Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Passive Aggressive Para

This blog was written upon observations over the past couple of years as a substitute teacher and para-educator. It is not intended as a critique of any person or persons in particular.   

We are a national school of character run by dedicated professionals. We are engaged in preparing a unique population of individuals for the challenges they will inevitably face in a society that will not always be so kind, patient and understanding. To accomplish our goals we need to work as an enthusiastic team – administration, teachers and paras. What we do is far more difficult that meets the eye. 

Each classroom is different. Management styles differ. It is no secret that the demands of ongoing data and paperwork pile up on teachers as the school year progresses. An extraordinary burden falls to the support staffers. In spite of professional development time, learning community meetings, required training modules and periodic pow-wows there are some tensions that seem to manifest themselves in passive aggressive behaviors from those critical staffers themselves.     
Passive-aggressive behavior is the indirect expression of hostility, such as through procrastination, sarcasm, stubbornness, sullenness, or deliberate or repeated failure to accomplish requested tasks for which one is (often explicitly) responsible.

The problem is not easy to identify and even harder to correct. Passive-aggressive behavior from workers and managers is damaging to team unity and productivity. The problem cuts both ways but let’s just focus on the para-educator here. Experts agree that there are three main types of manipulative personality:

§  The Narcissist – The Narcissist is the ultimate manipulator. They are egotistic, self-absorbed and feel entitled to nearly everything they desire. They lack empathy and consideration for others, so they will easily manipulate to their own gain.

§  The Needy — The Needy are experts at making you feel sorry for them, and making you feel like you are the only person that can help them. Some Needy personalities don’t realize that they are manipulative.

§  The Martyr — This type of personality will give you everything — but at a price. They “cash in” on the favors they’ve done to get you to comply with their wishes. (“After all I’ve done for you” and “I would do it for you.”)

So let’s examine some typical situations that are so very routine and common at our school in the context of this conversation. Note that every effort is made here to avoid criticizing any individuals in particular but rather to highlight common practices that can sometimes lead to something less than optimal performance.  

The morning bus pick-up – Our classroom populations are small for a reason. There are varying degrees of difficulty. Wheelchairs, behaviors, personalities, transportation (bus or carpool) can add to the challenge. Whatever the mix, each student must be accounted for and the classroom team (teacher and paras) must have a strategy for managing all the variables. A similar set of circumstances will happen at the end of each school day.

The movement between classes - Similar to the above, a strategy needs to be in place. The variables here include pace, keeping students on task, courtesy to lead teacher/specialists, keeping conversations (especially personal discussions) to an absolute minimum during class time. We want our students to benefit as fully as is possible from instruction.

The various (sometimes unpleasant) personal care issues. – A trip to the bathroom often requires escort, prompts, and alertness. Accidents, clean-ups, bodily fluids and appropriate use of gloves. Students requiring changing room attendance adds to the urgency of full teamwork.

Specials/instruction – Language, Gym, Boot Camp, Art, Music, Community Based Initiatives, work sites all have specific objectives. The staff needs to support those specific goals – even though they may seem time consuming and/or tedious as subtleties can matter greatly.   

In the interest of making all of this crystal clear we can make hard and fast rules. But let’s face it – we are not engaged in black & white situations. That said, there are some pretty good guidelines you can follow. In the interest of brevity we will not add explanations of each.

Have both hands free when pick up/drop off or transporting. (Think twice about purses, coffee cups, etc.)

Avoid talking to other paras/personnel during class or instruction times. (The teacher/instructor deserves the best possible environment in which to operate)

Avoid using cell phone during times when you are responsible for students.

Be alert and awake.

Understand the needs and routines of all students. (Think in terms of being able to cover for any classroom absences)

Add value.

Provide as much one-on-one attention as possible.

Be considerate of team with regard to breaks. (Breaks DO NOT include late starts and/or early departure from duties in the classroom.)

Stay current with training and best practices.

Always be mindful of the safety of students and staff.