For the most part I think I am a fairly rational person. I like to mull things over, ruminate for a while before I comment or commit to something. I am usually afraid to offend someone or overstep my bounds. I am all too aware that words, once spoken, can not be taken back. However, for quite some time I have been mindful of the fact that there are those situations where I really should speak up. Those times whereby my silence would be taken as implicit approval or agreement. If I don’t speak up I spend days replaying it in my mind, quick come backs coming to me now – when it is too late to say or do anything. For the past several months I have begun to hold myself accountable, forcing myself to speak up no matter how uncomfortable I am. No matter how much my voice wavers and my hands shake. Funny thing is, this only happens when I feel I have to state my feelings, defend my point of view. If I am “defending” the honour or rights of someone else I don’t seem to have the same difficulty.
Yesterday I attended an educators conference. I am not an educator. I gained admittance by being on a task force that was partnering with a school board for an. The head of the task force had mentioned that our members could attend, for free, the daytime symposiums for the educators. I figured, free information, why not? At the very least I could use some of what I learned when doing my advocacy work with families trying to navigate the education system. I signed up for an all day learning opportunity about children with ADHD – which was to include practical tips for accommodations in the classroom. GREAT!
Once there I seriously began to reconsider my decision when in her opening words the presenter, an educator and self proclaimed parent of a “difficult kid”, referred to “these kids” as “PIA’s” (pronounced “pee-ah’s”). Hmmm, that was an acronym I had not heard before. Maybe you all are more worldly than I am, it stands for “Pain in the Ass”. My blood began to boil as this woman moved into discussion about how important it is for teachers to establish clear “community agreements” within their classroom from the very first day. Stressed in all of this are the terms such as “attentive listening”, “right to pass” and “mutual respect”. Hmmmm, has this woman lost it? Here she is trying to reach these teachers and enlighten them about building a community within the classroom so that every student feels safe and supported and will not be ridiculed by teacher or peer. But what, it’s ok to have a bad day and walk around calling one of “these difficult kids”, a kid like mine (cause believe me, he can have VERY difficult days) a PAIN IN THE ASS?
So I admit – I stewed for a while. I saw glimmers of hope – she was REALLY challenging these educators on how easy it is to make accommodations. It was obvious she was an experienced and knowledgeable educator. There was some great discussion and dialogue going on amongst the teachers and support staff about how to make accommodations work in the classroom and on taking ownership for making inclusion work. Wonderful ideas and strategies were flowing. As a parent and advocate it was wonderful to witness and I began to relax. I began to think that perhaps her proclamations of “PIA” were all about hooking her audience while she lead them to why no kid should be referred to in this way. Just maybe she was purposefully empathizing with them, joining them in the trenches, and then she was going to lead them to a whole new respectful place where we don’t make derogatory remarks about students.
We broke for a lunch break and I shared the situation with a few of my fellow task force members who had come for the lunch time speaker. From their reactions I could only conclude that I was not overreacting – how could I try to convince myself this was something innocent just to avoid having to confront it? I couldn’t. I walked back for the afternoon session knowing I would need to address it if she didn’t somehow backpedal and right this wrong. When I realized the other speaker would be doing the entire afternoon address I began to doubt my plan to confront the issue. However, when this woman stood up to interject another reference to “PIA’s” , I locked in my resolve to address the issue.
When the day came to an end, I waited for an opportunity to get this woman alone. I knew that making this public was not appropriate. I started out telling her what I did like about the day, I really wanted her to know that I was not just some disgruntled parent. I really wanted her to hear my words and deeply understand why it is not ok to call our children, especially her own child, a pain in the ass in a room full of people. I pointed out that it seemed highly hypocritical to stress community agreements of safety and mutual respect and then violate children’s rights in such a way. She tried to explain her reasoning, which indeed did include trying to let the teachers know she has been in their shoes. I did not back down. Yes, I said, you have been in their shoes and I would hope that being in this position today that you would have shown them how to walk the walk of compassionate, skilled and rational teachers, not people who would use those shoes to beat up the children who so desperately need help and understanding.
We all need to walk the walk, including me. Which includes not only choosing to use respectful words when speaking of others but speaking up when someone is disrespecting others.
Edited to Add: I would be remiss to not mention that this woman did say that she was glad I came and talked to her and that she did understand what I was trying to convey. I have hope that she will choose her words and terms more carefully.