Wednesday, April 22, 2015

As supportive as an uncomfortable bra

Support yourself, dammit.

Don’t think when you read my letter S for the A-Z blog challenge, “This isn’t an academic buzzword!  People use the word ‘support’ all the time!” 

Yes.  But can you tell me what “support” actually means?  Go on, think about it.  I’ll wait.

Since you’re not coming up with anything, I’ll just jump in again.  In every school I’ve taught, I hear the same phrase over and over, “We’re here to support you.”  Clearly “they” know we need support because the job is difficult.  We need principals who’ll stand behind our grading policies, administrators who will back us up on discipline, department heads to answer our questions, mentors to help us navigate the waters of education, and fellow teachers with which to commiserate and share ideas. 

Sounds great. So why am I including “support” in my list of buzzwords? Because it’s an easy thing to say – “We’re here to support you!” but putting it into practice is harder.  Have you ever had people say, “Call if you need anything!”  Do you remember what happened when you did call?

I was promised support when I started at CISD. My principal told me when I was hired that the yearbook was a big thing.  “We want to make it great!” she exclaimed.  “We have a big school, and we’re not doing enough to show school spirit.  The yearbook can really help get kids excited about who we are.”

True, yearbooks can boost school spirit.  But our sales for the past two years were abysmal, and students just didn’t seem interested.  Knowing the cost and time involved, I asked the principal if she REALLY wanted to throw more money and energy into a yearbook.  She assured me that she did and that she would “support [me] in any way possible.”

I quickly realized that she and I had completely different ideas of what “support” entails.  My idea of support was getting a budget I could use to buy memory cards and batteries for dozens of dead cameras.  My other ideas included advertising around school, emailing parents about the order process and attending as many events as possible in order to ensure we had full coverage. Go team!

My principal’s method of support was to add an extra class to my teaching load despite the fact that this limited my involvement in after school activities and ignore my emails about advertising methods and requests for funding.  In fact, she told me yearbook owed the school $2000 because of a deficit from the year before. This meant no batteries. No memory cards. No pictures.

When we asked her to look over pages we submitted for approval, she ignored them until weeks after the deadlines.  When she did finally look them over, she asked for all the pages to be redone because she “didn’t like the colors.” 

She didn’t support me at all.  She expected me to support myself.  To school administrators, “support” takes one form: do whatever an administrator says without bothering them over details, no matter how outrageous, damaging or impossible the request may be. I suppose they’re able to support us best when we don’t draw attention to our needs.

We had 31 teachers quit at the end of the first semester. I doubt they felt “supported.”  For a teacher, “support” means “receiving actual assistance when it’s asked for and not being treated like an idiot.”

We’re at cross purposes here, it would seem.