with the founder, we have a board member married to an administrator and the daughter of our principal attends the school and there are countless other staff/student relationships within our district that are of a political nature. Right or wrong, we have to deal the best way that we can. How do you maintain your own integrity and professional reputation in an environment of “pay-to-play?” Do your job. When you do your job and you do it well, when you stay out of the office gossip and when you are a person of integrity, when people come to you with their BS, you can stand. You must be careful to not put yourself in a precarious situation, but stand and be assured that when and if you come under attack; your work and reputation will be your shield. Be a person of integrity and let individuals at your school know that you will not compromise it for any person and for any reason. At the end of the day, you earned your position… others who haven’t have to scheme and manipulate their way to keep it.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

Rann Miller is an educator and freelance writer based in Southern New Jersey. His Urban Education...

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