Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Communication Breakdown, non-profit edition

Went to a very uncomfortable local non-profit board meeting last night, and am thanking my lucky stars that my term on this board is up at the end of the month. While the connections I've made there have been helpful to my own business (hurrah), I'm so glad to be done with it. Long story short, among other community projects, this board oversees a preschool, and the discussion last night was whether and how to find a new teacher for this preschool because the current one showed her ass recently.

Actually, come to think of it, this is an exemplar of Podunkville culture, so I should give some more details.

I've met this preschool teacher a few times and am not a fan. She has a passive aggressive style, and is a horrendously poor communicator. She also lacks some of the basic certifications that other local preschool teachers have, and is therefore not someone I personally would have hired, but I digress.

At last month's board meeting, the teacher came to the board and epically "kitchen sinked" the room - screaming and crying for nearly an hour about how she has been unhappy for the last 2 years but until that night she had never once said anything about it and she had been asked countless times. She isn't sure she wants to continue teaching all 4 classes anymore, and she went on about how her mom came to one of the classes with her and told her "these families are taking advantage of you" and she suddenly left, in tears, before the board could finish responding. With only 6 weeks left in the school year, she sent a rude mass email to the school community ordering families not to arrive even a minute early, and that once class was over everyone needs to leave the school immediately so she could prepare for the next class arriving 2 hours later - nevermind if a mother needs to sit down and finish nursing her baby - they can "go to the coffeeshop down the street" (in direct violation of the awesome state law protecting the rights of nursing mothers in places of public accommodation.) Naturally, the preschool community feels really alienated by the shitty way she chose to air these concerns that have clearly been bothering her for so long. My conclusion is she is someone who just doesn't get it. Compounding this, she is in her 30's and this is her first full-time paying job after college. I get the sense that she lacks the personal and work experience that would allow her to distinguish between mountains and molehills. Privately, I was left wondering if she could benefit from a psych consult - she seemed unhinged and I felt sad for her.

Why does this person still have a job? One of the positive and negative things about Podunkville culture is that people in authority are afraid to be assholes, and firings of "nice" people - even those who break the law - happen in only the most extreme cases, and after a lot of rumination. It's a culture that makes change hard. Maybe it is also like this elsewhere, but having lived only in larger cities before, this is the first place I've encountered it.

Anyway, I feel awful for the families who are now wondering if it will be ok to leave their kids with her.

Gah. This is why I want to teach my kids effective communication skills - so they can learn how to speak their truth and to constructively problem solve in a way that doesn't poison relationships.

Anyone ever been there, done that?


Anonymous said...

Ugh, how awful. The kids at our DC's preschool were better at conflict resolution than that lady! Good luck with all of that.

Jac. said...

Our lives are absolute mirrors. I volunteer on a school board and we are having very similar issues with the school principal right now. The dragging of feet by everyone afraid of making a firm stand on acceptable/non-acceptable behaviour is driving me bonkers. I actually just sent a message last Sunday around to the rest of the Board saying I would not attend any more meetings to discuss 'what to do' about the principal since I feel quite strongly that he should be terminated and I'm not interested in dancing around it. I'm pretty aggravated that I've had to give up so much time the last couple of months because the principal is a paranoid, passive-aggressive, manipulative liar and bully (whose behaviour is SOOO unprofessional ). The guy is almost 60 years old. Argh!! Will let you know how this plays out. Next regular board meeting is next Monday. Everyone else seems to dread the meetings now because they are confrontational - I don't think they are confrontational enough.

Cloud said...

I've got nothing, sorry. Other than sympathy. I've had to fire people, and it sucks. But needing to fire someone and not being able to would suck worse. Good luck!

mom2boy said...

From stories I've heard, school boards just tend to be dysfunctional in general. I'm sorry you are going through it.

I love that she took her mom to work and brought up her mom's opinion as a talking point. Love as in, omg really?

Got It, Ma! said...

Ugh. Lousy situation in so many ways. I have stayed away from voluntary participation on non-profit boards because of of stuff like this. My non-voluntary participation in our co-operative preschool was enough to sour me permanently. In our case, the teachers were wonderful. It was the parental politics and nastiness that caused all the problems.

The job of a preschool teacher is so hard, even for a well qualified, grounded, professional educator. There is so much anxiety, both from kids and parents, and a preschool teacher has to acknowledge and respect it without absorbing and internalizing it. So much opportunity for bad behavior all around. It sounds like this teacher really didn't know what she was getting into and has not established good communication or healthy patterns.

Is there anyone on the board who knows her well enough to have an off the record conversation with her? Maybe there's more to this than the board has been privy to. As you suggest, maybe she is unwell, or something has happened to her, either personally or professionally that she doesn't know how to cope with.

Certainly, the kids have to come first. But my own experience with my children's preschool reminds me that there are (at least) two sides to everything and several times I found myself totally blown away by what I didn't know about a situation.

Blue said...

I'm with Cloud in that I don't have much here. It's sad for her, yes. but come on. Step on up and do your job. Mom comes to visit and suddenly she's a blubbering, unstable cray cray? I don't know much, but if it smells like fish and looks like fish...

Anywhoo, how ya doing, Hush?

Slim said...

Oh, man. Our original daycare had some problems that were never addressed because someone on the board didn't want to address them. Or at least he wasn't willing to do it in a way that might make a certain group feel uncomfortable, which meant that in effect if not intent, it couldn't be addressed.
There was plenty of blame to go around, but because we weren't allowed to talk about one area of blame, he was able to hold firm to his belief that the parents should just shut up.
I tried to engage constructively for a long time before we just left.

hush said...

Thanks for all of your commiseration and input. (Just to clarify, neither of my kids attend this preschool - I'm just on the board that oversees it and some other local community projects.) Anyway, I have some good news! The teacher gave her 2 weeks notice. Hurrah! Onward and upward!