In the spirit of B2S, I want to give my fellow school psychologists a few tips for how
to work with difficult adults in the school building. I think that when we
first go into this field, we have a vision of working with kids all day long,
in a cozy office, providing shelter from the storm of their troubles. And then,
it turns out we don’t have an office, and if we do, it may be either Arctic tundra
conditions or Bikram school psychology in there. Not cozy. Also, it turns out a lot of
the work we do in school is consulting with the adults who interact with our
At any given school site, there is typically one teacher or
support staff member that I find challenging to work with. Not everyone can be
a teacher rockstar like my Internet BFF, Mrs. Mimi and the amazing Angela WatsonFormallyPowell. I really try not to
be Negative Nancy on my blog, but there are a few archetypes of challenging
adults that I’ve run across in the schools that make me wish I were in charge
of hiring and firing with a regal flick of my wrist.
Remove her from my
sight! *flick flick*
This one does not please
me. Get rid of him. *dismissive wave*
This one amuses me.
She can stay.
It’s weird though, as no one has granted me this power in
the schools yet. So instead, I give you tips on how to manage staff members who
give you, as I call it, a staff infection. One staff infection archetype is the
no-boundaries staff member. They hear you are a psychologist, their eyes light
up, and they talk with you as if you are their personal
I remember in my first year on the job, there was this one
parent liasion at one of my elementary schools who had always given me the
heebyjeebies but I couldn’t put my finger on why. His name was Mister W. Fuzzy.
Okay, obviously not, but I will call him that to protect his awfulness
disguised as warm fuzziness. This guy dressed in African dashikis with a lot of
beaded products adorning himself. Mind
you, he was not African American, let alone African. But since we are all
technically from Africa, and perhaps he was trying to connect with the
students’ roots, I’ll let that go. He referred to everyone as his brother or
sister, which was a little cringe-worthy, to tell you the truth. He spoke with
a soft voice and nodded with affirmations, in a Stuart Smalley kind of way. He
always complimented every kid that came in his office in the third person:
“Mister W. Fuzzy knows you didn’t mean to hit your friend.Let’s walk on the Peace Path together and
solve your problems. Now both of you give Mr. W. Fuzzy a squeeze.” Sounds like a decent guy, right? Maybe a bit
over the top for my taste, but different strokes for different folks, I guess.
Oh, but then…
One day, I came in our support staff room after a meeting
with a family and he asked how it went:
MWF: Hello Sista B! [cringe] How was Marcus’s meeting?
Me: It went well, we talked a lot about strategies for
limiting his violent video game time since he does that all afternoon instead
MWF: Well, video games can be addictive, and can breed an
aggressive mindset. You become what you watch.
Me: *sipping coffee* Mmm hmm. Agreed.
MWF: Kind of like porn.
Me: *spitting out coffee*
MWF: I mean, I watch a
lot of porn, and when I do, I can’t help but then transfer what I see in
the porn onto my feelings about women…
Me: *looking around desperately for an escape route
thinking: “Someone please make this stop. Ah! There’s a phone. Maybe I
can pick it up á la Matrix and find me an exit!*
MWF:…I mean, after
watching hours and hours and hours of porn, then I suddenly
start looking at every young woman in real life and start thinking they’re a
Me: Um. I have to…um…go away now. *backing sloooooowly away*
Can you believe that guy? From then on out, every time he
looked at me, I couldn’t help but think he was turning me into a ho in his
mind. Egads! I mean, who am I to judge someone’s private life, but I am here to
judge sharing that private life with a young woman in an ELEMENTARY SCHOOL.
When I first started out, I didn’t know how to handle the
no-boundaries staff member. I guess people hear you are a psychologist and
think you want to hear all their intimate thoughts.* Or, for example, they ask you to make behavior plans for their cats. In one way, it’s a sign
that they trust you, which I guess is good. For the run-of-the-mill over-sharers,
I tend to handle it with a dash of humor.** I say things like, “Whoa, I’m a psychologist, not your psychologist” or “Sorry, my
expertise ends at age 18, can’t help you!” However, if they are disclosing
something very distressing or serious, then I definitely take the time to try
and connect them with a mental health professional. Or if their problem is
serious enough to impact the kiddos they work with, I will talk to a supervisor
about the issue to get advice on what to do.
My last piece of advice? Don’t let the over-sharing go on
unchecked like I did with Mister W. Fuzzy. Let’s just say that he thought my
silence was a green light to continue over-sharing about his personal life.
Yes, untreated, the over-sharer is a nasty school staff infection that will
never go away…