An Open Letter to a Colleague


I am writing in response to your comment in today’s staff meeting. I am writing because you offended and hurt me, and I was too angry then to respond. I am writing because I teach protest literature out of profound belief that speaking up is the right thing to do where there is a wrong to be remedied, which is the case today. I am also writing because of my commitment to the XYZ family, to which I owe my part in ensuring that ours is a community in which all members feel safe, respected, and valued in meaningful ways. Today, I was not safe, respected, or valued, to the extent that I began to explore avenues to leave. I decided against leaving, which I will explain shortly. I am writing in the hope that no one is ever made to feel this way at XYZ I am sharing this letter with our colleagues because we are a community, and because you chose to make my private life a matter of staff discussion. Everyone who heard you should hear my response.

This morning, we were discussing a student with significant, likely medical, problems, who has repeatedly threatened the safety of her teachers and parents, and caused such significant problems in our community that no teacher feels confident enough to attempt to manage the student’s aggressive, sometimes violent, behaviors. All of our students struggle. Many of them are aggressive and violent. Such is this particular student that even a staff of committed, highly qualified teachers is at a loss as to how to serve her needs. You said, “Like I always tell you, Maryam, it’s like with Daniel. What would Daniel have to do for you to give up on him?” I would like to explain what you did with this statement.

First, you brought a staff member’s child into a discussion at a staff meeting. This, in itself, is unprofessional and inappropriate. Even if you had praised my son, it would not have been appropriate to bring him up in a meeting about students.

Second, you compared my son to a student who exhibits borderline psychotic tendencies, and who is a clear threat to our community. My child happens to be one of the kindest, most compassionate, most respectful, and polite children I have ever known. You had no right to draw a parallel between him and the student in question, or any student, for that matter. My children are not up for discussion. They are not examples, or case studies, or material.

Third, you compared my commitment to my son to our collective commitment to a student. We have often had to part with students when we have felt that their needs could not be met in our community. It’s always sad, sometimes heartbreaking, to realize that a student and our community are not a match. Although many parental feelings permeate our work with the children every single day, you and I are not their parents.

Your horrifying mistake is to compare expelling a student to a mother’s decision to give up on her child, which, I can tell you from the experience of being a mother, is never. A mother doesn’t give up on her child, X. It is not an option equivalent to expelling a student who threatens a community. Parents don’t expel their children.

What troubles me the most is that this wasn’t a slip, a mistake you might wish to correct. This was, as you acknowledged, the second time you made this statement about my son. This means that this wasn’t slip, but a belief so firm in your heart and mind that you were willing to repeat it, despite my previous assertion that it was inaccurate and inappropriate. This time, you said it in a meeting, in front of colleagues, and never attempted to apologize, correct yourself, or even simply acknowledge the hurt you had caused. This can only mean that you see nothing wrong.

There is something I am compelled to clarify: Adopted children are not temporary. They are not an attempt at a fit. Families who adopt children are not giving children a chance. Adopted children are not a charity, a cause, or an attempt at personal redemption. Adopted children don’t get expelled when things go wrong.

I am curious to know why you used my child twice in a statement such as this. I would like to know why you didn’t mention my daughter, or the child of any other staff member. Why did my son come to your mind for the second time while you were trying to explain why we should give a student a chance?

I spent the day experiencing a range of emotions, considering options, speaking with friends, all of whom are appalled. I am glad I waited to respond because now I see clearly what happened this morning and am in a position to say exactly what I mean.

I am not going to leave my XYZ family. XYZ is good for me, and I am good for our students, and, I would like to believe, my colleagues. My love and respect for our community far surpass any one incident, any one wrong, however great, and certainly, any one person. XYZ is my family. And I don’t let family go.

Thank you for reading my letter.


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