I understand that finding the word "asshole" in a blog celebrating the joy in raising readers and writers might be surprising. But it must be said and recorded: There's a thin line between advocate and asshole.
I think this applies to all areas of life: political leanings, charity work, professional and personal philosophies, and of course parenting. I'll be the first to admit I have crossed this line before. I feel pretty strongly about universal health care and support services for kids whose families are struggling. I feel extremely passionate about professional development for teachers and classroom libraries. And I am pretty crazy about high fructose corn syrup- well, actually pretty crazy against it... And I think sippy cups are sent straight from the underworld. Just use a damn glass. But I digress.
As parents, we are told we must advocate for our child. But what does that mean?
Perspective and methodology both play a role. Advocates enter situations with wide-open eyes, considering how they are contributing to the greater community. Assholes enter situations with expectations, focusing on what they think they need or deserve.
My grandmother would say it's about catching more flies with honey rather than vinegar, but I think that's too simple. Advocacy isn't just about sweetness; it's about truth. A remarkable amount of self-reflection is necessary to see the truth in our selves and our children. But holding to the tenets of advocacy is very important and not holding fast to them can have serious repercussions.
In my work as a classroom teacher, it was always pretty easy to spot the advocates. Part of their angle is clearly a smart political move (never burn a bridge!), but much of it is also a perspective for interacting in the world. It's important to consider a few things when entering a school (especially as a Kindergartner). First, lose the score card. If you are not keeping score of the teacher's rights and wrongs (and typos), everyone will be happier. Also, look within and think: how is my child and my family making a positive contribution to the classroom and greater school community? If my child needs more attention or services than a typical student, are we gracious recipients? Full disclosure: teachers and support staff want to make sure your child gets what he/she needs so remembering that you are on the same side is essential. And for me, if someone spends six hours a day with my kid, I am going to make nice.
Now, as a mother of a kindergartner in a middle class public school system, this may seem like premature advice. What could I really know about advocating for my child when we've only been in a school community for 110 school days? (And full disclosure: we've had no big issues since Mrs. Z. is practically perfect and she "gets" our not-as-perfect-yet-quintessential kindergartner). Obviously, I have had the advantage of working in schools for over a decade and also observing others really struggle with this adjustment and have seen firsthand how not to react. Very unsavory situations can be created by being combative. It reminds me of my favorite dating advice: Act like you're not crazy for at least 3 months. After all, in a K-6 school, if you are unpleasant to deal with in Kindergarten, it may take a while (even with kind professionals) for it to be forgotten and forgiven.
In sending my son to school, I am recognizing that he is not perfect- or even easy all the time- for that matter. I know what his triggers are and I understand how intensely and quickly he reacts to little things, but not necessarily big things. It's exactly what I see some parents doing: reacting to little things rather than big things. Except they think they're big things. And after series of meetings and other shenanigans, they are big things.
I think there are situations where the classroom situation is so detrimental that polite advocacy may not be an option. There are some really bad teachers who have been given too many chances. There are IEPs that are simply not being met. That is not what this post is about. It seems that for many people, some issues are created by some poorly played situations. And as a former crazy girlfriend making crazy late-night phone calls, I have learned (ok- am learning) to wait and be more self-aware- and avoid knee-jerk reactions.
It's all about finding the truth- and then living in it. And, hey, a little sweetness mixed with that truth couldn't hurt. Asking for help when you live in the truth is advocacy.
We all need help sometimes.