Meet my principal–he’s anything but subtle. He’s direct. He’s hands-on. He doesn’t mince words. He’s critical and complimentary, sometimes both in one sentence. He says it like it is even when you don’t want to hear it. If he’s mad, you know it by his body language, tone of voice, general demeanor, and occasionally even by the color of his clothes. He carries himself like he’s 7 feet tall, and when he’s got his game face on even taller.
A man like this you would not expect to take a less direct approach with a purpose, but of course, a man like this always has a purpose. When he feels he needs to take a different approach, he forgoes his usual candidness and engages in an approach that I’ll call button pushing hyperbolic subtlety.
Over the 3 1/2 years I’ve worked with him this button pushing has involved me talking too much at meetings, not listening to him, being hard-headed, making too many copies, not ever shutting down, working myself to exhaustion, being too busy in my lessons, giving excuses, being rude/disrespectful, and caring too much. Without the ability to laugh at my weaknesses, I didn’t find this button pushing at all funny. In fact, I considered this button pushing quite rude and often took each and every word personally.
Over the past 3 1/2 years, my response to this has ranged from pushback and defensiveness to reluctant compliance. For the longest time, I thought this was a literal view of me as a loud-mouthed, paper wasting, self-righteous know-it-all teacher who was full of excuses who wasn’t going to listen to anything he had to say. While I tried to listen and be respectful, his delivery would often fall on deaf ears with me shaking my head in bewilderment at his audacity and judgment.
Over the past year, I’ve realized that this sort of button pushing picking on me is a bizarre sort of straight-faced hyperbolic statement that has a meaningful message for me to decipher:
- Get your department to ease up on the copies.
- Listen more. Talk less.
- Don’t try to do too much in a lesson.
- Ground yourself.
- Don’t pay so much attention to the problems of one child that you neglect other students.
Most recently, though, I realized that his button pushing hyperbolic picking on me is his straight-faced humor schtick that should be met not with pushback, but instead with humor, introspection, and most of all action.
In a recent button pushing conversation, he told me that I plan by picking the technology I’m going to teach and plugging in my standards to fit it. I listened to him picking on me, got slightly defensive for a second, and then I told him I got his point. I walked away wondering what in the world a little annoyed but aware that he was making the point that technology should add to not take away from the lesson.
Yesterday when the network decided to fail in my room only, I walked up to my boss deciding to have fun. I played the role of clueless damsel in distress teacher, “I just don’t know how to teach today. My computer isn’t working, and I had a great tech lesson planned that I was going to plug some standards into. Now that my computer doesn’t work–what will I do? I can’t teach without technology!”
He smiled and laughed. I told him how angry I had been about his pushing my buttons but that I understood what he was driving at about making sure my technology is instructionally grounded. With a “gotcha” sort of smirk on his face, he told me that maybe the message would have been lost if he hadn’t been so subtle.
My boss-on one hand, he’s a direct, candid, say-it-like-it-is type of guy.
On the other hand, he engages in straight-faced humorous button pushing hyperbolic subtleties that should be met with humor, humility, introspection, and action.
I suppose next time I feel as if I am not in a laughing and learning mood and if the message and humor are lost on me, I’ll just have to smile and say, “What’s your point, boss? Get candid. I can take it.”
Sometimes, yes, I take things too literally and too personally, miss the humor, and am so focused on the big picture that I miss the nuances in meaning.