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Dammit, I Just Want My Kids to Do Art!
Is our children learning?
Welcome to an advice column by me, Sara Benincasa, a person with many opinions. This column will not diagnose or “cure” anything at all! Hopefully, reading it will entertain and perhaps comfort you. Think of it as a warm embrace from your favorite dead celebrity’s ghost (for me, Frederick Law Olmsted) while you are making pottery together in a sensual way. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. If I use your question, I’ll keep you anonymous.
My kids were in a SUPER SHITTY school last year, where they weren't allowed to have recess, and they weren't allowed to have anything, and it was just fighting with the principal and misery. At the beginning of the year I had joined the PTA and mentioned my sister, a full-time elementary school art teacher who's actually paid by the PTA to bring fabulous wonder to the kids. Everybody told me I was out of my mind to even consider raising funds to bring in an art teacher.
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Well this year the kids are in a wonderful school (yes it's still public, no it's not a charter), with recess and gym and a full-time art teacher. Oh my god I am so happy!
And he's very nice and fairly young, and ... the kids just do coloring pages? With a full-time art teacher? I'm not trying to tell him his business, but I would like to tell him his business. My sister works on a limited budget but makes amazing things happen for her kids.
I offered to purchase supplies to help, and he told me he would love more … coloring pages. What's a creative way I can sooooo gently suggest actual art lessons for the kids without telling him he is doing it wrong, because he is doing it wrong? — A Person Who Once Roasted A Chicken You Ate And Really Loved
I am so glad your kids are in a better school — and I bet THEY are glad, too! What a badass parent thou art. Clearly, you advocated for them, and I bet sometimes you wanted to pull your hair out and set your hair on fire and then throw the ball of burning hair at something (not a person, but perhaps The Concept Of Underfunded Public Education).
Now come sit on Auntie Sara’s bony knee and let me tell you a little story from when I was just a tiny baby girl.
Once upon a time, before I had the bizarre but mostly fun octopus of a career I have now, years before my first time working a Wonkette beat (reading Maureen Dowd columns and hallucinating circa 2009 or 2011), I was a teacher at a public school.
This school was small, idealistic, and … not great.
Like, we didn’t have a school nurse. We just didn’t. What would happen if a child fell down in their classroom while attempting a backflip off a desk and got a concussion? Um, who can say?
We also didn’t have a physical education program. Or a school psychologist. Or a full-time social worker, even though so many of the kids had specific needs and would’ve benefited greatly.
It was hard to fulfill an individualized education plan for a kid using spare and rusty parts, but we did it. Often, it was because parents like you helped us out.
A parent who is kind, enthusiastic, polite, and energetic should be welcomed by any teacher, but this is not always the case. Some teachers get their porcupine quills up.
Let’s invent an ITP (individualized teacher plan) to help this teacher do more good stuff. But we will exhibit some finesse just in case this teacher happens to be a little sensitive or defensive about things with which he is not familiar.
It isn’t your job to mentor the dude, but you could bring in some ideas from your sister and pretend they are yours. Or you could say, “My sister is an art teacher over in West Guadalafuckington, and she showed me this cool thing she did with her kids — look! If I helped with supplies, would you want to do something like this?”
Show photos! Ask him what he thinks! How would he do it differently? Would he put his own spin on it?
If he again just says, “MORE COLORING BOOKS” you are perhaps dealing with a highly resistant individual who is also not the sharpest X-Acto knife in the bin (next to the Sculpey, and by the way, you better sign that X-Acto knife out with teacher’s permission!)
At this point, it may be time to join this PTA and talk about funding a visiting artists program, perhaps through a million bake sales or an AmeriCorps grant or existing funds you just don’t know about yet. Then the kids’ nice but kinda dull flatbread art class experience can be leavened with the occasional brioche or perhaps even a buttery kouign-amann!
Your kids are lucky to have you. Thank you for doing your best to ensure that even though they aren’t in a fancy-pants independent school, they still get to do more than macaroni art. Although at this point, macaroni art sounds like it’d be a step up.
P.S. If you ever want me to come in and do an age-appropriate creative writing/visual arts combo workshop for free, I am there (on Zoom or IRL). This could be an email, but let’s put it in a blog post!
P.P.S. The Kennedy Center has this excellent, accessible post about arts education advocacy. You’ve already done most of this, but perhaps there will be something else to spark a new idea.
We love your eyeballs. We also love your money. We are happy you are here!
I have a coworker who is nasty no matter what. I mean, no matter what. Here’s an example: there was a day when we were all surprised by a very generous cost-of-living raise based on inflation plus some extra because our boss loves us. We were all thrilled, except this coworker.
Now, I would understand if this coworker were angry because she felt we should’ve gotten more money. But no, her complaint was that the rest of us were talking about it too excitedly and she thought that was annoying. Not too LOUDLY — we were “overly excited.”
Then she rolled her eyes at us.
AND THEN she goes, “Money isn’t everything.” She makes more than I do! Like, wow, I’m fucking sorry I’m thrilled to be able to pay my rent and make a small contribution to my nieces’ college funds this year, you fucking asshole.
Here’s another example: she is rude to everyone who delivers packages to our office. She treats them like the help, and implies they are a nuisance. WHAT? Bike messengers work harder than I’ve ever seen her work. Delivery drivers, too.
She sighs loudly in the middle of other people’s work presentations. If they pause and ask her, “Would you like to add something?” she snickers and says, “No, I was just taking a deep breath” or some bullshit like that.
There are so many more examples, like how whenever we ask her to sign a birthday card for somebody in the office, she sighs and sarcastically says something like, “Sure, it’s not like I was doing anything important.”
We are not all chipper corporate drones, I swear. We’re just reasonably decent most of the time. She’s got a good title, gets to make some leadership decisions, and seems to enjoy meeting people at conferences who aren’t us. She seems like she thinks she’s better than us and better than our workplace.
She does a good enough job, and completes things on time. She kisses upper management’s ass. I’ve never seen her be rude to our boss.
The worst thing is how shitty she is to maintenance staff. She treats them like sub-humans.
I want to scream and fire her into the sun, or at least make her smoke weed to chill the fuck out, but I cannot. I’m not her direct report, but I don’t have seniority over her, either. What do I do? — Quietly Seething In The Next Cubicle
This type of coworker is worse than an incompetent one. If someone is at least respectful of others at the office, it takes the sting out of their lack of skills and/or talents (unless they’re doing surgery and consistently leaving patients dead on the table.)
In most cases, a pleasantly incompetent coworker may be coached to do better, or moved to a position where they can succeed. What’s worse is a competent employee who sucks as a human being. You can’t fix bitter, milady.
In your heart of hearts, I’m guessing you don’t want this person to be fired, but merely to learn to behave better. If (and only if) I trusted my boss to keep my words confidential, I would sit down and have a private chat.
Here’s one potential script: “Boss Person, I’d like to talk to you about Adorama (I don’t know why she’s named after a Manhattan photo shop, but she is). I’ve noticed some specific behaviors over time that are of concern. I’m wondering if you might be willing to coach me on how best to respond. I understand that she and I may have personality differences, but these things have truly bothered me - and I don’t think I’m the only one.”
Leading with “I” statements is not just a rhetorical trick. It’s also an affirmation of your own agency and willingness to keep your side of the street clean. It shows a grounded, centered approach to conflict resolution.
Then — and this is extremely important — give specific examples. Not “she just kinda sucks” but “When Storm, Dr. Xavier and I were giving that presentation on our third-quarter ROI regarding the Sploonbloon investment, Adorama sighed loudly thrice, ripped a loud fart, and asked her neighbor when this shit would be over. I could hear that, and found it distracting. This is not the first time such a thing has occurred…”
Share times in which her behavior has negatively affected you, and also share instances you’ve merely observed - for example, ways in which she’s been dismissive of office visitors, maintenance staff, and folks who may not be able to advocate for themselves with your supervisor.
Please remember that you are not morally obligated to do this. I understand that it may be quite stressful to speak up in this way. Perhaps a like-minded and trustworthy coworker could join you for this discussion with the boss. But if the anxiety of doing it outweighs the potential benefits of doing it, don’t do it.
Finally, make sure to take care of yourself. If you need to go for long walks at lunch to blow off some steam, do it. If you can move your cubicle away from hers, go for it. If putting some earphones on and listening to Gregorian chants from the ‘90s melts away your tension, have at it. No matter what, I wish you much luck.