talking_too_much

In the spirit of B2S, I want to give my fellow school psychologists a few tips for how
to work with difficult adults in the school building. I think that when we
first go into this field, we have a vision of working with kids all day long,
in a cozy office, providing shelter from the storm of their troubles. And then,
it turns out we don’t have an office, and if we do, it may be either Arctic tundra
conditions or Bikram school psychology in there. Not cozy. Also, it turns out a lot of
the work we do in school is consulting with the adults who interact with our
students.
At any given school site, there is typically one teacher or
support staff member that I find challenging to work with. Not everyone can be
a teacher rockstar like my Internet BFF, Mrs. Mimi and the amazing Angela WatsonFormallyPowell. I really try not to
be Negative Nancy on my blog, but there are a few archetypes of challenging
adults that I’ve run across in the schools that make me wish I were in charge
of hiring and firing with a regal flick of my wrist.
Remove her from my
sight! *flick flick*
This one does not please
me. Get rid of him. *dismissive wave*
This one amuses me.
She can stay.
It’s weird though, as no one has granted me this power in
the schools yet. So instead, I give you tips on how to manage staff members who
give you, as I call it, a staff infection. One staff infection archetype is the
no-boundaries staff member. They hear you are a psychologist, their eyes light
up, and they talk with you as if you are their personal
psychologist.
I remember in my first year on the job, there was this one
parent liasion at one of my elementary schools who had always given me the
heebyjeebies but I couldn’t put my finger on why. His name was Mister W. Fuzzy.
Okay, obviously not, but I will call him that to protect his awfulness
disguised as warm fuzziness. This guy dressed in African dashikis with a lot of
beaded products adorning himself.  Mind
you, he was not African American, let alone African. But since we are all
technically from Africa, and perhaps he was trying to connect with the
students’ roots, I’ll let that go. He referred to everyone as his brother or
sister, which was a little cringe-worthy, to tell you the truth. He spoke with
a soft voice and nodded with affirmations, in a Stuart Smalley kind of way. He
always complimented every kid that came in his office in the third person:
“Mister W. Fuzzy knows you didn’t mean to hit your friend.  Let’s walk on the Peace Path together and
solve your problems. Now both of you give Mr. W. Fuzzy a squeeze.”  Sounds like a decent guy, right? Maybe a bit
over the top for my taste, but different strokes for different folks, I guess.
Oh, but then…
One day, I came in our support staff room after a meeting
with a family and he asked how it went:
MWF: Hello Sista B! [cringe] How was Marcus’s meeting?
Me: It went well, we talked a lot about strategies for
limiting his violent video game time since he does that all afternoon instead
of homework.  
MWF: Well, video games can be addictive, and can breed an
aggressive mindset. You become what you watch.
Me: *sipping coffee* Mmm hmm. Agreed.
MWF: Kind of like porn.
Me: *spitting out coffee*
MWF: I mean, I watch a
lot
of porn, and when I do, I can’t help but then transfer what I see in
the porn onto my feelings about women…
Me: *looking around desperately for an escape route
thinking: “Someone please make this stop. Ah! There’s a phone. Maybe I
can pick it up á la Matrix and find me an exit!*
 
MWF:  …I mean, after
watching hours and hours and hours of porn, then I suddenly
start looking at every young woman in real life and start thinking they’re a
ho.
Me: Um. I have to…um…go away now. *backing sloooooowly away*
Can you believe that guy? From then on out, every time he
looked at me, I couldn’t help but think he was turning me into a ho in his
mind. Egads! I mean, who am I to judge someone’s private life, but I am here to
judge sharing that private life with a young woman in an ELEMENTARY SCHOOL.
Boundaries, people.
When I first started out, I didn’t know how to handle the
no-boundaries staff member. I guess people hear you are a psychologist and
think you want to hear all their intimate thoughts.* Or, for example, they ask you to make behavior plans for their cats. In one way, it’s a sign
that they trust you, which I guess is good. For the run-of-the-mill over-sharers,
I tend to handle it with a dash of humor.** I say things like, “Whoa, I’m a psychologist, not your psychologist” or “Sorry, my
expertise ends at age 18, can’t help you!” However, if they are disclosing
something very distressing or serious, then I definitely take the time to try
and connect them with a mental health professional. Or if their problem is
serious enough to impact the kiddos they work with, I will talk to a supervisor
about the issue to get advice on what to do.
My last piece of advice? Don’t let the over-sharing go on
unchecked like I did with Mister W. Fuzzy. Let’s just say that he thought my
silence was a green light to continue over-sharing about his personal life.
Yes, untreated, the over-sharer is a nasty school staff infection that will
never go away…
*Happens on airplanes too. See my debut in the New YorkTimes on this topic. 
**Are you dying of not-surprise yet?

7 thoughts on “Handling School “Staff Infections” (Part I: The Over-sharer)

  1. My favorite – "you're a psychologist! I'll have to make sure I watch what I say around you!". Ummm…thanks? If anyone has the perfect response to that one, I'd love to hear it.

  2. You are hilarious! And, sadly, so right. Last year I had to hear all about someone's anal fissures and what she had to do to manage them. It was impossible to avoid her because our doors were at right angles to each other – 90 degrees of separation was clearly not enough! Also, I think I'm just going to have to steal the Arctic/Bikram description because it so aptly describes the equatorial/polar climate in my room. Dashiki guy was disgusting! I'm sorry that happened to you.

    Rebecca
    School Counseling by Heart

  3. Hi there!

    I'm a third year school psychologist and love reading your blog! It's nice to know you're not alone in some situations. :o) I thought I would send you a question, in light of your co-worker posts, I had about evaluating co-workers children.

    I have typically worked in low income schools in our district and LOVE those kids and teachers. This year, one of my schools is in more of the, for lack of better words, "hoighty toighty" and what I usually see as small problems or not problems at all appear to be of Armageddon size problems here, and several of our teachers have students that attend here. Anyways, I just had a pre-evaluation planning meeting with one of the teachers for her 6th grade son's three year evaluation. The 6th grader currently receives .25hrs a week to check in with resource. Above or at proficiency in all areas on national and state assessments. Grades are all As and Bs. Mom wants to hear nothing about a 504. I, personally, think that this student did not meet the criteria for OHI based on his last evaluation just because he has ADHD and poor handwriting… We'll see how the assessment goes, but he currently is not demonstrating an educational need for services, but does need extra time to complete tests and assignments. I'm not trying to predetermine, but I can just see a difficult conversation in the future. His mom eluded to the whole "he'd qualify off meds" bit. Do I want to battle this with a co-worker? Yuck.

    Just thought I'd see if anyone else has had a similar situation, and how they handled it.

    Thanks!

  4. @Anon: Sometimes when I have situations like that, I trade sticky triennials with another psych in the district. That way, you can avoid the dual role of being the assessor and the co-worker because the other psych is the one involved. Then, you get a sticky case of hers and everyone wins. Worth a shot if its not too late to trade a case.

  5. Gosh! I would have been freaked out by him being around kids. I'm not a psychologist but I do have a coworker that talks incessantly throughout the day. Interestingly, she is the only on that gets a ton of work done because she is so happy that people are listening to her. It got to a point where I and everyone else would wear headphones to tone her out or pretend that we had them on so she would not start a conversation. She would say some of the biggest faults of her family members at work. It was so inappropriate.

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