02 03 Notes from the School Psychologist: Subliminal Messages 04 05 15 16 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 31 32 33

Subliminal Messages

When I was in middle school, my friends and I came up with a way to express disdain in a secret fashion. When someone was bugging us, we’d spell really super quickly, “y.o.u.b.u.g.m.e.” to which the person would say, “what?” and we’d say, “nothing” smirk smirk. So very middle school. Something a grown woman would never do.

Unless she was pushed into a super annoying situation, that is.

I am selling a bed frame on Craigslist at the moment. This one woman haggled me for a good week over $20 and finally agreed to get the bed. She called that morning and asked for directions using the bus even though she was only 5 blocks away. After explaining this concept several times, I gave her walking directions that were seriously “Go up the street you are on for 5 blocks and there I am.”

She arrives about 45 minutes later. She has no visible impairments, so I’m not sure if she got lost or what. Anyway, she gets out a magnifying glass and starts inspecting the bed frame, finding every little scratch and commenting, “Oh, I do not like that” and “oh goodness gracious!” and “You did not mention all these defects.” *

What seemed like 10 minutes later, she decided she liked it enough and asked me where my car was so we could load it up. She assumed I wanted to deliver it to her house too! That is not standard Craigslist procedure. That is what new furniture companies do. I told her my car wasn’t big enough and she looked around my garage and asked if my neighbor’s car was big enough! At this point, I just wanted her to go away, so I told her she could probably rent a truck from y.o.u.b.u.g.m.e. Apparently, working with middle schoolers all day makes me regress into middle school sometimes. She looked at me puzzled, but not offended, and asked me to repeat it. I said, U-Haul the second time around, and she seemed like this was the most offensive suggestion ever.

It was clear this transaction was not going to happen, so I escorted her to the door. She politely asked what I did for a living as small talk or something and I told her I was a school psychologist. She said she was a school social worker. And THEN. And THEN! She said, with a smirk, “Oh, so you just test the kids, and then I have to treat them.”

In my head, I told her off that school psychologists are so much more than testers and this is a battle I fight every day to position myself as a person with more to offer than testing. Even if testing were the only thing I did, it is a valuable intervention because teachers, parents, and students themselves can finally understand learning strengths and weaknesses and how social-emotional factors play into student learning. Students have thanked me for finally explaining their disabilities in a way they can understand. I had a student the other day say, “Your testing made me feel smart for the first time.” Teachers appreciate my testing because it provides feedback for instruction, and parents thank me for taking the time to really get to understand their child.

I think assessment is a form of treatment because you have a powerful one on one interaction with a kid who 9 chances out of 10 thinks they’re stupid and you can show them in black and white all the ways they can learn and all of their true potential. Even better, the teachers and parents see the student in a new light and change their behavior to help the student learn and feel good about his or herself.

I said all that in my head. What I actually said to her was, “Goodbye.” If my experience has taught me anything, it is that you can’t reason with someone who is always asking for more and being critical of everything. Pick your battles. But if she looked closer at school psychologists like she fastidiously looked at my bed frame, she’d be able to understand we do so much more than testing.

*Fine. I lied to make the story better. She didn’t have a magnifying glass. But she did inspect that bed like it was her job to ensure all second-hand furniture had a fissure-free surface for Consumer Reports.

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