All week I have struggled with being nice.
It is not that I cannot be nice or that I do not have niceness in me. I think is mostly because of the time of year it is. February has hit, and from now until the end of the school year, I anticipate being in court or diversion meetings for truancy more than I am in the office. While I love this part of my job, I would truly be happy to report some day that I need to develop a new niche for myself because we have eradicated truancy issues at our school.
When I talk to parents on the phone, I try really hard to be nice. In fact, I believe that I am. I listen to the stories that they share – some of them very tragic – and I try to convey empathy. I know that life is difficult, the economy is hard, and that circumstances can get in the way of life. However, there are times that people need a wake up call, and that call often comes from my office. Education is required in this country. Our laws show that we value it (even when our state budgets do not, but I do not want to be political right now). We want educated citizens. As an educator working in the area of truancy, I have developed a little graphic that shows why attendance is important (see below).
Kids do not graduate if they do not attend. It is really that simple. I do not need to elaborate on this idea. One cannot earn a high school diploma if one does not attend school. Enough said. It is even more true in online education. How will students pass classes if they do not even log in to the system? I mean, really…!!!!
So – sometimes, I struggle with being nice. In fact, the more truant that a student is and the more outlandish the “reason” (read here – excuse) that I am given for the absences, the less nice I am. It is really that simple. And this week, I have had more than a fair share of times when being nice was really hard. In fact, I probably was not nice more times than I was. I was honest, gave suggestions about how to improve student achievement, and even suggested to a few parents that a traditional school with more structure might be a better choice for their children.
It was in those moments that I was accused of not being nice. How dare I suggest that the online setting may not be the most appropriate setting for their children?!?!? The weird thing was that I was nice when I said it. In fact, it was the most compassionate thing I could have said at the time! My school’s setting is not appropriate for all students, and those particular students were a good example of that truth.
If “being nice” means saying something other than the truth, then I stomp my foot and say loudly – NO, I will not be nice!
And this kind of got me thinking a little bit about how exasperated I get when someone speaks truth into my life about something. If I struggle with something like anger and someone points it out to me when I have inappropriately expressed anger, it is not that they are not being nice to me. They are simply being honest with me. Instead of focusing on the fact that I have an anger issue, I focus on the fact that someone was mean to me. That mean person picked on me again. She is always picking on me.
So – at the end of the week, I employed some new tactics and inserted some verbiage into my conversations with families. I said things like, “I just want to be clear that the goal here is your student’s success in school. What can we do to change the current trend that does not support success?” I have always said things like, “I am concerned about your student’s lack of attendance and its impact on school success.” But…I think I need to say more things like that.
I often use “the court system” as a threat right away – scare that family straight; however, in reflecting about how I see others’ interventions into my own life, I think I need to start off a bit more softly. I also have thought that I could more by scaring them once and not having to follow up later, but realistically – again, considering my own behavior – it would make more sense to make small, incremental steps toward success with frequent follow up and interventions.
In the end, this is all just behavioral analysis and conditioning. Attendance is just a symptom of some greater illness in the same way that my temper is just a symptom of some greater illness. I get a little self-righteous at times, and I need to remember that we all make mistakes, we all have issues, and we all need someone to come alongside of us, challenge our behavior, and walk us back to the right spot on the path of success.