Marc Maxhimer, a former middle school teacher, talks about the time he tried to help his new principal -- only to get the door slammed in his face.
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Would you like to listen to the whole conversation? Go to PC-Podcast.com/Support and subscribe for full recordings and early episodes.
In the meantime, please share this episode with someone you think needs to hear this today. That's all for this Professional Confessional. I'm Ashley Stryker. Thanks again for tuning in, and I hope you'll join us next time. Talk soon!
Ashley Stryker [00:00:06] Welcome to the Professional Confessional: How the biggest mistakes we've ever made fundamentally changed our work, our careers and our approach forever. Gain wisdom and perspective through these audio absolutions.
Ashley Stryker [00:00:20] Today's guest is Marc Maxhimer: A former middle school teacher whose mistake made his assistant principal slam the door so hard, it literally almost hit him on the way out.
Marc Maxhimer [00:00:32] Previous to this position, I was a teacher for 16 years. I was actually someone who went back to school after working in construction and all that, and decided I don't want to do this for the rest of my life. So I went back to school, became a teacher, so I had probably been teaching for nine, ten years. So it's like right in the middle of my teaching career. I was at the middle school.
Marc Maxhimer [00:00:53] At the middle school, the assistant principal position is a stepping stone position because you get that and then you move up to either high school assistant principal or a director of something. People in that position are not there very long. So in my short career of 10 years, I had already been through, I think, seven assistant principals.
Marc Maxhimer [00:01:11] So the new guy that came in as the assistant principal had been there for eight, nine, eight, six --- six months or so, and he'd come from the high school where he had taught mostly upper class[men], advanced students. So that's a very different population of students than seventh and eighth graders, right?
Marc Maxhimer [00:01:29] Seventh and eighth graders... There's a reason why everybody has memories about middle school that they do and that parents have the view of middle school students.
Marc Maxhimer [00:01:37] They're like, "Oh, what do you teach?"
Marc Maxhimer [00:01:38] I'm like, "Eighth grade."
Marc Maxhimer [00:01:39] They're like, "Oh my god, I'm sorry."
Marc Maxhimer [00:01:41] And I'm like, "No, I chose to be in eighth grade."
Marc Maxhimer [00:01:44] And then they're like, "What's wrong with you?"
Marc Maxhimer [00:01:45] I'm like, "I really enjoyed teaching eighth grade!"
Marc Maxhimer [00:01:48] But, you have to understand them for what they are. They're just... They don't think through things, but they need to have a set of... Not rules, but they need to have a set of boundaries because they're going to push those boundaries, but they need to know where those boundaries are.
Marc Maxhimer [00:02:02] And so the reason I bring that up is this kind of sets up the meeting that I had with my principal.
Marc Maxhimer [00:02:07] He was not good at communicating at all. You'd have a conversation with him and he'd give this long pause where you're not sure if you're supposed to talk or he's supposed to talk or whatever.
Marc Maxhimer [00:02:18] He was not good with the students. Like, he would let them push him around. And as the assistant principal who doles out the discipline, you've got to have a set of firm beliefs and expectations and what you're going to do.
Marc Maxhimer [00:02:30] And so, it had progressively gotten worse. And myself and another teacher -- who was a more veteran teacher, if you will -- we just we were like, "He just doesn't understand the kids."
Marc Maxhimer [00:02:41] We were in a meeting and we were talking and I was like, "He just doesn't understand the kids."
Marc Maxhimer [00:02:45] And so we decided, in our infinite wisdom, that we were going to go down and talk with him about this.
Marc Maxhimer [00:02:51] One of the things I hated about the workplace was all the complaining that would go on about things, but no one would actually go talk to anybody to try and solve the problem. And so I really believed if I'm going to have this complaint that I'm going to go talk to him about it.
Marc Maxhimer [00:03:06] So we go, and we sit down, and we're meeting with him, and it more or less comes out that I said to him something along the lines of -- and I don't remember the exact words, I only remember the feeling after the fact -- but I basically said to him, I was like, "It's the eighth grade. Students are much different, and they need different things, and they're different types of students and different people than the twelvth graders that you used to teach."
Marc Maxhimer [00:03:30] So he's sitting at his desk behind the desk. He's got one of the little bouncy desk chairs. He's got his hands crossed in front of his face with his little, his first pointer fingers. So he's got him in front of his lips and he's just tapping his lips.
Marc Maxhimer [00:03:43] And I'm sitting there and I'm like, "Oh my gosh" -- because he was completely silent after I said that. And... But it could have been one of his awkward pauses.
Marc Maxhimer [00:03:52] He looks at me, and he puts his one hand down on the desk, and he taps the desk, and he goes, "So, is what you're telling me, is that -- you're saying that I don't know how to do my job, because I don't know students?"
Marc Maxhimer [00:04:04] And I just I looked over at the teacher beside me, and I was like, in my mind, I'm thinking, "That's... Not really what I meant. But yeah, I guess that's how it came out."
Marc Maxhimer [00:04:13] And before I could say anything, he goes, "Out! Get out of my office right now!" -- screaming at us!
Marc Maxhimer [00:04:20] And I'm like, "Oh my God, this has gone off the rails."
Marc Maxhimer [00:04:23] So, yeah, I'm looking at him and he goes, "Out! I said out!" -- like screaming at me.
Marc Maxhimer [00:04:28] So we got up and left. He slammed the door behind us so hard, it almost hit me on the way back out of the door. And I just looked at the other teacher. "What the hell was that?!"
Marc Maxhimer [00:04:37] She goes, "I don't know. I think this is part of the problem."
Marc Maxhimer [00:04:40] So... but... the worst part? We don't even know how to feel about the situation at this point. I think it was a Friday and we were going out for happy hour afterwards. We both got there, and we're both like, we feel bad, like I've got a pit in my stomach. Like, I really upset him and he got mad and screamed at me and slammed the door in my face. Like, that's... I just couldn't believe the entire situation and how it went down, just because I didn't intend for it.
Marc Maxhimer [00:05:08] Obviously, my intent was not for it to go that far or be interpreted that way, which, that's the mistake -- is that I should have realized that it could be interpreted that way. I probably still would go and have the conversation today, but I would obviously try it a little differently. It's... I just couldn't believe that he yelled at us to get out of his office and then slam the door.
Marc Maxhimer [00:05:30] And then for about a week and a half after that, he didn't talk to us, either of us. So I would try to say hi in the hallway and just open that channel communication. Walk right past us without lifting his head up.
Marc Maxhimer [00:05:40] And then I started worrying. He's my boss. Is that... Can he, like, discipline me for insubordination?
Marc Maxhimer [00:05:46] And the other teacher, I was talking to her about it and she goes, "This is horrible. But he's..." She said, "He doesn't discipline the students. Why is he going to discipline us?"
Marc Maxhimer [00:05:53] It changed how I spoke to him from that point forward. Like, I went into every situation knowing that I had to be very clear on what this conversation was about, and what my intent was, and almost what the solution should be.
Marc Maxhimer [00:06:09] It actually taught me a lot about going in and talking to my boss, which in education is the principals, or even when I was in an upper level meeting -- that if I had a complaint, I needed to have the complaint very succinct and well laid out, what the problems were, but then also offer a solution, because if not, it could be taken as me just complaining and insulting them.
Marc Maxhimer [00:06:31] What I feel happen in this situation is that he interpreted it as rather than constructive criticism or a chance for us to open up a dialog. He took it as a personal attack, and I can understand that it may be came off that way, the way the conversation went.
Marc Maxhimer [00:06:46] But it taught me that I needed to be very clear going into a conversation like that, an official conversation, like a meeting or in with the boss. And it also told me that if I can't figure out a nice way to say it, I should just keep my mouth shut sometimes. So I --
Ashley Stryker [00:07:00] --I, I [resonate] so strongly with the, "I'm not going to bitch about them behind their back because that's a coward's way out." It doesn't fix anything!
Marc Maxhimer [00:07:10] No, I think you're right. A lot of people think that it makes them feel better, that they're bitching about something, but it doesn't solve anything. And all it does is perpetuates the issue. It becomes toxic.
Marc Maxhimer [00:07:20] And so that's why I always, if somebody... if I had a complaint about something, I would, I just would be like, "You know what? I'm done with this. Let's not complain about this. Let's just go talk to the person."
Marc Maxhimer [00:07:29] And everyone's all, "Oh my gosh, you're going to go talk?"
Marc Maxhimer [00:07:31] I'm like, "Yeah."
Marc Maxhimer [00:07:32] And 99% of the time, that solves it. I think that lack of communication -- like open, honest face to face communication -- is part of the problem with a lot of these situations. That's what my mistakes boil down to, where I ended up insulting people that I worked with, because what I said was not well thought out on my part, but also taken the wrong way by them compared to what my original intent was. But I that's -- oh, go ahead.
Ashley Stryker [00:07:59] Well, I just was wondering... This was my dad's pet peeve for years -- and having a two year old now, I'm realizing why it was so much a pet peeve -- it's... We would only present him with problems. So we'd be like, "Dad. The power went out."
Ashley Stryker [00:08:13] He would say, "So, what do you expect me to do about it?"
Ashley Stryker [00:08:16] [Instead of saying] like, "Dad? The power went out and I can't remember how to trip the breaker. Can you please explain it to me?"
Ashley Stryker [00:08:21] "Yes, I can!"
Ashley Stryker [00:08:21] It's like the Stryker family version of Can I versus May I. But like, your solution is exactly what that is. It's not just, "The power went out;" it's, "How do you trip? And this is how I think you should trip the breaker to bring the power back."
Ashley Stryker [00:08:33] So knowing that, how would you have approached it differently in the incendiary conversation?
Marc Maxhimer [00:08:39] Definitely. If I could go back, I would definitely make sure that I had a planned out conversation about this, or I would have gone in and set the expect--not the expectations, but just gone in and been like, "This is why I'm here. I would like to have a constructive conversation with you about it" -- and set the parameters of it ahead of time and come up with...
Marc Maxhimer [00:08:59] I don't know. It's hard. It's hard. That's a good question.
Marc Maxhimer [00:09:02] It's hard to know how different, how you could have done that conversation differently, especially after the fact. Do you know what I mean?
Marc Maxhimer [00:09:08] I would definitely, like I said, go in and... It taught me a lot about going in and having the clear expectations, knowing what I want to say and offering a possible solution.
Marc Maxhimer [00:09:18] That instance helps me with teaching because that's one of the things you could teach your students. And it's like... You referenced the May I or the Can I? I hated that when teachers would be like, "Can I go to the bathroom?"
Marc Maxhimer [00:09:28] "I don't know. Can you?"
Marc Maxhimer [00:09:29] Come on!
Marc Maxhimer [00:09:30] So I would... My big pet peeve as a teacher was, I hated when they came up to me and said, "I don't understand," because to me, that was either them giving up or them looking for an easy way out.
Marc Maxhimer [00:09:40] So I would always follow up with, "What don't you understand or what... Which part is it?"
Marc Maxhimer [00:09:45] And they'd be like, "I don't understand any of it," and I wouldn't let them get away with that.
Marc Maxhimer [00:09:48] I would make them go sit back down and not come back up until they had a specific question, which is what your dad would do with you. You needed a specific thing.
Marc Maxhimer [00:09:57] So that's I'm a big believer in that, and I work on teaching my children that the more specific you can get it, the better of a communicator you are. I'm trying to teach my kids to be good communicators, because that's one of the absolute most necessary skills in whatever profession you're in, is how to communicate.
Ashley Stryker [00:10:14] Yeah, I... You're giving me flashbacks. So if I can share one of a... Spoiler alert, the very first episode of this podcast is going to be my biggest mistake and talk about communication. I was hired as a damn editorial writer, and so I should have been really good at communication. So your mistake makes me feel slighlty better about my mistake, which is, in fact, half the reason for this podcast.
Marc Maxhimer [00:10:35] Yeah, that's true. It's true. I feel like we're pretty even on those mistakes.
Ashley Stryker [00:10:38] At least you did it in private.
Marc Maxhimer [00:10:40] Yeah, that's true. I would sit in his office and only got the door slammed in my face.
Ashley Stryker [00:10:43] Oh my god. And you had backup, at least.
Marc Maxhimer [00:10:46] Yeah.
Ashley Stryker [00:10:46] Oh God. Oh, I really have to do some, like meditating of repressed memories to remember exactly, like, what happened anymore, just because I've been avoiding thinking about it.
Marc Maxhimer [00:10:58] But oh yeah, this was. I do have to say this was a lot of fun. I didn't need to be nearly as nervous as I was, but it was... You made it very easy. I loved it.
Ashley Stryker [00:11:05] Yay! I did something great. I'm brand new at this and very happy to hear you say that. It was a lot of fun for me too.
Ashley Stryker [00:11:10] So Marc's big mistake wasn't confronting problematic behaviors in his boss. Rather, it was not anticipating his principles misinterpretation of intent as a personal attack or a complaint.
Ashley Stryker [00:11:22] In future conversations with the powers that be, Marc would preemptively and succinctly frame the conversation to come with a matter of fact statement of the issue at hand, followed by possible solutions so that he wasn't just presenting problems.
Ashley Stryker [00:11:36] Today, Marc Maxhimer is the Director of Education and Training at the Tilt, an online newsletter and community teaching content creators how to become successful content entrepreneurs. You can connect with Mark on LinkedIn at PC-Podcast.com/MarcM. That's PC-Podcast.com/MarcM.
Ashley Stryker [00:12:01] And you can find this and other episodes of the Professional Confessional podcast at PC-Podcast.com or on your podcasting platform of choice.
Ashley Stryker [00:12:11] Would you like to listen to the whole conversation, and not just this story edit? Go to PC-Podcast.com/Support and subscribe for full recordings and early episodes. That's PC-Podcast.com/Support.
Ashley Stryker [00:12:28] In the meantime, please share this episode with someone you think needs to hear it today. That's all for this Professional Confessional. I'm Ashley Stryker. I hope you'll join us next time. Talk soon!