Wednesday, October 06, 2010

social skills 101.

I am used to people liking me. I am used to people being polite and making nice. I am used to people making eye contact with me and acknowledging that I am standing in front of them. Especially if they are, oh, I don’t know, speaking to me and giving me instructions.

Turns out not everyone likes me. Not everyone is polite and makes nice. Some people don’t go to the trouble of making eye contact. Those same people are seemingly unable to differentiate between adults and children when they impart instructions.

Now I remember why I hated public school.

This morning, I was late dropping Max off at school. The reason was that he had a super messy bm and ended up needing a bath. Then Cam threw one of her super amazing tantrums and it was all downhill from there. I put earplugs in to muffle the sound of her shrieking all the way to daycare. Mom of the year, right here.

At Max’s school, when you drop your child off late, you have to sign them in at the front office. Makes sense, they have already taken attendance, they need to have all the children accounted for, I get it. So, off Max and I go, I fill out the purple slip and the attendance book as required and then wait for the administrative person behind the counter to sign it. Apparently she was on the phone with Scott confirming whether or not Max would be attending school today.

She approached the counter, handed me a magnet with the school’s contact information printed on it, the attendance phone number underlined in blue pen telling me "your husband asked that I give this to you". She signed the purple slip for Max, made a comment about us needing to call in if Max was going to be late, and walked away. She didn’t even look at me. Not once.  If she hadn’t signed the late slip and pushed it back across the counter at me, I wouldn’t have even known she was attempting to interact with me. Huh.

I walked Max to his room, dropped him off, and asked his EA and JK teacher what the name of the woman with the brown hair in the front office was. “Cindy”, they responded. It wasn’t really Cindy, but lets pretend it was. I said, “oh thanks, I am going to go introduce myself”.

I walked back to the front office, approached the front counter, and stuck out my hand, looking right at her. It took her a moment to realize what I was doing. Whoa - crazy - someone trying to interact! She met my eyes hesitantly, and shook my hand.

“Hi. Cindy? I’m Katrina, I wanted to introduce myself. I’m Max’s mom.” She looked at me blankly, so I continued. “Max has a diagnosis of Autism. Some mornings are really hard. In fact, you likely have no idea what we go through in a morning”.

“I understand that, but I’m very busy and the procedure is that you call to inform us….blah blah blah fishcakes” she said.

“Yes, in future I will do so. I appreciate that you are busy, and I understand it’s a total pain in the ass for you to have to call my house. I get it. And in a perfect world, I would have him outside of his classroom lined up with all his classmates 5 minutes before the bell rings every day. That's our goal every morning and we really do our best”.

At this point, the vice principal, who had been listening in from the safe distance of the photocopier stepped up and said “would it work better if we assume Max will be here unless you call?”, to which I replied, “Yes. If I don’t call, he’s coming”. She then did that thing that makes me NUTS and actually ushered me out of the office by placing her hand on the back of my arm, turning me around and walking with me to the office door. I hate that. A lot. It’s completely condescending, an intrusion of personal space, and without verbalizing it, she basically said, “get the hell out, we’re done talking with you”.

I walked out to my car, and thought to myself, this, right here, is why I hated public school so much. The people who work there talk down to you, regardless of whether you are a child or an adult. And really, the condescending tone is not appropriate for kids or adults.  It’s a crappy way of extolling the limited power you have and it’s a poor way of communicating.

When did it become okay to treat people like they don’t matter, that they are an inconvenience and not even worth looking at? And how did me introducing myself make me the person causing a scene? Unreal.


  1. Unreal is right. All schools, in my experience, are exactly the same. Do school board employees receiving training in condescension? If so, it's very effective. Not cool.

  2. Anonymous10:53 a.m.

    You should write & complain to the school trustee for our area and cc. the head of the board or visa-versa, either way Cindy & Company will remember you for it. Sorry you day is starting off so crappy. Vino tonight !!


  3. Anonymous10:54 a.m.

    I see how easy it is to read the minds of others in this situation, and to assume they are thinking badly of you. I do it myself everyday, but try not to because it helps no one and just sets you up for a negative interaction the next time. The VP may know something about her colleague that you don't, and that might explain her ushering you out. They may have had a bad/terrible experience with another parent in the past, and this has colored how they are told to deal with parents at the front desk....there are lots of explanations. However, they do need to work on their social skills. (mb)

  4. I'm still shaking my head. Sad, but I'm starting to just expect it. Actually, not really, because otherwise I wouldn't have bothered introducing myself, right? I can't wait until I see "Cindy" again. Now she's really going to be rude to me! Awesome.

  5. Caroline11:01 a.m.

    Here in the Kingston area we have some schools that do better, thank the lord! I would have been gnashing my teeth at this! What I have found is that if you are new to a school, you are actually "auditioning" whether you know it or not. Usually, teachers, who have a hard job and never enough time, resort to sorting people into "pain in the ass" "good (read "compliant") parent" and "call security" based on interactions during the first month and a half of the school year. This does not, of course, include any of those who merely fly under the radar and have no official designation of their school-readiness status. Don't despair, lead by actions, keep being friendly and polite and expecting the best (possibly giving a little moue of dismay at rudeness) and see what happens after the first few frantic weeks are over. They should settle into a better flow and an easier communication pattern soon. Or not, if it's just not a good school. We'll have to see on that.....

  6. Nicole M11:27 a.m.

    Oh Kat, I feel your pain. You know I do. And since Jacob has attended four different schools in the past four years I can tell you that not EVERY school has this same attitude, but yes, most of them do. I think it helps to think of them as a jail or small kingdom because once you take your child there, they want little to do with you. They chew up the kids and do what they want with them and all the little round pegs should go into the round holes or it throws them right off. There are some gems though. People who care. And if there is any advice I can give you... it's to be as pre-emptive as possible. In the end though, your child will eventually leave their jail/kingdom and they'll be left with their polyester pants and reindeer sweaters. I thank god that Jacob seems to be in a good place this year. I just hope it continues. And I hope your experience improves also.

  7. Anonymous12:05 p.m.

    Welcome to the loving world of Ontario union driven education - our principal even openly admits there are many in the system (one is far enough) that have no interaction skills, they are not required by contract and thus it does not (as a norm) occur. There are many great ones in the system but if you come across one that is not good luck – did you know a teacher or EA can “demand” to not be in a class with a special needs child if such is not desirable to the member. It happened in our school but against another child not our son. The EA maintained that it was far too emotionally draining to deal with the child and if she was not transferred she would grieve via the union effectively crippling the VP and Principal for a month. The EA won since the school has no interest in poking the union bear. Tort law is established that this is ok – “forcing” help contrary to union contract and admin rules will NOT be put aside by any court in Canada to the favour of a special needs student. A big huh? there. Our ASD kids have no legal rights (see Auton v BC and Wynerg v ON) and only where there is gross intentional negligence that puts the kid in harms way is there any responsibility. Short of murdering a child the “system” faces zero responsibility and accountability. Even where the education act states responsibility there are about a billion ways to get around it and enough tort law for specific cases to defeat most complaints. That the schools and boards can do as they desire was affirmed by the Supreme Court in Brant v. Eaton – google it and read the court decision, it is beyond my understanding but it is the law in Canada. So, we (parents) always have to make nice. We had to interview ten schools before we found one we felt was acceptable and had the “good ones”.

  8. Anonymous12:14 p.m.

    I go into a lot of schools as part of my job and have found that what you encountered is pretty common. There are some schools where the climate is more friendly, but that seems to be just because those people are friendlier people.

    Unfortunately it ends up being bad for parents who are more demanding because the worst thing you can do is get on their bad side.

    Two things I do:

    1. Repeat Eleanor Roosevelt's saying, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent" over and over again to myself.

    2. Act super friendly to them all the time, almost to the point of being naive. "Oh, I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to cause a problem for you. What can I do the next time this happens to make it easier?" It makes me feel like one of those secret bitches from the movies, but it makes it really hard for them to be mean assholes to me.

  9. Thanks for all the great advice everyone! I especially like that last one...secret bitch!

  10. I'm all about the secret bitch. Frankly, it's the only way I get through the day sometimes.

    We are lucky to have, for the most part, fantastic staff at Charlotte's school but the system itself is beyond screwy. Last year was such a struggle that if money had been no object I would have put her in a local private school that would have been much better suited to dealing with her needs. Frustration is an understatement to say the least.

  11. Anonymous9:17 p.m.

    I'm not sure why many teachers use that condescending tone. I call it "teacher talk". I don't mean to bash teachers, because there are some gems-- but my personal experience is that many teachers are very insincere and stand-off-ish. The public school system lacks accountability and the teachers and administrators know this. So frustrating.

  12. I can't believe someone could be so condescending, rude and uncompassionate. Our little guys are both the same age but we choose to put Tristan into preschool and wait a year for JK. So I've been reading your JK posts avidly, prepping for next year, you handle tough situations so great!

  13. Anonymous7:05 a.m.

    Andrea- just curious, if you wait to put him in JK, won't they just put him in SK the next year. I heard that school boards are very non flexible and will insist on age appropriate placements, without taking into any special considerations or looking at the needs and best interest of a specific child.

  14. Anon - Our IBI clinical supervisor actually said here in Waterloo, we would be able to put him in JK next year even though he'd be older, if we think he needs a 2 year Kindergarten experience. I stay at home and he hasn't had a lot of experience in a daycare or preschool setting so I really didn't feel comfortable putting him in JK right off the bat. And our IBI supervisor also suggested against it, even though he is mild on the spectrum, she said he'd just be managed not taught. We also have an organization here called KW Habilitation and they really help you advocate and set goals for your child within the preschool or school setting and they also liase with the teachers, prinicpals, EAs, therapists, etc (not sure if other regions have this) so I'm sure they'll help with getting him into the class he needs. It was a tough call but he just was not ready.