There are silenced voices in education. The voices of the very young, the voices of children with disabilities and their families, the voices of the social and economically challenged, and the voices of teachers themselves. Speaking up can be terrifying, especially if you fear disregard at the very least and retribution at the most.
All too often we let others speak for us.
- The dominant culture
- The media
“He who does not understand your silence will probably not understand your words.” Elbert Hubbard
Chicago teachers are striking! 400,000 students have to find somewhere else to be during the school day. Parents are scrambling to find alternative care for their kids. Although both statements are true, they are not the story.
Negotiations broke down. It is said that actions speak louder than words, but what happens if actions are misunderstood? The story isn’t that parents are struggling to find child care with the teachers on strike – the story is that teachers are struggling to find their voice!
[UPDATE: The strike has since ended, "Chicago Teacher Strike Implications? After Strike's End, Questions Remain," from Huffington Post.]
We need to learn how to have the difficult conversations and learn how to deal with crucial confrontations. But how do we do that without alienating those with the power? How do we assert our rights effectively? How do we become an advocate without becoming an adversary? Chicago teachers are learning how to do that right now.
Let’s examine some of the obstacles we face when we try to assert our own or our children’s rights.
Try to identify which might be paralyzing to you at this time:
1. You’ve been isolated or excluded by others who were supposed to be on your side.
2. You fear losing your job or reputation if you speak up.
3. You fear being seen as a troublemaker or whistle blower.
4. Everyone else denies there’s a problem and accuses you of lying.
5. You’re reluctant to complain about a fellow human being.
6. Those in charge protect your opponent, even though they know he or she is in the wrong.
7. Your opponent feigns being a victim and manipulates yours or the sympathies of others.
Chicago teachers are facing #1, 2, 3, 4, and 7. Yet they found their voice and are speaking up. Have you lost your voice? What has caused your paralysis? When it’s time to stand up for your own or someone else’s rights, it’s important to consider first what may be paralyzing you, and second, stick to some tried and true ways of making your voice heard.
Educators are often faced with difficult conversations. Below are some ways to make a stand, but fairly:
- Don’t ambush. Make an appointment; don’t just show up unannounced.
- Present your argument logically. Keep emotion out of it.
- Listen carefully to the other party. Restate the “other side’s” point in your own words to make sure you understand it.
- Stick to the issue. It’s easy to get sidetracked. Stay in the present.
- Agree on what behavior is acceptable. This can be as simple as, “Let’s both take a seat,” or “Let’s try to keep a civil tongue.”
- Keep all blows above the belt. Don’t “push buttons” or attack sensitive areas if known to you.
- If you can’t settle the issue, table it for now. Call a temporary truce if you’re not getting anywhere; reschedule to allow time for rethinking, recovering, and reconsidering.
- If you can agree, decide on a plan of action – who’ll do what and by when.
- If you’re later dissatisfied with the outcome, make an appointment for another discussion. Silence means agreement; if the proposed solution didn’t work out, go back to the table and say so.
Educators are advocates. It is a part of their call. But it’s important to learn to be an advocate without becoming an adversary.
Caruana, V. (2007).Standing up for your child without stepping on toes. Colorado Springs, CO: Focus on the Family.
Patterson, K. (2005). Crucial confrontations. New York: McGraw-Hill Books.
Dr. Vicki Caruana’s radio show, “Wise Advice for Standing Up For Your Child,” is scheduled to air Tuesday, September 25, 2012. Listen to the stream live at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Dr. Vicki Caruana, Ph.D is an assistant professor of education at Regis University in Special Education, a former classroom teacher, and parent turned writer who seeks to educate and encourage kids and those who live and work with them to strive for excellence. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Specific Learning Disabilities, a Master’s degree in Gifted Education, a certificate in Educational Leadership, and will obtain her Ph.D. in Special Education in 2011. Her best-selling book “Apples & Chalkdust” has sold more than 600,000 copies! She has written more than 80 articles and 20 books and is a frequent guest on national radio and television programs. Vicki speaks at educational, parenting, homeschool and writers’ conferences. Vicki is also an educational spokesperson whose most recent client is Nintendo®. Her radio media tour reached more than 3,000,000 listeners nationwide.