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Permission Granted

“As your supervisor, I give you permission to fail students if they do not meet course requirements for any given assignment.”

Permission to fail students? That phrase has stuck with me for 16 years ever since Dr. Cynthia Rex, fearless leader of a hardcore weed-out class for business majors at Indiana University, uttered it. Uttered isn’t the right verb… she more or less spat out the statement to me and the other course assistants responsible for grading. In my mind, I had always thought it wouldn’t be very difficult to mark an ‘F’ on a student’s assignment if they failed to meet all of the requirements or if they cheated. But after Dr. Rex gave us permission, I realized she was right - I felt like I needed permission to do something that, though perfectly ethical, was hard to do. In our system of letter grades, it’s hard to assign a big old ‘F’ to a student.

But sometimes, working in the traditional grading system, you have to (in compassionate ways of course).

I’ve never forgotten this lesson through the years. I’ve learned to stop and grant myself permission to do something difficult that must be done. I think my need to do this also stems from being raised in a society that places more value on a “good girl” who is nice all the time and obeys authority, over other character traits.

To myself, I said: Permission granted to be strict with my son, permission granted to get divorced, permission granted to be happy, permission granted to stop grieving, permission granted to admit something, permission granted to quit, to begin again, to pause… It’s a powerful statement to make to yourself in the mirror or in your heart.

My advice is to start saying it to yourself early and often.

Because you know what? Dr. Rex, dynamic, brilliant and beautiful as she was back then isn’t hanging around my house to give me the go-ahead! And neither is whomever gave you permission in your personal or professional formative years. Your choices are on you. They’re on you as a teacher or as a principal, and I believe it’s a measure of your integrity to give yourself permission to do the hard thing, and then to take responsibility for the positive and negative consequences. It’s on you.

You’ll know when you need to give yourself permission to do something when you start to hear a lot of “shoulds” or “have to’s” in your self-talk. When you hear yourself say, “I should really talk to my co-teacher about feeling abandoned in 4th period lately,” go ahead and say to yourself (in all caps, sorry, not sorry) “PERMISSION GRANTED TO CONFRONT MY COLLEAGUE in a friendly and open way!” Then do it. Or, when this refrain comes up: “I have to find some excuse to leave the faculty meeting early,” how about, “PERMISSION GRANTED TO take care of my personal needs and REFRAIN from feeling guilty!” Oh yes - permission statements must always be in all caps, and end with exclamation points until you get proficient!

Tell your teaching pals about this too. Don’t be afraid to verbalize your permission statements; it will help you feel more confident and self-possessed in your decisions. I think it re-frames your way of work when you say, “Susan, I’m giving myself permission to use the bathroom when I need to regardless of what’s going on in class. I’d love it if you could post up between our doors when I do that,” instead of, “Susan, I’m so sorry, but I need to pee sometimes during the day, which I know is TOTALLY annoying and again, I’m sorry, but could you watch my class if that happens? I hope it won’t, I’m sorry! I’m sorry I have a bladder!” See what I mean?

Sixteen years ago, I needed permission to fail a student on an assignment. I needed permission from someone else to do the hard stuff and not feel guilty about doing what was necessary. So, if you still need it, here you go: I, Lucy Fischman, your Teaching Spirit Guide, grant you permission to do the hard, correct things, to act on your own truth, and to do so leaving guilt behind, in ways that are compassionate to you and yours.

Take a few minutes and leave a comment, or just journal on your own a response to the following prompt: “I give myself permission to....”

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