Not my monkey and definitely not my circus to follow or lead.

My family roots are from Poland and Russia – the area where the demarcation changed so often there are no clear and specific maps which can identify whether I am actually of Russian or Polish extraction. This knowledge helped me to  understand how the following phrase came into being:  Nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpy . Literally it means not my circus and not my monkey. Figuratively it means ‘not my problem’. It was from the part of the world where no one knew, on an hour to hour, day to day basis what was indeed going on. 

For a long time I believed many things in education were my problem (fault) as I had worked for a charter school and they encouraged carrying the burden of guilt on ones back, with scaffolding if necessary. The reality was the folks at said charter school were no better at managing the problems than anyone at a regular public school.  Is This Working? – This American Life on NPR, put together a piece which demonstrated the not so subtle issues of learning and behavior. Charter schools, if they function at all, function for a very thin strand of students and do not do anything different for the rest than a public school with caring and concerned teachers as well as involved parents.  It is amazing to look at what money has bought and not delivered on – the rate of college graduation for the groupings of students most in need of an education has not changed in any noticeable increment since the advent of charter schools……

I began to realize over time ‘my problem’ was to show up, do 150% of whatever I needed to do and follow through to make sure what I did stuck.  The rest of the problem was up to students and their parents/guardians since I only saw students a couple hours a day when in the classroom and once or twice a week when tutoring. All those other hours were with other people who had control over what was going on in the child’s world – learning, behavior, etc.

Over sufficient time, I learned I did not need to fear  telling students or parents the truth-what they needed to hear.  It served no one if I was afraid to tell the truth and tried to modify and shape behavior with no real goals/outcomes. The worst was when I felt desperate. Once I began to lay everything out and clarify how/why things work, I started to notice people self selected and my student load in tutoring changed.

My load went from people who could afford me and the nuance of ‘having a tutor’ to the people who understood and valued what a tutor did – at any price. I can be found tutoring for free or in exchange for an ethnic food cooking lesson as all I am giving up is my time. For the student, I am making a huge difference. These immigrant families seemed to better understand the American Dream than most Americans.

The parents and students who were ‘on board’ actually changed and grew and learned and developed while everyone else was just happy to ‘have a tutor’. The more I stuck to my guns, the better things went. I was able to excise ‘those with little will and low commitment’ to connect with those who gave it their all. This system was especially effective with SPED students and parents.

Where I used to merely grin and bear at, I found myself being happy, fulfilled and enjoying everything I did. I found out what I did even had a name – Telling Truth to Power. I was not fearful to tell the truth since I knew it actually mattered and to not tell the truth, while it seems like a kindness, is actually mean.

I recently took a tutoring job to see if there could be reasonable success with online tutoring at a rate of 1:4. The students were 3+ years below grade level in math. What I found out was the parents who understood the concept got on board. The parents who had been making excuses over the years (hence students being far below grade level) and chose not to get on board were frustrated when I made them and their child accountable. There was no specific way to get buy in. There were many ways to get excuses.  It always hurts to hear the truth although amazingly, the truth is what sets us free.

There have rarely been  monkeys and the circus I attend is Cirque de Soleil.  I still don’t know my ethnicity.