Emotional first aid

This is what I call it.  “What is Dyspatient doing?!” my boss was apparently hissing in the front office early this afternoon after seeing me talking to a sobbing student in a private room, away from my desk.

Let’s back up.  I work in a post-secondary disability service office.  I am in charge of making sure that students with disabilities get their tests with the accommodations they have been approved to have.  Sometimes, things go wrong.  Like today.  The short version is a computer program ate a student’s test.  The student was, understandably, upset.  She was in fact very very upset.  Rather than have a conversation with her like that in front of other testing students, I ushered her out of the test center and had the secretaries bring her to a private room.  I then made some calls, tried to find out what happened, then what could be done, and how it could be done in a way to help make this all less horrible for this poor student.  After getting the details, I went to her and talked to her.

“What do you say when they get like that?” a staff member asked me later.  “I say I’m sorry that this happened, that I understand and that this is genuinely upsetting, and that it’s ok to be upset.  I offer her tissues and I tell her what her options are and I try to help her get what she needs to make a decision about what to do now.”

My boss, however, felt that none of this was anything I should concern myself with.  “Just send this over to the ADA officer” I was told she said while I was trying to calm this young lady down.

I do not accept this.  It was our screw up.  I was greeted by a round of massive buck passing by the department where the test originated – “the student must not have hit save” or “she should have told you there was  problem before she did XYZ (with the program)”.  No.  Not ok.  If the program is not designed to work with a student taking an extra long test (as students with disabilities are prone to do with minimally accessible tests), it needs to be fixed.  If the student didn’t hit the right set of keys in the right order and it ate the test, then clearly that is not a robust program from a user perspective.  Moreover, it is not a reasonable alternative to a paper test because a paper test is not quite so fragile.  We own the program, we put it into place, we set the parameters on it, and so it is our problem, and part of making that right (or as right as one can in that situation) is dealing with the student’s reaction to the problem.

I’m waiting for the boss to come to me with her complaints about this.  I’m sure they will surface eventually, probably when I’m super busy tomorrow and have to choose between saying what I feel with no time or brain space to apply the boss filter vs. saying nothing.

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  1. Queen

     /  October 13, 2010

    Frowny face.

    She could benefit from 1st grade curriculum: Be responsible, respectful, and safe.

    Days like these are so draining and I wish you had a better boss. Is there anyone you could talk to about the higher level problems your boss is not recognizing in your department’s services. Ugh – academia.

    Please know that you made a positive difference in that student’s life today and also in mine. And that’s just today.

  2. I think you did the right thing by staying with the student. There should be some sort of automatic back-up or save in test programs, especially for students with disabilities that are taking long exams. I commend you for doing the right thing. Blessings.

  3. R. G. Maines

     /  October 15, 2010

    I agree with the other comments here, I’ve also worked with students with special needs, advocating to be sure they get the reasonable accommodations they are entitled to and I would have done exactly the same thing. Sometimes people just need to feel what they are feeling, to express their frustration, etc. and they just need to know someone has heard them, that someone cares. Once they get that out of the way, they are able to move forward, process the situation and determine a resolution.

    Bravo for putting people first, business second. 🙂

  4. Thanks guys. I know it may not always seem like it when you’re commenting on a remote blog but your support does help a ton. It seems like a no-brainer to help in this situation, right? I hate that there are times at work where I have to choose between doing the RIGHT thing and doing her right thing.

    I’m quite certain my boss has a personality disorder. She is so caustic and horrible to so many different kinds of people.


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