Hold on tight, kids; here comes the rant machine!
Let me set the scene for you with the history: I’m in a social work program. Social workers, as part of their day-to-day, deal with troubled, upset, abrasive, angry and sad people. It happens. Clients do not always exhibit fluffy bunny kindness when telling you that the program you’ve suggested for them conflicts (as you should know) with their job, and thus, they can’t attend; sometimes, they just call you a stupid fucking bitch who doesn’t know her damn job. Clients can be wonderful, but I digress. The point is this: we are entering a profession where we can and will screw up, and people may or may not be nice in pointing it out.
One of our courses is Group Facilitation – in layperson terms, it’s a class to teach us to work in pairs and present information/teach people things. Our major assignment is, you guessed it, a 45-minute facilitation. Instructor tells us, “This is where you can fall on your face and learn, so you do wonderfully out in the field.” We all stare wide-eyed, wondering when she’s going to tell us how to do this foreign thing. It’s far more complex than it sounds, because social work programs want a very specific technique and style.
As part of our presentations, we’re grading our peers. These grades do not impact our actual grades; their sole function, really, is for us to reflect on that feedback in a big ol’ “how do I feel about this?” paper.
First warning sign: the first day, when people realized that the groups would get to see what they wrote about their presentations, people began whining about wanting to leave off their names, wanting to not see them, insisting people would retaliate on each other for harsh marks. “This isn’t high school,” Instructor says. I shake my head: our class really is like high school. We are a mix of fast-track students and two-year standard program students, and the ages range from 20-40+ within the same 27-pupil section. It makes for divisions simply due to differing generations, maturity levels and lived experiences. It’s also almost entirely female. Mean Girls. Enough said.
As someone who has worked as a teacher, and in keeping with the spirit of “fall down here and learn”, I am very honest on my forms. These are not anonymous; everything I say, I would say to someone’s face. When I approach them, in the whopping two minutes I have at the end and in the tiny space for each category of ranking, I jot down areas where I feel the facilitators could have improved, anything I thought that misfired, any biases/isms they’ve inadvertently demonstrated, etc. I do this because when we all enter the field, we will not be dealing with our fluffy loving classmates; we will be dealing with people from all walks of life, with all different personalities. What I may find “kinda rude” may get you screamed at in the field, or send someone running out in tears. Not good, right?
Apparently, I am stuck in a class full of Special Snowflakes, coddled throughout their lives and totally positive! and everybody is amazing! and deserves an A+ for effort!
Parents of the world (and teachers) please listen: there is a difference between a strengths-based, encouraging approach and flat-out lying to a child about how perfect she is, setting her up to utterly melt down when she meets the real world and finds out she’s not perfect. She will assume everyone is a big ol’ meanie out to get her, and be oblivious to the fact that no, maybe she is just flawed – and that’s okay and normal!
Not everyone is good at oral presentations; I tend to talk way too fact because of social phobia, and also just struggle to find a good flow a lot of the time. In grade five, I had to do a speech for school. My topic? Hating speeches. I burst through what was a proper five-minute speech at home, finished in three-minutes, and stumbled over every other sentence anyway.
My teacher did not tell me I was amazing. She gave me a B- (and for a perfectionist getting an A+ in that class, this was devastating and hysterics-inducing) and told me I needed a stronger development of my ideas and also, I should slow the hell down so people can understand me.
My parents never coddled me. They told me to dream big, to go after any career I wanted, and to always do my best, but they also knew I sucked at Art, Gym and Geography and told me that oh well, I just sucked at colouring maps and playing basketball.
I was furious with myself for not getting an A. Did I melt down and call the teacher an unfair meanie, and send my mother after her? No. I tried to improve, so I’d never get a dreaded B- again. I knew the speedy talking was terror, so I worked on the other stuff: I made sure to learn how to properly present what would later be identified as a thesis. I got better at presentations. I still got told to slow down, but not as much.
In this class, I gave my absolute strongest performance to date. Between 24 classmates and the teacher, no one told me I spoke too fast; I presented my ideas without tripping on my tongue; and I even jumped in to help manage a potentially contentious debate. Our group worked really hard, consulting often with teachers, to ensure we covered all of the marking scheme requirements, watched our biases, etc. We got 91% from a teacher doling out 77% and calling that “a really good mark”. It was the best mark by a huge margin to that point.
We still had criticisms. I agreed with them: our topic was very complex, so our slides had too much text on them due to the time limit. We should have found more time for discussion-based learning. Live and learn. I was pointed out for speaking less than another group member, but the class was unaware of my social phobia and how I’d done more of the prep work as a compensation to my group. I got a nasty comment that was pure retaliation after marking four other groups, and brushed it off. I’m a grown woman. I cannot and will never please everyone, no matter what I do. That’s life.
My classmates fall into two groups: one side, mainly the older students, acts the same way. The rest – our Snowflakes – are furious with me for daring to say bad things, won’t speak to me anymore, and one even went to our instructor and complained for ten solid minutes today about me. How do I know this? She did it where anyone – including me, walking into the same department office – could hear her. I was so embarrassed for her that I left the whole department and gave her the privacy to complain. One of her complaints was that she didn’t mind criticism “offered nicely“.
Here are a few examples of what I’ve seen, and what I’ve said:
- One group consisted of two white females and a Chinese female, who is a recent newcomer. Her English is imperfect, but very understandable if you care to pay attention. After she delivered the content on a slide in their presentation, one of the white girls repeated everything she said over again, as if we couldn’t understand the Chinese co-facilitator. My comment: “X repeated everything Y said right after she said it and it came off really rude and disrespectful. I understood Y just fine!”
- One group ran an exercise that involved walking around the room and having other people sign off on squares of a Bingo card if a statement was true. The goal is to get a line – a Bingo. This went so quickly it became getting a full card. I am invisibly physically disabled and suffer chronic joint pain and to make things more fun, I’d sprained my ankle three days prior. I chose not to walk around but encouraged people to come to me to have their cards signed. Not only did the facilitator standing beside me never ask me why I wasn’t moving around (basic group maintenance), she berated me and told me, “We’re doing a full card now!” Right after stressing the importance of being mindful of disability etc. My comments: “A facilitator stood beside me and never once questioned why I wasn’t participating. She instead made me feel bad for not getting up. I sprained my ankle; it hurt to move. No one checked if anyone was invisibly disabled.”
- One group was setting the room up into a semicircle for their presentation. Our group did this the week before, and managed to do it with space for people to get around the room still, and had enough spots for all. This group didn’t plan, didn’t count spots, and had to suddenly create four more spots. One member came to where I and another student were sitting and rammed our tables back without letting us get up, pinned us against the back wall pretty much. When we suggested leaving a small gap so people could get through the circle and cross to the other side of the room, this member said she “didn’t fucking care” and “my fat ass can get through”. After all this, one student still never had a spot in the circle and sat behind it. My comments: “Q shoved the tables around and told us she “didn’t fucking care” when pinning us to the wall, and ignored our suggestion to leave a gap for crossing the room. Z never got a spot in the circle. Poor planning and rude.”
I firmly own the fact I am blunt and direct and can try and temper that, but where above did I say anything untrue or unnecessarily cruel? Because apparently, I am abrasive and rude, and “out to cut everyone down instead of supporting them” and “selfish”. I had a classmate say that. Okay, people aren’t talking to me: how was this a selfish move? My grading doesn’t affect real marks. If it did, I would be super generous with numbers and just comment! Since it matters not, I will give you 7/10 if you’re rude to people for group maintenance, or deduct points for diversity awareness. Sorry. You are not all A presenters. I did see some A presenters and groups; I also saw B- groups, too. To tell the B- students that everything they did was 10/10 and wonderful negates those who really were amazing and all the efforts and talent they brought to the table.
In the real world, if girl 3 above was running a group session on employment searches and cussed a client, she might get slapped, or disciplined by a superior. Yet, she wants me to lie and tell her she was perfect? Why? Isn’t it better you check your attitude now, with classmates who understand that you’re still learning the ropes, than during your field placement next term?
Funnily, the one male student who was NOT in my own group came up to me after his presentation and asked how I did, specifically wanting to know what I thought of him. I laughed, told him I didn’t get the big deal about me, but said that his group’s was the best I’d seen, that he was the strongest facilitator in their four people, and he should be happy. I discussed my approach and reasoning when I marked and he smiled and got what I was saying. His group, by the way, was group 3 above, so he did get negative feedback as a unit, but he’s still smiling and relaxed.
I tell ya: Mean Girls.
I’m from a different generation than most of these students, and man, the Snowflakes are grating! The real world will not cushion and couch criticism. If I’d had more time and more space to write, I could have written a paragraph to couch my negative comments, but that was not what I was working with. Either way, grow up. Criticism happens. Roll with it, reject or accept it, and get over it already!
Because complaining to a teacher like a child whining to Mommy that “she was MEAN to me!” in college is just pathetic, and says far more about you than me.
I fear for some of these people’s clients.