Subliminal Messages

When I was in middle school, my friends and I came up with a way to express disdain in a secret fashion. When someone was bugging us, we’d spell really super quickly, “y.o.u.b.u.g.m.e.” to which the person would say, “what?” and we’d say, “nothing” smirk smirk. So very middle school. Something a grown woman would never do.

Unless she was pushed into a super annoying situation, that is.

I am selling a bed frame on Craigslist at the moment. This one woman haggled me for a good week over $20 and finally agreed to get the bed. She called that morning and asked for directions using the bus even though she was only 5 blocks away. After explaining this concept several times, I gave her walking directions that were seriously “Go up the street you are on for 5 blocks and there I am.”

She arrives about 45 minutes later. She has no visible impairments, so I’m not sure if she got lost or what. Anyway, she gets out a magnifying glass and starts inspecting the bed frame, finding every little scratch and commenting, “Oh, I do not like that” and “oh goodness gracious!” and “You did not mention all these defects.” *

What seemed like 10 minutes later, she decided she liked it enough and asked me where my car was so we could load it up. She assumed I wanted to deliver it to her house too! That is not standard Craigslist procedure. That is what new furniture companies do. I told her my car wasn’t big enough and she looked around my garage and asked if my neighbor’s car was big enough! At this point, I just wanted her to go away, so I told her she could probably rent a truck from y.o.u.b.u.g.m.e. Apparently, working with middle schoolers all day makes me regress into middle school sometimes. She looked at me puzzled, but not offended, and asked me to repeat it. I said, U-Haul the second time around, and she seemed like this was the most offensive suggestion ever.

It was clear this transaction was not going to happen, so I escorted her to the door. She politely asked what I did for a living as small talk or something and I told her I was a school psychologist. She said she was a school social worker. And THEN. And THEN! She said, with a smirk, “Oh, so you just test the kids, and then I have to treat them.”

In my head, I told her off that school psychologists are so much more than testers and this is a battle I fight every day to position myself as a person with more to offer than testing. Even if testing were the only thing I did, it is a valuable intervention because teachers, parents, and students themselves can finally understand learning strengths and weaknesses and how social-emotional factors play into student learning. Students have thanked me for finally explaining their disabilities in a way they can understand. I had a student the other day say, “Your testing made me feel smart for the first time.” Teachers appreciate my testing because it provides feedback for instruction, and parents thank me for taking the time to really get to understand their child.

I think assessment is a form of treatment because you have a powerful one on one interaction with a kid who 9 chances out of 10 thinks they’re stupid and you can show them in black and white all the ways they can learn and all of their true potential. Even better, the teachers and parents see the student in a new light and change their behavior to help the student learn and feel good about his or herself.

I said all that in my head. What I actually said to her was, “Goodbye.” If my experience has taught me anything, it is that you can’t reason with someone who is always asking for more and being critical of everything. Pick your battles. But if she looked closer at school psychologists like she fastidiously looked at my bed frame, she’d be able to understand we do so much more than testing.

*Fine. I lied to make the story better. She didn’t have a magnifying glass. But she did inspect that bed like it was her job to ensure all second-hand furniture had a fissure-free surface for Consumer Reports.

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Comments on Subliminal Messages

  1. Denise says:

    Hi Dr. Bell,

    I enjoy your blog so much and discovered it while studying for that elusive first SP job…I can identify with constantly overcoming the label of psychometrician. (but the lightbulb kids get when testing- Amazing :=) Also @ critics: my supervisor rated me average when all feedback, letters, previous evals rate me highly…staff at my schools said they forgot I was an Intern this year and other psychs find my reports well written. It hurt to see my mentor score me so differently. Now, interviews want to my see eval, how should I approach this, Dr. Bell? Any thoughts would be appreciated!

  2. Denise,

    I think my first eval was “Meets the Standard” which wasn’t super flattering either. The only “Excellent” I got was in crisis management and I think that’s because during our eval meeting there was a lock-down and I calmly walked over to the door and put up the “green” sign that no one in our room needed assistance and sat back down for the eval.

    The next year, it was “Outstanding” but I don’t think my skills changed that much, only the head of our department got to know my work better. Were you evaluated by your direct intern supervisor or a district person?

    If you haven’t already, I’d talk to your supervisor about the areas she thought you could strengthen and use that as a talking point in interviews to show that you are the type to work on your weaknesses: “Based on last year’s evaluation, I’m interested in improving some of my skills in the area of [linking assessment to intervention, participating in SST meetings, etc]. Are there any opportunities in this district to expand my skills in this area?” Then the interviewer sees that you are self-aware and willing to put in the work.

    I’d also beef up the letters of rec. Try to have people avoid just listing the tasks you did (dead give away for a form letter) and cite specific instances in which you excelled. “Denise showed poise in a contentious IEP that had a lawyer, advocate, advocate’s laywer’s lawyer, and 2 outside evaluators” rather than “Denise attended IEPs.”

    Good luck to you!

    Rebecca

  3. Denise says:

    Thank you, Dr. Bell- These suggestions are excellent, plus you made me chuckle at your wit in describing the “crisis” situation! The eval is from my intern supervisor. I’ve taken your advice and added a strong, narrative/descriptive letter re: poise, articulation at IEP’s, handling a difficult counseling case as Intern, etc. I’m keeping fingers crossed =)

    PS: Congrats on an outstanding (and rare) School Psychology site that benefits all those that care about kids (and with the humor to put smiles our their faces too!)

  4. Thanks Denise! Good luck to you. Come on over to California, we have plenty of school psychologist jobs here (if my blog hasn’t scared you away from the profession yet!)

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