Posted by: Marie | July 17, 2012

(670) Unspoken rules

Post #670
[Private journal entry written on Friday, August 19, 2011]

After the heated email exchange over the last couple of days, I reached out to a member of the teachers association with whom I get along and whom I respect greatly. She has been involved in the group for decades, so I figured she would be someone I could turn to for advice. I forwarded to her some of the email exchange with Linda and attached this text:


Hi, Debi –

Could I get your opinion on something? I’m not trying to cause a political rift, but I’m rather baffled and I could use some input from someone with more experience . . .

I am finding there are unspoken rules around every association activity. I get my students excited about an activity and then I find out I’m doing it wrong and we have to scramble to fix it in the 11th hour.

Sun Moon Lake by Martin Chen

I have called attention to this repeatedly, but I keep getting told the rules are all in the state/local handbooks and that there are no rules that are not written down – or, that common sense should fill in the gaps. I keep hearing there is no issue beyond my failure to read the rules and my lack of understanding. (It is true that I didn’t read the rules for my first Achievement Day – but I took responsibility for that and I have been carefully studying the rules for every event since.)

Below is an exchange with Linda about the ensemble clinic . . . a prime example of how I got on the ball early, studied the rules, got my students busy on their pieces . . . and then got the door slammed on everything we were doing. It doesn’t matter that we still have 2 1/2 months before the event . . . these rules should have been published long ago.

So . . . my intention here is not to get the rules changed for this year’s ensemble clinic . . . I’ve already moved onto Plan B and I wouldn’t be willing to switch back to Plan A even if the rules were changed to accommodate my students. Rather, my intention is to get ALL the rules in writing significantly in advance for future activities.

Could you:

1) Provide some guidance to me . . . am I out of line here?

2) If you think I have a legitimate complaint, could you help me get some attention drawn to this issue? I don’t seem to have enough clout . . . maybe you do?

Thank you!

– Marie


Within a day, Debi called me and we had a long conversation. Basically, she told me that this group of women are elitist and controlling and have been in charge of the group for decades. She is able to function well in the group because she grew up participating in the group as a student (elementary school to high school) and then as a teacher. (The group is 90 years old.) She is very familiar with all the unspoken rules and knows how to operate within that paradigm.

She sympathized with me . . . she recognizes that someone like me – someone who is totally unfamiliar with this culture – would have a very hard time figuring out what is expected. She also recognizes that many of the group members believe that anyone who didn’t come up the ranks the same way they did is not really a “legitimate” teacher. She believes differently – she believes there are many “legitimate” paths to becoming a quality teacher, but there is a snobby-ness in this group that encourages the elitist attitude.

She said nothing is going to change this dynamic so I shouldn’t even try to change it.

We talked some about what I have to offer . . . specifically my experience with special needs students . . . and my unique solutions to common problems. I shared my frustration that no one gives me credit for what I do have to offer. Debi agreed with me and she acknowledged what I have to offer – but, she said, the members of the association are never going to see value in what I have to offer. Therefore, I have to just deal with it or leave the group.

After the phone call, I sent her link a to my website on which there are samples of my compositions and arrangements . . . I invited her to see for herself that my work is of sound quality.

Anyway . . . today, the president of the association called me. She had seen the email exchange between Linda and me and she tried to smooth things over. She told me the same thing Debi told me . . . don’t waste my energy trying to change things, just deal with it.

However, she said that she has placed on the schedule for the association’s November meeting/educational module to review all the rules for all the events for the entire year. This will help newcomers – and me – know what is expected. We will have the entire hour+ to discuss this and I am welcome to ask any and all questions.

That gave me a sense of relief . . . the fact that rules are not written down is my number one complaint. I’m not so committed to changing the rules, I really just want to know what the rules are ahead of time so I can proactively decide if I want my students to participate, or if I want to set up my own in-studio event. I think the November meeting will address that concern . . . or, at least, the conversation about it will be “on the record” since I am the secretary.

I followed up the phone call with the president with an email. I sent to her the link to my compositions and arrangements – I have this little crazy bit of hope that either Debi or the president will check out my work and then go to bat for me with the group, saying that my work is of sufficient quality to be used in the association’s student activities.

Editorial note from the “future”: To the best of my knowledge, neither woman checked out my webpage. And, of course, neither woman ever went to bat for me . . . I was just dreaming crazy dreams when I thought they might . . .


  1. I really think the only way is to set up alternative structures.

    I have two friends currently doing fine art courses one in visual, one in music. Mostly it is writing – because as you know literature students have to present there understanding of the words they study in visual and musical form.

    Neither of them have had the time to work on their stuff.

    The courses haven’t helped them develop as artists.

    Changing the institutions? Not likely.

    I hope you can get together a group of students to do something worthwhile and that it spreads like wildfire.

    “Let the dead bury the dead” (not original)

    • Hey, Evan –

      I am grateful I am not married to any institution or to any methodology . . . I enjoy having the freedom to create a custom program for each student.

      I hope your friends find their own path in addition to their institutionalized studies!

      Thanks for sharing your strong and logic-satisfying arguments!

      – Marie

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