The academic work of the school year begins for real on Monday, but my school life has been going on for a week and a half now. We've had faculty meetings and class retreats and an all-school retreat and an introductory day of classes -- it's all been fun but tiring, and it will be a relief to settle into normal school life next week.
The significant challenge of the last week and a half has been feeling the need twice to speak up to the administration about something that I thought was wrong. The second instance happened just yesterday; a student was really upset about something that the class deans had told her class, and once I heard what they'd said, I was SO angry. She told two of us teachers, and the two of us immediately looked at each other, aghast at what we'd just heard. The student had every right to be upset, and so we talked with her first, encouraging her thoughtful articulation of why specifically she was upset and the ways in which she thought it was undermining what FGS is supposed to stand for (and I was pleased at how thoughtful and articulate she was about this; she's a senior, and clearly the education is actually working!). Once she felt better and was ready to move on, I went straight downstairs to my favorite administrator's office and told her what the student had reported had been said. Bless her, she immediately responded with, "That's so wrong!" I told her that normally I would go talk with the person who'd supposedly been saying whatever it was -- trying to avoid triangulation -- but that in this instance I was so angry that I didn't trust myself to speak calmly (and I was definitely not calm when talking with this administrator!), but that it needed to be dealt with right away, so I was going to dump the whole thing on her desk. And she said, as she always does, "That's my job," and we left the office together, me to go back to my classroom and her going into the class deans' office. So that felt like a very successful experience of speaking up and having people respond.
The earlier instance was more drawn out and more painful. I'm going to be deliberately vague about the whole thing here (a rare instance of discretion on my part!). Suffice it to say that there's been a situation on campus that I have for years thought was a lawsuit waiting to happen. We have a new head of school this year, and during our faculty meetings in the first week we had a presentation by FGS's lawyer (I didn't actually realize before this that we had a lawyer, although I should have assumed that we did) in which we were encouraged to report anything that we thought might lead to this sort of lawsuit, even if it felt like we were spreading rumors. This was a clear change in administrative attitude, and so I decided to speak up about the situation. Without really thinking it through particularly, I told the designated administrator that I had some information along those lines; he met with me that very afternoon, and two days later he asked me to meet again with him and the new head of school, which I did. And yes, that was my very first conversation with the new head of school -- yikes! Fortunately, I've since talked with her several times about completely unrelated matters; in fact, I think she made a point of sitting down at the same lunch table with me a couple of days later so that we could do just that, which I really appreciate. She has impressed me thus far!
But back to the story: unfortunately, this was a situation in which my speaking up led to these administrators doing some necessary digging around and then talking with other colleagues who had more directly observed the phenomenon I was reporting (although these colleagues were in no way responsible for it).
The administrators are handling the whole situation with great discretion at this point, as they should, but those four colleagues all know that I am the one who initially reported this situation. I made a point of seeking out a one-on-one conversation with each of them to make sure that we were still good (although, again, there is no question that any of them is in any way blameworthy). Three of them told me that, although they found talking about the situation unpleasant, I had clearly done the right thing in reporting it. They also all said that the new head of school did her best to make the follow-up conversations as supportive as possible, which they appreciated.
Unfortunately, the fourth colleague got really, really angry with me. And she's a really good friend, so this is making me sad. She is very much a "let sleeping dogs lie / don't rock the boat / let's keep things light" person, which I'm not, but we've always been fine with this difference between us. But she thinks -- and she's right -- that I embroiled her in a situation that she would have stayed out of entirely. She did acknowledge that I had clearly done what I thought was right, but she resents like hell that she's now involved. She also disagrees with me that the situation itself -- the one that I think is a lawsuit waiting to happen -- is a problem. She tends to think that I need to calm down and stop looking for problems and that some of the things I've had concerns about over the years are "just the way it's done in boarding schools." My perspective is that the way things are done is sometimes a bad way and that there's a reason that scandals break out at boarding schools, sometimes in the moment and sometimes decades later.
It is really bumming me out to be in a fight with one of my good friends at school, and it was enough to shake my confidence and to think that maybe I'd done the wrong thing. So it's a real relief that the designated administrator to whom I reported this situation in the first place said to me more than once, "Thank you, WN, for coming forward. This is exactly the sort of situation that we need to investigate. I'm sure it wasn't easy to say something, but it was important that you did." As pointed out to me by D., who's very good with family systems theory, one isn't often thanked for revealing secrets that the system has kept hidden for a long time!
Despite both of these unpleasant experiences, it's actually been a good start to the school year. And in both situations, I received support from the top, even if I didn't consistently receive that support from my colleagues. And actually, getting support from three out of four colleagues is actually quite a good statistic, even if I'm really down about the anger from the fourth.
The best part is that I can now put both of these situations out of my mind. The head of school was careful to say to me that she wouldn't be able to report back about the first situation because it had to remain confidential, which I completely understood. And the second situation had the beauty of my being able to deal with it immediately and know that it was deal with. And I'm sure that my friend will come around and forgive me reasonably soon. Really, the whole thing could have been SO much worse (let's all remember the hell that was St. Martyr's!), and I've experienced much less stress over the matter than I would have anticipated.