Where Is the Man?
(by Neil Garvie from his new book, Jigsaw)
Somedays it seems your name is on everyone’s lips
Where is he? Where is the man?
The pace of life gets quite scattered when you’re in charge
Between brief moments teachers try to catch you
before running back to their classes,
I’ve got a bit of a problem with a student.
Did my call come in from Head Office?
Would you mind speaking to the caretaker?
Have you got a minute to talk with my class?
Will you M.C. our banquet? Will you join our class party?
Can you come on our fieldtrip?
Can you get me a sub for Friday?
And in a school full of female staff the only place
to catch one’s breath
is in the men’s washroom
While there’s no lock on the door
it’s where none dare enter
to find you leaning on the counter
just sighing, thinking nothing
trying to catch your breath
while hearing them outside the hall calling,
Where is the man? Where did he go?
We need an announcement. An item for the agenda.
We need a decision. There’s an incident on the playground!
Someone go find him!
Then, like a paratrooper, Three, two, one…
you’re out in the hall
joining the mayhem, the pace, the conundrum
the fantastic energy, the thronging convergence
to take it all in, to be on everyone’s lips
Somedays it’s great to feel so wanted …
but other days not.
This poem by Neil Garvie really hits home to me. Having been a school administrator and an educational psychologist, I have felt these same feelings. People outside the system don’t realize just how stressful working in the school environment really is. I believe that the same is probably true in the field of Social Work. We are left with the work of doing the impossible without the time and resources needed to do the job.
I know teachers who have been retired for over ten years and still have nightmares about finding their classroom, getting organized, and controlling inappropriate behavior. This sounds to me an awful lot like PTSD. There are two types of PTSD: the kind from a single overwhelming trauma, or the kind from a prolonged period with a continuous series of larger and smaller traumas also known as C(complex)PTSD. School administrators are not immune to these feelings and anxieties faced by classroom teachers. Most of us enter the job believing we can make a difference, make changes that will give children a better chance to be themselves and maximize their potential, and doing what we can to make our communities a better place to live. We soon learn that our role has become one of supporting teachers by disciplining students when we know these kids are just trying to survive their social and home stresses, soothing frustrated parents who are looking to blame someone for their child’s struggles, and supporting frustrated teachers on the brink of quitting because they can no longer stand the stress.
We understand where these people in our care are coming from but we also realize that we do not have the resources to meet their complicated needs. For example, my son is one of two counsellors in a large high school with 1,800 students. One counsellor for nine hundred teenagers with all their social and emotional needs. These counsellors are supposed to be there for the children but find themselves supporting us administrators by taking on our most difficult cases. As a school principal, you have to let some things go until they become a crisis because all the time and energy you have is spent on just one crisis after another.
I remember Arron, a boy in grade five who had a profound learning disability, a really good kid. I had him in my one-third learning disabilities class that I took on as part of my admin time. He moved on to junior high and then to high school failing in more ways than one because of lack of support. When he was sixteen he and a friend walked into a gun range facility, got their hands on the guns, shot and killed the proprietor, robbed the till, and then headed out on a chaotic run from the law. In the following years working as an educational psychologist, if I had had the time and the resources, I know I could have saved him before it was too late and in the process saved the life of the proprietor as well. What a waste of two lives.
But we keep trying to do the impossible with what we have. Many of us, especially those who care too much, burn out and suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome or other mental issues. Even when we get over it, give up trying to do the impossible, and do what we have to do to survive, we still have bad dreams ten years after we retire.