my boss insults us at the holiday party, Secret Santa gifts with a message, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My boss insults us at the Christmas party every year

Every year, my company (150-200 people) has a company-wide Christmas party. I dread going because the president of my company has the same speech every year, which is basically a 20-minute tirade telling us we don’t work hard enough, we take too long breaks, and “some of you are winners, some of you are losers.”

I take offense to this because I believe we all work very hard and many people here have dedicated their lives to the company, working here for 40+ years.

Most people dread the party solely for the speech but it is rare for anyone to skip the party as he takes this personally and has, in the past, threatened to withhold compensation to those who don’t attend (at the party he hands out awards for those with no sick days, etc).

Is there any way to let him know how offensive we find the speech without losing my job? I’ve thought about sending an anonymous email. I don’t want to sound ungrateful for the Christmas party, I know many companies don’t have these, but I feel as though I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place: spend an evening being lectured or spend Monday being reprimanded for skipping?

You’re allowed not to feel grateful for an event where every year you’re subjected to an insulting rant!

Although if you’re going to be lectured at the party or lectured if you don’t go to the party, you might as well take the lecture that comes with monetary awards.

But is there any way you can see your boss as the ridiculous, over-the-top cartoon villain he is and find this at least mildly entertaining? He sounds like such an ass that there’s no reason to take him seriously, and ideally you’d derive some amusement from his tirades.

Also, is there any chance he is Tiger Mike?

2. Secret Santa gifts with a message

I am a teacher in a high school. Last month, one of the new special education science teachers, a white male, made a racially-charged statement about one of our kids, “Lee.” This came about because I was joking around with Lee in the hallway, and after he left, Sam said that Lee was problematic in class. I said that Lee was indeed very silly and immature, but wasn’t malicious and I thought he was going to be fine once he matured a little. That’s when Sam revealed to me that he perceived Lee as older because he’s black. I responded that it was a very racially charged thing to say, and he said that at he was admitting it and that it was a proven social issue (this part is true; there are several studies about this). I said that might be, but it’s our job as educators to rise above implicit bias to serve our kids. We parted, and after about five minutes staring into space at my desk, I marched into the principal’s office and recounted the conversation. I trust the principal will handle it.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. Guess whose name I pull for Secret Santa.

So, my question is what the heck to get this guy. Do I take the opportunity for a teachable moment and present him with a book on implicit bias? Or do I play it cool and just get a normal gift?

I don’t think Secret Santa gift exchanges should be used to make a point, even a point as important as this one. It’s too likely to come across as mean-spirited, which lessens the chances he’ll actually read it and learn from it. So I’d do a normal gift.

But I think you can also give him a book on implicit bias as long as you do it separately from the office gift exchange! You could give it to him and say something like, “I kept thinking about our conversation about Lee the other day, and this is a book that really helped me challenge my own thinking around unconscious biases. I think this stuff is so important for us to read as teachers.”

Read updates to this letter here and here.

3. I don’t know how to fit all the info about my job on my resume

I have sooo many responsibilities at my current job and I don’t know how to fit them all in to my resume or pick the most important because they are so different.

Currently I have the things I do the most on the front, with supplemental info on the back. Any way to make this easier to read / appreciate as a hiring manager?

You don’t need to list all of them! Your resume isn’t supposed to be an exhaustive account of everything you do / have ever done. It’s a marketing document, to market you. Pick the things that most strengthen your candidacy for the job you’re applying for and leave the rest off. (That means you might choose different ones for different applications; that’s what customizing your resume is about.)

What’s more, you should try to list accomplishments more than responsibilities. It’s okay to list a few responsibilities, but a list of the activities you’ve been assigned won’t excite a hiring manager; they’re excited to learn what outcomes you achieved. Focus there and cut most of the rest!

Also, if I’m understanding correctly that you’re using more than one page to talk about one single job, you have way too much info. Edit that down considerably — more than a half a page on a single job is nearly always going to be too much.

4. Can I require our admin to read Ask A Manager?

I am the director of a small auxiliary unit at a university. About a year ago, we hired a part-time administrative associate, “Stella.” Because of the part-time status and small salary, the applicants were mostly inexperienced, and Stella is young and working around completing her bachelor’s degree. I’m happy to be flexible with her schedule, and overall she’s been a good hire, albeit needing regular oversight. I’m fine with this, as I feel like it’s part of our mission in the campus community.

My concern: I understand that Stella’s very unfamiliar with office and professional norms. However, even after having a few coaching sessions and big picture pattern discussions, she’s still having trouble with the concept of “professional,” as well as norms relating to office hierarchies. About once or twice a month I’ll have to address things I overhear, or colleague interactions I witness.

I was brainstorming ways to try to help her, and thought about AAM — I’ve learned so much from reading over the years, and wonder if it would be appropriate to have Stella read and then discuss certain letters with me? Sort of a “case studies” approach? Or would this seem pedantic and be an overstep? I would be careful to choose letters that relate directly to office norms and what constitutes professional behavior.

Well … it could seem a little condescending, depending on how you do it. If you find a couple of letters that relate directly to something you’ve seen her struggle with, I think it would be fine to send her those and then later ask what she thought about them. But I wouldn’t assign her articles in an attempt to teach her professionalism more broadly; that does feel too heavy-handed.

Another thing you could do, though, is just suggest the site to her as a good place to absorb professional norms, and then leave it to her to decide whether to read it or not. Or you could even give her a copy of the Ask a Manager book and tell her it’s a useful guide to the sorts of things the two of you have talked about. Or you could suggest an article or two each month from all sorts of sources (HBR is good), not just AAM, which would make it feel less like “YOU WILL READ THIS SITE I LIKE.”

5. Sending thank-you notes to former managers

I left my last job as a patent agent at a mid-sized intellectual property firm about 10 months ago. It was my first job out of school and several of the attorneys I worked with spent a significant amount of time mentoring me. This was part of their jobs, but I really appreciated it and it was invaluable for my professional development. I worked at that firm for two and a half years and left on good terms because I needed to relocate. Would it be appropriate to send them thank-you notes to say how much I appreciated them? If so, is there any particular etiquette for sending thank-you notes to former managers that I should be aware of?

Yes, do that! People really appreciate receiving that kind of thing — it makes a big impression and solidifies the relationship in ways that can be very helpful in the future. And it’s a lovely thing to do when people have invested in you.

Etiquette-wise, there’s not a ton to worry about. Use professional-feeling stationery if you’re mailing it (not, like, a card with a cartoon dog on it), but email is also fine. Be specific about what they did that helped you (as opposed to a vague, general thanks). The more specific you are, the better. But it’s hard to go wrong when you’re thanking people.

{ 499 comments… read them below }

      1. Engineer Girl*

        They could even pool their money for a nice prize. Everyone who gets a BINGO gets entered into a drawing for the prize.

        1. Bren*

          I used to work with people who did this at conferences, it started out informally but by the end they had cards for the event as a whole and for specific speakers. It fell apart when one of the participants got invited to speak AND received an email of the bingo card for her presentation. It wasn’t flattering. She had some verbal ticks she wasn’t aware of plus a couple of physical mannerisms (like adjusting her skirt way too often) that she was upset other people had noticed. The skirt thing especially got spun to be telling people to look at her legs, which it sort of was though a previous male speaker had ‘unsubtly adjusts his balls’ as a square so it’s hard to say it was gendered. She complained despite taking part when it was aimed at other people and various people got in trouble. Anyway all this is to say- if you do this be aware of how the subject might react if they find out about it. Some people would find the whole thing hilarious if they were the subject, but it sounds like this boss has no sense of humour or proportion to begin with.

            1. Allypopx*

              I just don’t get this. Like I do, people suck. But as long as I wasn’t the only one being singled out I would find it hilarious – maybe even like weirdly flattering? Obviously the things they’re picking out aren’t flattering but clearly everyone has unflattering ticks so I’d consider it sort of a…weird sign of acceptance into the community? I dunno.

              1. AKchic*

                Oh, I would have so much fun with this. I would purposely create funky little things in my speech / presentation just to mess people up and have them create a whole new bingo sheet for my next speech / presentation… where I wouldn’t do *any* of the previous quirks.

                1. Arts Akimbo*

                  I think I would ostentatiously perform all the tics at the very end of my speech. Finish big!

              2. Jennifer Juniper*

                I’d be sent immediately into a shame spiral, wondering what I did wrong and trying to atone for my social quirks.

                Not everyone is as evolved as you, Allypopx. I certainly am not.

                So I disagree that these things are ever a good idea.

                1. Allypopx*

                  I didn’t say they were a good idea…nor did I refer to myself as ‘evolved’. Just said that they wouldn’t ruffle me. What I was referring to not understanding was that she was happy to partake when it was other people, but had a fit when she was the focus. I assume you would not do that, so I’m sure it wouldn’t be an issue.

          1. TootsNYC*

            there’s also a huge risk that someone will leave it behind, or that unsympathetic people will look over to see what other people are doing.

            1. Working Mom*

              We used to casually do this at a former job. The director would always come into our meetings and give a “speech” that would always include several of his favorite buzz words and go to phrases… and always (no matter what) managed to rise to borderline yelling about how much we sucked by the end. Without any discussion – we all started to very subtlety “raise our glasses” (of water, coffee, whatever) and take a small drink when his favorite phrases or buzz words were used. Over time, the entire staff quietly caught on and it made the “speech” much more enjoyable.

              The BEST part – is that no one ever talked about it. It was never a planned activity, nor did anyone talk about it later. We all just started to do it and amused ourselves quite a bit :)

    1. Kate, short for Bob*

      I came in to say this. She could make up cards and leave them anonymously in the ladies room for self-distribution without the boss knowing about it. Would improve morale across the room no end ;-)

    2. Lime green Pacer*

      But if you’re afraid of getting caught, just play a mental game of ” I know you are, but what am I?”

      “You people don’t work hard enough.” “I know you don’t, but what about us?”

      “Your breaks are too long.” “I know yours are too long, but what about mine?”

      1. Lime green Pacer*

        A slightly more advanced version of that’s would be to reverse engineeer your boss’s speech into something a reasonable person would say before handing out awards.

        “You people don’t work hard enough” = “I truly appreciate all your hard work.”

        “Your breaks are too long” = “Breaks are important to productivity, make sure you don’t skip them or cut them short.”

    3. infopubs*

      Yes! I do this with my MIL, who gives the same horrible, ranty speech every time we visit. Other players include my husband’s aunt and his cousin’s wife. While the bingo cards are only in our heads, we text each other the word “BINGO!” and that elicits supportive comments and LOLz. It’s made such a huge difference in how we all deal with her. Listening for the bingo “hits” takes my mind off the actual meaning of the hurtful words, so I sort of mentally float above them. Does that make sense? It really works! Bonus if you can print out actual bingo sheets and hand them to your coworkers.

      1. Third or Nothing!*

        OMG I should do this with my husband when we go visit my dad and stepmother. 1 pt for a political reference. 1 pt for complaining about work. 1 pt for golf talk. 1 pt for “are you sure you should be running in this heat?”

      2. Sam.*

        I’ve done something like this in a non-work setting, but we turned it into a drinking game. Like, take a sip whenever they say X! So no evidence, but we would notice each other drinking and would be internally giggling to ourselves.

      3. pancakes*

        It doesn’t make sense to me that this works, no. It would make much more sense to me to stop spending time with someone who is horrible and rant-y rather than pretend they’re much better company than they in fact are.

    4. TootsNYC*

      You don’t want to do this on a piece of paper that could be left–maybe there’s an app for this? But then it’ll look as though you’re all looking at your phones.

      I know! suggest that the party favor be a little wax “magic slate” so people can do it on there, and wipe it off immediately.

    5. Sarah in Boston*

      There’s a website for this! ( You can print out or play online by texting the link around to your created word set. I may have been known to use this in a particular chorus whose director had a whole set of very unique descriptive phrases.

  1. bunniferous*

    Re #1….would be a shame if someone recorded that rant on their cell phone and shared it with the online masses…anonymously of course…..a real shame….

        1. JKP*

          I thought that only applied to private conversations. Would the one party/two party consent for recording even apply to something recorded in public at a large party attended by hundreds of people?

          1. BrotherFlounder*

            It’s a question of whether they have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Boss could make an argument at a private event he expected things to stay relatively private. (He probably wouldn’t win, but he could try.)

            Regardless, the employee would probably be very fired if boss figured out who it was.

          2. Andi*

            Here’s the deciding factor: where is this Christmas party? If it is at the office and the only people there are other employees, there probably is an expectation of privacy. If it is at a restaurant, conference center, etc. then there would not be.

            I have actually briefed this issue as a baby lawyer in California. California has the strictest laws in the USA about recording. It’s technically illegal (criminally so), to have your iPhone out in a restroom or spa or changing room. If people could be naked or performing bodily functions, anything that can take photos or video should not be out in Cali. (Yes, I’ve seen this prosecuted b/c the idiot had an iPhone out in a spa changing room).

            That being said, even if this were 1000% legal, the person who recorded it would likely be fired. Not only would they lose that job, but I’d wager that they’d be labeled a “problem” employee in the industry.

            It’s not worth it for the offense boss is committing.

            1. Triumphant Fox*

              By baby lawyer, do you mean you are a lawyer for babies, or that you briefed this issue as a new attorney?

              1. ampersand*

                I’d like to think that Andi is a lawyer for babies, because…babies need representation, too. Also I like to amuse myself.

                1. Evan Þ.*

                  Now I’m remembering the Reddit thread from a few years ago where OP’s one-year-old baby had gotten subpoenaed to court. Advice included “Call the clerk; there’s probably a mistake they’ll clear up,” but also, “Hey, why not bring her anyway!”

            2. Isabel Kunkle*

              True, though if someone’s retiring/switching industries/otherwise on their way out, this would be a great exit…

            3. Stepinwhite*

              Do you have a citation for that (not the privacy-recording statute, but any statute or case saying it’s illegal to merely have a non-recording cell phone out in a restroom or spa). I’m an attorney in California, and I’ve never heard of that law. Couldn’t find it in a quick search, either.

              1. MCMonkeyBean*

                I would also like to hear more on that. It seems like it would be pretty unreasonable to tell people they can’t be in a locker room texting their partner that they’re about to head home or setting up the playlist they’re about to use to work out or any of the million other things people do on their phones.

      1. Will Explain Later*

        It’s not illegal in some states. And if the event is large enough, privacy cannot be reasonably expected. That last part has been reinforced in recent years because nearly everyone has a camera phone and people record things all the time now.

      2. kittymommy*

        Illegal in some states, though not all. Expectation of privacy may differ state by state as well. I work for a government entity in Florida and while everyone waves their right to be audio recorded by voluntarily attending our recorded and noticed meetings, that is not the case for meetings in offices. Even as a government worker my right to not be recorded is not waived just because I work here and as such if a citizen wants to audio record me either on the phone or in person, they cannot do so without my permission. We actually just had someone arrested for violating this a few weeks ago. The gentleman has since been charged with a felony as he did not inform or seek permission when he recorded a phone call with a colleague.

      1. Allypopx*

        Ehhhh I’d save the recording as evidence of legitimacy, personally. But keep it private unless that becomes necessary.

    1. Jennifer Juniper*

      It would be funny, but a terrible idea.

      1. Whoever you’re writing about could retaliate against you – horribly.

      2. Whoever you’re writing about could suffer so much emotional distress that they commit suicide. No. I’m not kidding. People have actually killed themselves over this kind of stuff.

  2. Lena Clare*

    No 5: you definitely cannot go wrong with letting people know that you appreciate them! This is a really nice thing to do.

    1. Quinalla*

      Yes, the ones I have sent were always well received, people were genuinely moved which I did not expect and speaks to how rare they really are. I have received a handful from others and I have every single one saved and they are something I get out to look at when I’m feeling down or need to remind myself of folks I’ve helped, it is great stuff. I personally really like a hand written card for this, gives the recipient something tangible to hold on to. Be as specific as you can in your thanks, at least one or two things they did and how it affected/helped you, more if you have them is great.

    2. Trout 'Waver*

      Going to disagree with Alison about the cartoon dog on this one. I would absolutely love to receive a thank-you card with a cartoon dog on it. I’ve got every thank-you I’ve ever received from an intern or former team member pinned to my board. They make me smile every time I look at them. You can’t go wrong thanking people.

      1. HappySnoopy*

        Yeah, what’s wrong with cartoon dogs? *points at username*

        But seriously, a handwritten note in a nice card is lovely.

      2. Sorrel*

        I think it’s a know your audience thing – I’m now thinking who I could send a thank you note to. If I did send one to my current boss, it would have a cat on it. End of.

    3. GooseTracks*

      As Alison alluded to, this is also a great way to cement a relationship with a former supervisor/colleague who you may want to use as a reference in the future. Having expressed your genuine appreciation and thanks makes it much more comfortable to circle back later (potentially out of the blue for them, after a period of no contact) asking for a favor.

  3. Engineer Girl*

    #4 – it’s too bad they don’t teach “Office 101” in school. The reality is that people are raised in different environments so have different ideas about professional norms.

    Stella is not going to get the details before the big picture, especially if she didn’t grow up in an environment that interacted with professionals.

    You could discuss a major topic each week. Or you could find a business charm school for her. There’s lots of options.

    I do think it’s unreasonable for Stella to pull professional norms out of thin air. This is especially true if she is young and hasn’t had much exposure to it.

    1. Budgieman*

      I think the problem with the suggestion to read this site will be that it is like googling your symptoms – You actually have a minor ache and a bit of sniffle, but that fits the diagnosis for terminal tuberculosis, when the problem is no more severe than a bit of a cold.
      If someone doesn’t have a clue, as painful as it is, I’d be inclined to be guiding them on hoe to resolve one or two things at a time, because anything more will be swamping her with information, and won’t get anything resolved.

      1. Koala dreams*

        Yes, it’s easy to get stuck reading the most outrageous stories and feel all the drama, especially when there are links all over the place to the worst stories. I think it’s more likely to have the intended results if you lend a book about business norms to the employee (Alison’s book or another book), and keep doing the conversations.

    2. Lena Clare*

      I do think it’s unreasonable for Stella to pull professional norms out of thin air.

      It’s a difficult one isn’t it? I think we all learn stuff from each job we’re at and get better at it over the years, but I also think part of it for lots of people is maturing anyway and would happen whether we’re working or not.

      It might be a good idea to include some info for new graduates in the induction plan, but other than that it’s probably a case of letting them learn by observation and also by coaching them. I learnt a lot from my first manager; I was very lucky that she was a good manager, because – oh my goodness – I’ve had some doozies since then.

    3. lyonite*

      The head of our group does a thing where he sends out “Friday reading” at the end of every week–one scientific paper that’s relevant to our field, and one article/essay that’s more related to professional development/work-life balance/etc. Maybe the OP could start doing something like that, even making a point of bringing them up with the employee occasionally to see if she’s taking them in?

    4. MK*

      Yes, school should be preparing kids for adult life (in general, and work life in particular) better. But the reality is that no amount of schooling is going to prepare a student for professional life, and that young workers will have to learn on the job and a lot by trial and error. Another reality is that employers pay entry-level workers a lot less, in part because they have to provide on-the-job training and deal with inexpierinced workers.

      This is not directed to the OP, who seems to understand that teaching work norms Stella is part of her job and is trying to find the best way to do that. But often, when I hear managers complain about things like that, I want to suggest they pony up the appropriate compensation to hire more expierienced workers in the future.

      1. BethDH*

        Yes, and it’s easy to say schools should do it, but different industries have different professional norms and classes are often overloaded with other content already. You can teach some basics (like what a professional email / professional communication in general) but an entry level job will always need to allow more time/attention to training — and more explicit direction — than higher level roles.
        When I’m in roles where I have students, I try to treat them as adults, but it is fundamentally different than treating them as colleagues (even junior ones).

        1. kittymommy*

          Exactly. What was normal when I worked in law was vastly different than what was normal when I worked retail or food service. And then the non-profit was it’s only ball of dysfunction….

        2. your favorite person*

          Not to mention, the people working in Academia have a very different view of how things work in the professional world. Some may never have worked in an office setting besides academia.

          1. pope suburban*

            I’ve encountered this in government too. People who have never worked in other sectors have wildly different norms and expectations than those of us who have been in the private sector. I have routinely been baffled by what some of my colleagues consider gripe-worthy, but they just have a different background than me and most of the people I know.

            On the subject of learning about working norms, though, I think schools could offer electives that would help, like business classes or more accessible vocational/hands-on classes (At least where I went to school, vocational tech was a separate school and kids did core subjects at their high school but were then bussed to the vocational campus, so there wasn’t much opportunity to try things out in either direction). My high school offered a health class called “Living On Your Own” that covered the usual health-class curriculum, but also taught basic skills like budgeting, how to rent an apartment, how to cook, and all that stuff that some kids don’t learn until they find themselves off at college. That model was great and I think it could be very helpful in teaching working norms and skills too.

          2. SpaceySteph*

            Yeah I just imagine a school teaching an Office 101 would result in even more fresh outs who THINK they know what they’re doing but are, in fact, very wrong.

            1. Arts Akimbo*

              Considering the career advice given by many school guidance counselors, I would forsee a tidal wave of GUMPTION!!! sweeping the nation.

        3. AnotherKate*

          This is a great point. I think most of learning norms (whether in offices, social circles, waiting in line at the pharmacy or vacationing abroad) comes down to “reading the room.” I do think schools can teach this, but it actually starts very young and has to do with being conscientious of others, learning how to listen and observe, and being exposed to situations where you receive feedback and must take it gracefully. For me, the best lesson in the latter was during writing workshops, where the common method was to have everyone share their notes while the author sat in complete silence. No interruptions, no explanations, just sit and listen, take notes, whatever you wish. At the end, the author may ask clarifying questions, but they are not permitted to “defend” their work in any way.

          Of course a lot of advice is garbage, and a lot of it is fine, but not the direction you were trying to go, etc….but you learn to absorb criticism non-defensively, which is a HUGE part of being considered a “team player” and of working under a boss. It teaches you to wait a moment before jumping in, to really think about why you think a piece of advice was bad, or whether maybe the actual advice isn’t the tactic you’ll take, but the fact it was offered means you weren’t clear enough about X or Y, so you go about making that fix in your own way.

          This is just one example of how school might focus on the techniques a person may use to get a sense of an office’s norms, without necessarily creating a prescriptive course. To me, it’s less about “help, how do I Office?” and more about being able to read the cues in a given environment and fit into that environment in your own way to be successful.

      2. Smithy*

        When I was in grad school for nonprofit management, we begged our administration to include a grant writing class as something to offer us practical guidance. The administration pushed against it because it was a technical skill and pointless outside of an actual application. We pushed, a grant writing exercise was added to one of our classes – and now after working in the field I feel very comfortable saying the administration was right and we were wrong.

        Our grad program was set up by a faculty researching civil society and philanthropy. Sure – some of them wrote research grants but that’s not what they were experts in to teach and now after writing numerous grants – that exercise was rather pointless.

        Actual professional degrees end up with internships, residencies or other on the job opportunities to teach workplace norms – not classes. Because there are so many different styles of workplaces with so many different norms – the best in class education is along the lines of “observe, ask questions, model behavior, onboard feedback”. Sites like AAM are great for when you’re stuck or when the environment seems like it’s teaching bad lessons – but it’s not something to be taught in a class by way of avoiding that learning curve in an entry level job.

        1. MK*

          I think the OP is refering more the professional behavior than technical skills. I somewhat agree with you about it being pointless to try and teach technical skills in school: one of my law school professors (one of the few who was an active practising barrister) tried to teach us how the documents of a law suit are formed, but we really weren’t attuned enough with legal practice for it to make much sense. I learned these skills from the barrister I “interned” with (legal education in my country: 4 years of law school+18 month “internship” to a specific barrister, then bar exam), when there was an actual case file about a real incident with real evidence involving real people, with the both of us sitting in front of the computer writing the opening document. What I think would have been useful is an intersection of school and training, like doing an internship for two days a week and spend the rest in school digesting and analysing what you learned and expierienced.

        2. Elitist Semicolon*

          Just out of curiosity, what kind of non-profits did this program focus on managing? I don’t know a whole lot of folks who work for non-profits and haven’t written a grant proposal/application. Not research grants, usually, but certainly for funding from larger agencies to expand their reach or programming. The faculty pushback here seems very odd to me.

          1. Smithy*

            Most nonprofit management programs don’t focus on a specific sector. In my case, the program was outside out of the US where the research focus of the factuality was civil society and why people are philanthropic. Motivation around the program was likely influenced by the country having received a lot of diaspora financial support in the past but in recent years becoming wealthier and not having a national tradition of giving outside of religious contexts.

            I can’t speak to how such degree programs in the US are run, but as a degree goes it wasn’t so much focused on the 101’s to nonprofit tax code and how to write grants but more on theories and research of giving, management, volunteerism, etc. Maybe it’s different in the US – but I’d be suspicious of the practicality of that method.

      3. Shadowbelle*

        I volunteer with an organization, American Corporate Partners, that pairs us (mentors from the corporate world) with people exiting the military and entering work in the private sector. I can see a role for a similar organization for students leaving college and entering the work world.

    5. OP #4*

      Thanks for the helpful comments. I actually did not know business charm school was a thing? (I’ve been in education my whole career.) It is VERY unfair that we don’t set new graduates up for success more.
      Alison had some good advice, and I think she said what I already knew but didn’t want to admit to myself – this would be heavy-handed. I think giving Stella a variety of resources, letting her know I’m available and happy to discuss them with her, and trusting that she work on the big picture herself may be the way to go here.

      1. MassMatt*

        I think part of the issue is how outcomes are measured. In the US and in my state especially there is a major emphasis on testing and since the test results are used to assess school performance much of the class time is dedicated to teaching towards the test and things not tested are neglected if not jettisoned altogether.

        Lots of things that would really help students do better in the work world (or just succeed in life—life skills) are not tested so time devoted to them detracts from time available to the almighty test.

        This was brilliantly lampooned in The Simpsons, the teacher has “the most commonly used multiple choice answer patterns” on the board: “OK class, repeat after me, ABBA DABBA BADDA CABBA, BACCA ABCA BAAB CAAD”.

      2. Unfit to be tied*

        I also think something else you could do is say that you’ve noticed a difficulty in adapting to office norms and send her a list of resources she could use to get herself better acclimated. I think sending specific letters could come across passive aggressive depending on how it’s shared.

        Either way, hats off to you for being so thoughtful! Lots of managers wouldn’t be this dedicated to improving their employees. :)

    6. Yorick*

      Most professional norms aren’t that different from acceptable classroom behavior, though. But some students are wildly inappropriate, and their professors are discouraged from correcting them.

      1. Washi*

        I was sort of thinking the same thing. There’s definitely a learning curve, but needing to be corrected a couple times a month for a whole year? It would be helpful to have some examples, since my reaction is different if it’s something minor each month like “we use first names, not Ms. Last Name” or if it’s more like “for the 3rd time, please stop regaling everyone with detailed stories of your drunken escapades.”

        Having minor things come up seems normal and I think prolonged exposure to you and your feedback will be the biggest influences. If it’s more serious corrections and Stella doesn’t seem to be getting the message, maybe she needs a more frank conversation about improving her behavior.

      2. OP #4*

        Oh! This hits on a point that I think it relevant: her classes are 100% online, which of course is very common nowadays. Stella doesn’t necessarily have any interaction with any peers or professors unless it is online. Her emails, while maybe a bit brusque, aren’t unprofessional, but face-to-face interactions definitely can be.

        1. ampersand*

          Oh, it’s hard when someone is coming across as unprofessional in person! You can’t just say, “be more professional” because that’s unclear, and if they don’t know what professional means then it’s not helpful.

          I feel like if she were being unprofessional in email, that would actually be easier. You could point to examples of professional-sounding emails or ways to phrase requests, etc., that are professional. But if it’s in person, it could be any number of things: word choice, tone, even just the (unintentional) look you’re giving someone while talking to them!

          I definitely agree with someone upthread who said that people often become more professional as they age–so some of these issues will eventually work themselves out, but I’m impressed that you want to help Stella in the meantime. That’s really great (some employers wouldn’t bother!).

    7. Falling Diphthong*

      Given how much bad college career center advice winds up here, I would fear that Office 101 would teach people to show gumption and display their Meyer-Briggs code in their email signature.

      1. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

        Yeah, this. Why assume that schools would do a good job? Some would give great training, a lot would give mediocre training just to check the box off their lists, and some would give absolutely terrible training that has to be untrained anyway by the students future employers.

        And most of the students probably won’t listen to any of it anyway.

        1. Lora*

          Sweet merciful Cthulhu, I would not want some of my grad school profs trying to teach their “norms” to anyone. They definitely thought the following were norms:
          *sexual harassment was something male managers were entitled to do as part of their management authority, and women who complain are all troublemakers who just need to be fired
          *drinking excessively to the point of getting wasted in the office at 2pm
          *using your position to wrangle a job for your wife AND your mistress and then having marital feuds in the student center
          *having screaming arguments with your colleagues over experimental methodology, red faced and spitting, in the hallway
          *loudly discussing your adventures with the local prostitutes at a thank-you supper for student volunteers and recommending certain local pros to the male students
          *refusing to pay your share of overhead maintenance to the department when your grant money arrives and hiding critical accounting information from the college controllers
          *meeting time can be spent, at length, any way the manager wants, including proselytizing for their personal flavor of religion for four hours
          …there were lots more I have probably forgotten. Academia is a weird and amazing place. Expecting such characters to teach people How To Normal is not a reasonable expectation, I think – they got more issues than industry does in many cases.

      2. Katefish*

        My friend now works in tech. Previously, we both worked in crappy jobs that didn’t even bother to make payroll consistently (long stories). Tech is well known in the US for its intense benefits compared to the rest of the private sector. Her office routinely provides free lunch, and one person provided feedback that the “hamburger toppings were uninspired.” We’ve been laughing about that warped norm of what your employer “owes you” for months.

    8. Not Today Satan*

      My employer needs to do Office 101 so badly. A lot of my coworkers are so unprofessional and no one ever corrects them. I can’t blame people for thinking behavior is ok if no one ever tells them it’s not.

    9. NotAnotherManager!*

      This is why I do a “Working at [employer] 101” for my fresh graduates. I’m sure there are people who are insulted that I think they don’t know things like, “Don’t interrupt your coworkers’ work-related conversation unless it’s an urgent, work-related matter that needs to be addressed immediately”… but, there are people who don’t know that. It also covers some organization-specific norms (like, we will leave stuff in your chair, and it’s not a personal insult).

      1. Not Today Satan*

        Something that drives me nuts at my office is someone will call me over to help them with something (I do tech related stuff). I come immediately, and then they say “let me just finish this” and then ignore me while they work on whatever’s on their screen. I never even let them get away with it (I say, “Come get me when you’re ready”) and yet they still do it.

        1. ampersand*

          Yes! Managers (directors, really) did that to me at my last job and it drove me up the wall. And since they were very much my superiors, I didn’t feel like I could reasonably say anything about it, so I kept quiet.

          Note to all people, everywhere: please don’t do this to others.

      2. Alton*

        I think I would categorize some of that as manners, social skills, and social intelligence, which I think can be challenging to teach. It also requires instincts for judging context–how you interact with a peer whom you work closely with might be a little different and more casual than how you act around the CEO, for example.

      3. Richard Hershberger*

        It is worse than merely “don’t interrupt work conversations” stuff. We had a temp while our secretary was on maternity leave. I had to show the temp how to mail a letter, as in what stamp to use and where to put it on the envelope.

    10. Achoo!*

      We have a postbacc internship and I was completely unprepared for the amount of Office 101 I needed to teach. Until problems popped up, I’d never have predicted particular challenges. For example, I didn’t think to tell intern No, you can’t park in CEO’s reserved spot even though we know for sure he’s not coming in that day.

      1. ampersand*

        This is horrifying, yet amusing. Also: I wonder if 22-year-old me would have done the same thing.

        I am not proud of this (meaning, I am ashamed): when I was in college I frequently parked in a disabled parking spot on campus for the majority of one summer because no one ever parked there. Not surprisingly, I was eventually ticketed, and I ran into the ticketing person as they were putting the ticket on my car. I explained my reasoning (it was always empty) and they said: I appreciate your honesty. And then they gave me the ticket anyway.

        Totally deserved. I now understand the flaw in my logic; I also know I was young and inexperienced and while I should have known better, clearly I did not. Current me wants to curl up and die just thinking about it.

        So I can see how it might be necessary to tell an intern not to park in the CEO’s spot.

    11. Allypopx*

      I dunno, norms vary so much by culture and I’ve gotten some bad and outdated workplace norm advice from my professors even in my current MBA program. I’d forsee having something drilled into a syllabus that doesn’t change for 40 years and we still have CEOs slapping secretary’s on the ass as “playful comraderie”.

      (Backdating that example, obviously. In case it needs to be said don’t do that.)

    12. Koala dreams*

      At my university, there were student clubs that did events like that. There were lectures from recent graduates on topics like “What surprised me the most when I started working” and “How is working as an X really like”, as well as “How to use Excel” and “How to apply to jobs”. (They were called something else, of course, I’m just making up names based on my hazy memories.)

      However, there are many things that are best learned by experience. If you hire someone right out of school with little work experience, they will do mistakes that a more experienced employee wouldn’t do. Also, many norms differ from place to place, so it’s not necessarily something you can make into clear rules to teach. The comment about hierarchies at work for example. Some places are very hierarchical and some are very flat, and a person from one kind of workplace might be very surprised when they go to a workplace that’s the opposite.

    13. Not Me*

      “The reality is that people are raised in different environments so have different ideas about professional norms.”

      And that’s a great thing. Your post makes it sound like we should hammer all the differences out of people in school so they’re all the same at work.

    14. KayDeeAye*

      I agree that Stella shouldn’t be expected to pull stuff out of thin air, but the OP says she’s been working for her for a year, so she really shouldn’t be making rookie mistakes too often any more. Of course, perhaps the problems the OP mentions aren’t rookie mistakes. I can’t tell.

        1. KayDeeAye*

          But she has, though – or at least that’s how it sounds to me. The OP says, “However, even after having a few coaching sessions and big picture pattern discussions, she’s still having trouble with the concept of “professional,” as well as norms relating to office hierarchies. About once or twice a month I’ll have to address things I overhear, or colleague interactions I witness.” Surely some of those coaching sessions and discussions involved this stuff, yes? That’s certainly how I’d interpret it.

    15. TootsNYC*

      every year lately I’ve spoken to a bunch of undergrads visiting my city with their college professor who is my own college-mate.

      I give them a list of resources at the end, and some of them are unique to my own specialty, but others are more general “job” sites, and AAM is always top on the list.

    16. B*

      In the early eighties I assisted in an” Effective Business Communication ” class given through a city college. The class was for re entry students ; think computer classes for older students who were laid off because their office required computer literacy asap but also for young students who were just out of high school or coming through a welfare to work program. We taught touch typing, grammar, resume writing, answering phones, interview skills and basic math skills. All for free! I wonder if community colleges still have those programs?

  4. BennyJets*

    I thought number one might be the president. Can’t you spend Monday being Trudeau, Macron, Princess Anne, and Johnson?

    1. Malarkey01*

      I totally just found the party game for my next event! I will be hoping to pull the Trudeau role from the hat.

  5. Heidi*

    My sympathies, LW1. This won’t help now, but maybe next year you all could convince the boss that you could save a lot of money by not having a big holiday abuse party. You could hang out with your coworkers at a smaller get together, and tell him you want to spend the party money on a new copier, or chairs, or at the Burlington Coat Factory.

    1. RabbitRabbit*

      Money-saving might be a good way to spin it, as I don’t think the boss would be shamed at all by an anonymous e-mail saying that the speech is offensive. He intends it to be that way, and would probably double-down on the meanness and criticism after such a complaint.

      1. The Other Dawn*

        That’s how I feel, too. Someone who thinks it’s OK to make a speech like that at a Christmas party and holds it against people if they don’t attend is not going to be shamed by an email. In fact, he will likely incorporate that into the next speech and shame the anonymous emailer.

      2. Tupac Coachella*

        Yup. My guess is that the most likely result of an anonymous e-mail is the boss adding a new stanza to the holiday tirade to include “two faced people,” how “some people can’t take constructive criticism” and/or “if you’re offended you’re part of the problem.”

      1. Heidi*

        It’s traditional to wear red underwear for the holidays, you know. He could buy that for the office Secret Santa.

  6. JM60*


    The way I read it, I get the impression that he agrees that implicit bias is problematic, and he’s admitting to his implicit bias because he feels it’s more fair to admit problematic biases when judging someone’s behavior (in this case, Lee’s behavior). In my experience, people don’t usually admit to their own implicit bias unless they see it as problematic. If I’m reading the letter right, I don’t think giving him a book on implicit bias would do any good.

    1. Well*

      Yeah, I read it that way too.

      I’m not sure if the letter was missing out some context that might make it racially charged, but I didn’t see that it was problematic (blunt maybe, but not problematic) so much as a teacher admitting that he had a bias in order to be aware of it and counteract it. Seeing black people as older than they are is not a bias people know about unless they’ve really thought about it or read up about it.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I agree with that last line.

        It’s not like learning about implicit bias causes you not to have them any more, poof all fixed. I’d be a lot more concerned by someone who said he couldn’t be biased because he took a training on that.

      2. soon 2be former fed*

        Seeing black CHILDREN as older than they are is the problem here. And yes, it is racially charged because it is racist. Because the educational system is the primary social engineering vehicle in American society, implicit bias should be assumed and training against it should be a part of every teacher’s ongoing education. BTW I’m black.

        1. Natalie*

          I don’t think anyone is trying to suggest that his bias is not a problem? Rather, the LW seems to be saying that his *admitting* to this bias was an issue, and that’s what people are disagreeing with. Nobody can work on biases they don’t acknowledge, and I don’t think anyone benefits when even the more well meaning can’t or won’t be open about their unconscious reactions.

          But, to your last point, that might be a better avenue for the LW – maybe they (and this other teacher, if he is in fact open to working on biases) could propose some ongoing training.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Right, acknowledging biases is the first step to countering them. My read of the letter (and it could be wrong) is the OP felt he was cavalier in how he talked about it — not concerned, not “I’m working to do better,” just “oh yeah, I’ve got that bias I’ve read about, oh well, what can you do.”

            1. voyager1*

              Doesn’t matter. She already kicked this up to the Principal. It is up to them to deal with. Giving a book at the Santa Event would make their job harder.

              Also if I was the Principal I would be pretty irritated that one of my teachers was doing my job for me, and yeah that would have consequences.

                1. Lucette Kensack*

                  Would you really be irritated at someone who reported to you for talking with a colleague about how they can work to address implicit bias (because they’re “doing your job for you”)?

                  Maybe I’m in a bubble but that would so incredibly normal at my workplace. Folks are passing books around, pulling colleagues aside to debrief situations, etc.

                2. voyager1*

                  I see, It doesn’t really matter what the LW tried to communicate to you. She has kicked this up to her boss. She really can’t come back and decide she wants to deal with this via Secret Santa. It could be problematic if she were to try and talk to him now even, depending on what the Principal does. You didn’t really address that in your response, and nobody is really saying anything about the Principal. I just assumed many missed that part of the LW because of the confusion on what happened.

                  Yes I would be annoyed. I don’t want my employees telling me there is an issue about racism, then me going through the necessary process to council/discipline accused employee only for the accuser decide to take it in their own hands by giving a book at what might be a public event or council him own their own. If you want to report someone to me for something like racism, you need to trust I am going to handle it. If you can’t do that then don’t report anything.

            2. ChimericalOne*

              OP clarifies that she doesn’t think he was cavalier, she thinks he was “defensive.” I think that’s a pretty understandable reaction to being told (even in nice language) that you’re racist, especially if you’re being told you’re racist in response to acknowledging & admitting to implicit bias. I actually have a really hard time imagining someone not come across as defensive after someone objects to such a statement.

              Him: That kid is immature & badly behaved.
              Her: That kid is really young — he’ll grow up.
              Him: I guess I have implicit bias. (unsaid but acknowledged in this: I haven’t been perceiving him fairly [because that’s what makes it “bias”])
              Her: That’s a racially charged thing to say! (i.e., “That’s racist!”)
              Him: (defensively) It’s actually super common to have this kind of bias. (unsaid: Stop acting like I’m super racist for having the kind of implicit racial bias we all struggle with.)

              1. Mia*

                But having that bias *is* racist. It’s not mean, aggressive, or even unkind to call something what it is. I know folks coming at things from a place of privilege don’t like to hear “hey that thing you said is racist”, but it’s not like LW was using it as an insult. She was pointing out an issue that causes very real harm to kids all the time.

                1. ChimericalOne*

                  What was the point of saying, “That’s racist” to him, though? Does she think he doesn’t know that implicit bias is a type of racism? What’s it’s doing, functionally, is emphasizing/focusing on what he’s doing wrong. (And unnecessarily so, since he’s admitted that he recognizes it.)

                  If you said to me, “I realized recently that I’m not treating the women in my class fairly — someone pointed out to me that I’m calling on the male students significantly more, and I realized that’s true,” and I said, in response, “God, that’s sexist!,” you might be inclined to say, “Yes, it’s awful” or you might get defensive and say, “Well, it’s not exactly unheard of! Lots of folks struggle with gender parity when managing a flow of classroom conversation.”

                  Both are perfectly understandable reactions to being “called out.” (Which is why a lot of folks today are advocating for “calling in,” instead — educate, don’t attack.) It’s perfectly human to instinctively protect your ego/reputation/etc. when people are emphasizing what you’ve done wrong instead of pointing in the direction of how to do right. Cuz yeah, that does feel like an attack.

                2. Mia*

                  Racism is pushed under the rug and perpetuated when people refuse to call it what it is because they don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. The point of naming it is to give the people doing said racist thing a reality check. They might not care; they might think racism is a-ok; but you’ll never know until you try, and refusing to say something in the face of bigotry, especially for someone like LW, who is clearly trying to use her privilege to protect those without it, is bad. It’s lousy to see someone do something that could hurt people, especially children, and ignore it out of politeness.

                3. Lucette Kensack*

                  ChimericalOne: What would you say”calling in” looks like here (as opposed to “calling out”)? To me, this is pretty good example of calling in: Pointing out the bias (“That’s racially charged”), pushing back when the other teacher reacted defensively (“As teachers we need to rise above that”, and offering a resource (the book) to help the teacher.

              2. Blueberry*

                For every other kind of correction people are told not to be defensive and to learn, but when someone has their bigotry pointed out they are supposed to be allowed to defensively blow off the correction and keep doing exactly what they were doing? How does that make sense?

                1. ChimericalOne*

                  I’m not really talking about the “should” here, as in, “What would his ideal reaction have been?” If he’d written in for advice on how he should’ve reacted, I’d say, “You should try to understand where your colleague is coming from. Yes, you already acknowledged that you were in the wrong when you described your feelings as coming from a place of racial bias, but lots of folks aren’t comfortable hearing folks talk about that stuff, so when she came back with the Nice White equivalent of ‘You’re racist!’ (i.e., ‘That’s racially charged!’), you should have said, patiently, ‘I know that that’s a racially charged statement, but it’s a true one. This is something a lot of folks have to work on — you can look it up if you’re not familiar, but this is really common. I’m doing my best to overcome it. I will obviously be trying to treat Lee more fairly going forward.’ That way, she understands that you are trying to do the right thing, and she doesn’t read your defensiveness around the issue as a dismissal.”

                  But he didn’t write in asking for advice in reacting in an ideal way — she wrote in about his less-than-ideal reaction & what it means & what she should do about it. And in my opinion — on this & on the vast majority of conflicts — a less-than-ideal reaction in the moment is not strong evidence that someone is on a wildly different page than you are about something. Especially if their initial statement, before you said anything, would seem to suggest that you’re on the same page.

                2. Lissa*

                  Interesting because I almost feel the opposite – that it’s well acknowledged that for every other type of correction, people are very bad at listening and not getting defensive, especially when the correction is from a peer (not a manager). But with bigotry there’s been many articles written on accepting it, not arguing, and being defensive is white/male fragility! I don’t think anyone would say someone is “supposed” to be “allowed” to blow off the correction and ignore it, just that people are defensive about all corrections and bigotry is especially sensitive!

              3. Mia*

                Some people seem to think being called racist is somehow worse or more harmful than perpetuating actual racist ideas, and that attitude makes it impossible for people to actually address these issues. If someone is being defensive, they should reflect on why they feel the need to defend themselves.

                1. Natalie*

                  True, but I think this is the age-old advice column issue – Sam isn’t the person who wrote in. So if the LW, who did write in, wants to continue addressing this with Sam, she would be wise to take his defensiveness into account. It’s not going to disappear just because it should.

                2. ChimericalOne*

                  If racism is a bad thing, then calling someone a racist is an attack — it is, at minimum, an attack on their character. It can be a deserved attack or an undeserved one, but it’s silly to pretend that a criticism is simply a neutral observation. Acknowledging that it’s an attack does not mean pretending that it’s “worse” than perpetuating racist ideas — that’s a deflection and a straw man, set up to suggest there’s a false equivalency being drawn where there is none.

                3. ChimericalOne*

                  (And also to suggest that a person describing it as such doesn’t take racism seriously, as though you cannot take racism seriously and also think that any particular individual is not racist.)

                4. Mia*

                  Saying that calling out racism is an attack is an excuse racist folks use to silence POC and our allies. It’s not an attack. We live in a deeply, deeply bigoted society; racism is baked into virtually every facet of it. Pretty much every white person has some sort of unconscious, casual racist habits or misconceptions that they’ve learned just from existing in the Western world, a place that marginalizes black and brown people.

                  If we’re not allowed to say something when those misconceptions pop up, how on earth is anyone ever going to unlearn them? How can we possibly make educational settings safer for our kids if we get shut down as “attacking” for simply raising the issue?

                5. Lucette Kensack*

                  People in the thread are acting as though the LW said “You are a racist,” when in fact she commented that the thing he said was “racially charged.” She was being quite cautious — using softening language like “racially charged” instead of racist, and commenting on his action, not offering judgment on him as a human.

              4. Lucette Kensack*

                Well, first, it IS possible to not be defensive if someone tells you that you’re doing or saying something racist. It’s understandable to feel defensive, of course, but a non-defensive response is what we should all strive for (like how Alison talks about how to handle getting critical feedback at work).

                I also think you’re rewriting this conversation to be very generous to the other teacher by casting the LW’s statements in the most aggressive light (“That’s racist!” when what she said was “That’s a racially charged thing to say.”) and the other teacher’s in the most benign (“I guess I have implicit bias,” when what he said was that he thinks of Lee as older because of his blackness).

                We don’t know exactly what went down here — what were their respective tones? What else does the LW know about how this teacher behaves towards black kids? etc. — but I don’t think we should conclude that the other teacher is blamelessly doing everything he can to counter the societal biases we all grapple with (and therefore should be left alone).

                1. ChimericalOne*

                  If he says that he thinks of Lee as older “because of his blackness,” what he’s saying is that he has implicit bias. If he didn’t understand the concept, he wouldn’t have tied his perception of Lee’s age to his race at all. And “that’s a racially charged thing to say” is exactly how Nice White Folks say, “That’s racist,” and he was correct to read it as such. She wasn’t making a neutral observation — she was trying to shut him down / provoke an apology for saying something “wrong.” Which is absolutely silly, when what he’s saying is, “I realize I’m racially biased.” There’s nothing “wrong” there at all.

              5. pancakes*

                Saying that OP’s discussion with this teacher was treating him as “super racist” is wildly hyperbolic, and the idea that “we all struggle with” not perceiving black kids as older than they are is absurd. People who are black themselves, for starters, aren’t struggling with that on the same level. Why speak as if everyone is in the exact same position on this when we all know that isn’t in fact correct?

          2. MassMatt*

            This was my take also, that the coworker acknowledged having a racial bias which is known to be pervasive. Perhaps he was cavalier about it, it’s hard to get the nuances without more detail, but he wound up getting reported to the principal.

            If we punish those that acknowledge their biases how are we to overcome them? People can read academic studies of racist behavior etc all while thinking “of course *I* never do that”.

            Racists never acknowledges their biases, to the point of denying that such biases even exist.

            1. Librarian of SHIELD*

              Talking to the principal isn’t necessarily a punishment, though. And even people who acknowledge that they have biases don’t always know when they’re acting out of those biases, so it’s still important to point it out when it happens, and if necessary, to debrief about it later and figure out how to keep it from happening again.

              From the LW’s description in the comments, it sounds less like “yes, I’m aware I have this bias and I’m working to counteract it,” and more like “yes, I’m aware this is a thing in society and I am helpless to change it.” And that attitude is DEFINITELY worth more conversations, because you don’t just take step one and declare yourself not racist. You have to keep on taking steps and be open to people pointing out the moments when you mess up so you can do better next time.

              1. AnonEd*

                Coworker acknowledged racial bias. Bigots don’t do this. Coworker owned up to. It could have been the opening to a productive discussion. Instead, IMO, LW labeled this “white male” (their words) as a racist and marched into the Principal’s office to report him. I see racial bias all over this letter. All sides.

                1. Hierarchy of Keys*

                  How is it wrong for OP2 to describe her coworker as a white male if he is, in fact, a white male? She didn’t use any sort of slur, just gave a factual description of her coworker. The coworker’s race was relevant to the story, because this is an incident that involves racist thoughts and actions.

                  And I did not describe OP2’s coworker as a bigot. I said he has work to do in dismantling his racial biases, as do all the white people in the world, myself included. OP2 didn’t go to the principal’s office to get her coworker “in trouble.” She did it because she saw first hand that he was engaging in behaviors that could be harmful to his students, and that is 100% a thing the principal should be made aware of. This is a very out-sized amount of aggression in response to a comment that made no accusations whatsoever.

                2. Librarian of SHIELD*

                  Sorry, y’all. Tried to go anonymous in another thread and forgot to switch my name back. So much for that. :)

            2. pancakes*

              It’s absolutely not correct that “racists never acknowledge their biases.” There are many, many, many racists who openly acknowledge their own racism. Do you imagine that people who join white nationalist organizations, for starters, fancy themselves unbiased?

              1. pentamom*

                Yes, they probably do see themselves as unbiased. They see themselves as “fairly” or “accurately” reading the situation of “those people” being deficient in this, that or the other way that requires a response involving nationalism, supremacism, etc.

              2. LunaLena*

                Honestly? I think they do. I suspect that people who join white nationalist organizations are convinced that what they believe (i.e. racial superiority) is a FACT, something that has been undeniably proven through science and observational data. Therefore, pointing out such a thing is as unbiased as pointing out that the sky is blue, because they’re only saying what’s true.

                They may acknowledge that they are biased, but it’s okay to them because their bias is based on truth. If others fail to agree, then that’s because they’re just SJWs in denial or are virtue-signalling or trying to be WOKE or whatever other terms they’re using these days.

      3. Mia*

        This is a racist phenomenon exclusive to children of color and primarily effecting black kids. It’s not just black people of any age. Because of that, most educators who have entered the field at some point in the past couple decades have likely at least heard about it. It’s been studied a ton and was fairly common knowledge when I was teaching, even in my very conservative district. Also, Sam literally pointed out that he knew it was a common issue, so pleading ignorance on his behalf seems…not great.

        1. VictorianCowgirl*

          This is not exclusive to children of color. This happens also with very tall children of any skin tone.

          1. Elliott Smith Song*

            I’m sorry but no, a white child being tall is no where near the equivalent of a black child who is automatically perceived as older regardless of their height or any other factors. The consequences for the black child are far greater and exist in the context of systemic racism against all black people. In my experience growing up, there were also a lot of privileged extended to taller kids who were white and the teachers seemed to have good expectations of them and their maturity which is very different than holding a black child to a higher standard for immature behavior that every child participates in.

              1. Mia*

                Again, I’m talking about racism, as it very clearly says in my comment (i.e. “this is a racist phenomenon…”) This letter and my comment have nothing to do with the plight of tall children and I don’t appreciate you randomly derailing with that.

                1. VictorianCowgirl*

                  When you use the word “Exclusive” it has a certain meaning. Best you understand that meaning if you don’t want to be corrected.

                2. Mia*

                  Idk why you’re nitpicking what I said so much, but perhaps I should have, “this type of racism is exclusive to kids of color, not POC as a whole.” I thought that was apparent from my comments, but that is how I was using the word “exclusive.”

              2. Lucette Kensack*

                It’s not at all the point in this conversation, and only serves to derail. So let’s not let it, and move on.

              1. Blueberry*

                You stated that tall children are also seen as older than they are, and you brought it up as a rebuttal to Mia’s statement that Black kids are seen as older than they are.. Either you’re saying that there is no racial aspect to Black kids being seen as older than they are, which statement would be proved if tall children would suffer the disproportionate troubles that Black kids do because of this perception, or you’re saying that to be pedantic, in which case it has no bearing on whether or not Black kids suffer disproportionately because of being seen as being older, which is the subject under discussion.

          2. Mia*

            I’m talking specifically about the racist aspect. Kids who are taller or developed early can certainly have a hard time, but that’s not the same thing as structural oppression.

          3. Mia*

            A white child who is very tall might be perceived as older, but the result of that assumption is gonna be really different than the result for a kid of color. Tall children aren’t suspended at absurdly high rates compared to short children, etc. The negative outcomes for kids who are subjected to their teachers’ racism is just a totally different issue than size bias.

          4. AKchic*

            My very tall children are not followed in stores, expected to act like adults, judged as adults, hyper-sexualized as adults for having developed or developing bodies, nor automatically assumed to be addicts or selling simply because they are tall.

            Please don’t try to marginalize something that is demonstrably real, or derail a very serious subject.

      4. ThisIshRightHere*

        Perhaps it is not a bias most white people know about (unless they’ve really thought about it, etc). But white people’s failure to recognize something that doesn’t affect them is not the yardstick for what “most people know about.” I assure you, all Black people, and especially all Black educators are very aware of this bias. Black students are as well, although, they may not yet have the vocabulary to articulate the nuances of it. Myself and every Black girl have been chastised for being “too grown” when all we were was dark-skinned and developed. My brother and every Black boy have been over-disciplined because a white authority figure felt “threatened” or “disrespected” by mere virtue of their being brown and having a deep voice. If this bias weren’t real, Tamir Rice would still be with us.

      5. TootsNYC*

        I used to babysit a kid who was really big for his age, and so I found myself more impatient with him than I should have been. Once I realized what was going on, I used to say it out loud as a way to remind myself, and to “iron in a different wrinkle,” one that was more charitable to him, and more accurate.

        I really did take this as the guy acknowledging his own bias, and that it’s good that he recognized it and worked against it.
        The problem isn’t that he SAID it. The problem is that he has more work to do in ERASING it, especially for that kid.

        1. pancakes*

          I’m not following as to where or how he’s working against his own bias merely by acknowledging having it. Also not following as to why it isn’t a problem that he expressed biased views. Both these points seem like arbitrary ways to try to make people who know they’re a bit racist feel more at ease about it.

        2. MCMonkeyBean*

          Yeah, it seems to me like this is pretty much a completed interaction. He admitted his bias, she called him out for it in the moment, and I don’t think there’s really anything that necessarily needs to happen next other than hopefully that guy continues to reflect on it.

    2. fhqwhgads*

      I might be interpreting it wrong but I got the impression he was implying it’s not bias because he thinks he’s right, not because he realizes his reaction was problematic. I agree I don’t think giving him a book on implicit bias would do any good, not in the Secret Santa or otherwise. That said, I do have a teacher friend who had one horribly racist coworker (who she did not have high hopes of changing) and she gave that coworker a book on implicit bias. I don’t know that it helped much overall, but IIRC horribly racist coworker did for a bit tone down her horribly racist comments around my friend. Friend considered this a small victory, in a “better than nothing” sense.

      1. ChimericalOne*

        I don’t think he thinks he’s not biased — the letter says that he tells OP that it’s a “proven social issue” that people perceive black kids as older than they really are, so he knows it’s an “issue” (a problem), and he recognized (possibly just then, in the course of their conversation) that he was doing it, too. It sounds to me like his coworker took offense to him simply mentioning race — as a white person, there’s a social norm that you never say anything that ends in “because he’s black,” even if you’re trying to admit that you’ve committed an accidental act of bias. It is, as OP puts it, “racially charged” and thus uncomfortable for other whites to hear. It sounds to me like she’s reacting entirely to this discomfort, rather than what he’s actually saying. At best, she’s upset because he has implicit bias, which we all have, and thinks that he should somehow have eradicated this in himself by now. (And it’s true that you can work on things like that, but recognizing it & acknowledging it is a step in that, so it sounds to me like he’s on the right track, and hardly someone who needs a “teaching moment.”)

        1. Mia*

          You’re missing the forest for the trees. It’s not about mentioning race. It’s about mentioning race *in this context.* There’s a massive, massive difference between saying “you know Timmy, the black kid with glasses” and “I think of Timmy as more grown because he’s a black kid.”

          1. ChimericalOne*

            “I think of Timmy as more grown because he’s a black kid” says “I realize that my perception has been influenced by racism.” If he didn’t understand the concept of implicit bias & its connection to racism, he wouldn’t have tied his perception of Lee’s age to his race at all. He would’ve just said the equivalent of, “Oh, he seems older than the other kids, it’s hard for me to remember he’s only 12. Funny how that is.”

            To come back and say, basically, “That’s racist!” to someone who has just acknowledged their racism, has just acknowledged that their previous attitude was unfair, is aggressive & unhelpful. When someone opens up about something and says, “I see that I did wrong,” coming back at them with “What you did is horrible!” is going to push them in the opposite direction of which you want them to go.

            1. ChimericalOne*

              I give the example of reluctance to even name race because it’s what makes most sense to me here in explaining OP’s strange reaction to her colleague’s admission. He basically says, “You’re right, I’m being influenced by unconscious racism & holding Lee to an unfair standard because he’s black” and she is super upset by this admission as if the admission itself is a racist thing to say. That’s why I think she’s grown up being told not to acknowledge that Timmy is black. Because she’s reacting like he’s an uber racist for simply acknowledging that he has a very normal level of implicit bias to overcome.

            2. Mia*

              Why are you so committed to not taking the LW at her word? If this person has consistently said tone deaf things about black people and the LW, who actually knows and works with him, has noticed it on multiple occasions, why do you think he was acknowledging his faults as opposed to excusing them? Because writing off bigotry in a “well I mean everyone does it” way is a wildly common response from people who do not want to actually correct their behavior.

              1. ChimericalOne*

                I am taking her at her word. I haven’t questioned or disputed any of the facts she’s given about the encounter. The only thing I dispute is the conclusion she seems to have drawn from them. We’re obliged to trust that the letter-writers are giving us factually-accurate accounts of their situation. That doesn’t mean we’re obligated to draw the same conclusions that they are drawing. See, for example, the letter-writer who was certain that she’d been insulted because someone else also brought rolls to the company potluck. Just like with that letter-writer, none of the examples this OP has given are adding up to “this guy is a racist who needs someone to teach him a lesson.”

                1. Mia*

                  She specifically said he was using the idea of implicit bias to excuse his behavior, but you insist that’s not the case. And nowhere did anyone call this man “a racist” who needs to be taught a lesson. The idea of using racist as a noun just makes it sound like racism is something only perpetuated by outright, klansmen level bigots. But as I think this situation shows, it’s more complex than that and plenty of otherwise well-meaning folks have racist ideas that they need to work through and unlearn.

            3. pancakes*

              Simply declaring something that isn’t aggressive is aggressive doesn’t make it so, and your line about the letter writer telling their coworker “What you did is horrible!” is fabricated. Why do you think people who don’t agree with you will be or should be open to believing the letter said anything close to that? Only the most inattentive and/or highly suggestible readers would be open to that.

        2. fhqwhgads*

          I didn’t take the “proven social issue” bit as him acknowledging he knows it’s an issue in general. I took it as him basically saying “it’s not my fault, it’s a thing”.

    3. JustAThought*

      I think I agree with you here, but the language in the letter makes the whole exchange so murky It’s hard to be definitive. Generally speaking though, it’s a good think when people can acknowledge their biases. You can’t fix what you don’t see.

    4. Morning Reader*

      I thought there was a typo somewhere that makes it difficult to parse. Who said it was a “proven social issue?” If it was the teacher admitting his bias, what good would it do to give him a book about it? He is already aware and (it sounds like) working on it. “Child x has some problematic behaviors.” “Yes, but he’s young and immature and he will grow out of it.” “Oh,perhaps I perceive him as being older because he’s black so maybe I am having implicit bias as it is known to be a proven social issue.” Is this what happened? Or was it just, “huh, I thought he was older.” “Then you must have racial bias to perceive him that way, it’s a proven social issue.” I am not getting it.
      In most schools, children are grouped by age so their teachers usually know how old they are, which I also find confusing in this story. Among my friends’ children, a tall one with tall parents was frequently taken to be older in a group of mixed age kids, because at age two he was about the size of an average four-year-old. I understand how a misperception of age and developmental stage can be harmful to a kid, with behavior expectations he is not capable of meeting. Im just having trouble understanding this happening in a school setting.

      1. PossiblyEnoughDetailToBeIdentified*

        Yes, since Lee believes the child to be problematic, presumeably he’s *taught* him at one point, or interacted with him in a classroom, surrounded by his classmates, who are probably the same age?
        Unless the racial bias goes further and he’s suggesting the child has been held back a year for problematic behaviour? (Sorry, I’m having trouble wrapping my head around all of this)

        1. Slothy Coffee*

          I work with children and young people with special educational needs in Italy. Here it is reasonably common for students to repeat a year, and this can happen for a variety of reasons, so a teacher can have a class group with 2 or 3 years age difference between students. Many schools here also have extra activities and workshops, open to all students with special needs who attend the school, and the activity leader may not know which class group the students are in.

          1. MK*

            But surely the teacher knows when they have students of atypical ages in their clas? It happens in my country too, but the teacher will be told beforehand that A has had to repeat a year or B “lost” a year due to illness, etc.

            1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

              Not necessarily. I was young for my year in school, but because I was tall and misbehaved, it was really common for teachers to assume I’d been held back a year (at another school). Some of them wouldn’t believe I’d been pushed ahead!

              1. wittyrepartee*

                I have a friend who’s kid is the youngest and tallest in her class. It seems like teachers have had trouble grasping that she’s not just 7, but she’s a young 7 (both in months and in comparison to others at her exact same age).

            2. TootsNYC*

              also–being told beforehand means you know it intellectually. A LOT of how we interact with people is shaped by instinctive, quick-as-lightning connections in the brain, and one of those is “tall = older,” and it may kick in despite all the intellectual knowledge in the world.

              “I have to remind myself that…” is thing for a reason. A brain reason.

        2. Anononon*

          No, the issue isn’t that the teacher thinks that Lee is actually older than he is, it’s that the teacher perceives Lee as being “older” in a vague sense which goes in hand with expecting more from him than other children of Lee’s age. It’s the same/similar to when black boys are referred to as men and written about as if they were adults in articles but white boys are acknowledged to be boys/children.

          1. Kelly L.*

            Sometimes even white men well into adulthood get a pass for being “boys.” As in, don’t criticize the sons of (Major Politician), they’re just kids! Dudes are like 40…

          2. Mia*

            This. It’s like adults describing black and brown girls as “fast” or “too mature” for wearing the same short shorts as their white peers. The perception rarely lines up with those kids’ actual chronological age. Casual racism isn’t really a logical thing.

            1. MassMatt*

              I notice it when video and news stories surface of black children (children!) being beaten, wrestled to the ground, shot by police or security guards. Clothing, especially the dreaded hoodie, is raised as an issue, and “he was BIG FOR HIS AGE!” is commonly trotted out as an excuse.

              1. Mia*

                Exactly. This attitude is so depressingly common and very easy to see if you pay even the tiniest bit of attention to social issues. I’m really gobsmacked that so many commenters are acting so unfamiliar with it.

                1. MrsCHX*

                  This is one of white America’s favorite things to do. Pretend as if they don’t see it and thus, it isn’t real/doesn’t exist.

                  They know. I know they know.

                2. PossiblyEnoughDetailToBeIdentified*

                  Not American, it’s an issue, but nowhere near as big an issue over here, hence my ignorance

                3. Pomona Sprout*

                  I’m a white American, and while I am very much aware of issues like implicit bias and unconscious racism IN GENERAL, I have to admit that I was not as fully aware of this particular bias (reacting to black kids as if they are older than they actually are) aside probably should have been.

                  I was definitely aware of at least some of the things cited as examples by you and MassMatt, but I somehow ever put them together with how teachers treat kids in a classroom setting until now. I imagine that if I was an educator, this would probably have been brought to my attention sooner than this, and I honestly wish it had. Now that I have been made aware of it. I will definitely pay attention to this issue and work to root out any traces of it in myself, as I do with the other unconscious biases and prejudices that I know I carry. Please know that at least one person here has been educated by this conversation and taken it to heart!

      2. Myrin*

        I think the “proven social issue” part is pretty clear when you read it carefully but I agree that the letter in general is strangely difficult to understand. (Or maybe we’re all collectively being obtuse, since Alison seems to have understood it just fine.)

        Sam himself said the “proven social issue” thing. The letter says “he said that […] it was a proven social issue” and follows up with a commentary on that by OP herself (“this part is true”) and with what she said in the moment: “I said that might be”. If you carefully unthread it like that, I think it becomes quite easy to understand who said what, unless OP somehow deleted the middle of that sentence so it changed its agent (there’s a wild “at” floating around there which could point to that but I think it just got randomly misplaced there).

        However, I’m totally with you regarding the potential conversations you’ve thought of. As it stands, it says this:
        “I thought he was going to be fine once he matured a little. That’s when Sam revealed to me that he perceived Lee as older because he’s black. I responded that it was a very racially charged thing to say, and he said that at he was admitting it and that it was a proven social issue”.

        And that part is why I said it’s “strangely difficult” to understand the letter because when you read it first, it actually seems pretty straightforward, but as soon as you try to actually comprehend it, it’s suddenly super hard to actually envision this conversation. I hope you bear with me as I go on to make up fictional conversations in the hopes of helping others and myself to understand this. It could have been:

        OP: “I’m sure he’ll be fine once he’s matured a little – he’s only 14, after all.”
        Sam: “Wait, he’s 14? I thought he was like 17! But now that I think about it, you know how black teenagers often seem older than they really are? That must be it!”
        OP: “That’s a very racially charged thing to say!”
        Sam: “Yeah, I have to admit that. I know it’s a proven social issue, I read up on it not too long ago.”
        => Weird, because if Sam knows about Lee’s behaviour “in class” he’s surely taught him before and as such must realise that he’s most likely the same age as his classmates, but not really super horrible because Sam admits to his own biases and it seems like he’s already working on counteracting them.

        It could have been:
        OP: “I’m sure he’ll be fine once he’s matured a little – he’s only 14, after all.”
        Sam: “I know that intellectually, but somehow he always seems older than that to me when I interact with him and I have to remind myself yet again that he’s just a kid. It must be because he’s black.”
        OP: “That’s a very racially charged thing to say!”
        Sam: “Yeah, I have to admit that. I know it’s a proven social issue and I keep reminding myself to not fall into that trap.”
        => Less weird than the first one but pretty self-aware, albeit not unproblematic if he has to remind himself again and again that Lee is much younger than he looks without actually internalising it; fits best with OP’s reaction of “it’s our job as educators to rise above implicit bias”.

        It could have been:
        OP: “I’m sure he’ll be fine once he’s matured a little – he’s only 14, after all.”
        Sam: “I know that, but he always seems much older than that to me so his real age doesn’t really matter. It’s because he’s black, don’t they all look older than they really are?”
        OP: “That’s a very racially charged thing to say!”
        Sam: “Yeah, yeah, and I even admit that. I know it’s a proven social issue so it’s normal for me to feel that way and I can’t really do anything about it, can I?”
        => Sam must have some sort of theoretical understanding of social issues but isn’t really willing to actually implement that understanding in his real life and to make substantive changed because of his theoretical knowledge; best explains OP’s frustration.

        As far as I can see, these are roughly the three directions this conversation could have went (with differing details, of course). Circling back to OP’s question about the Secret Santa, though, I don’t think it makes sense in any of those situations to give him a book about implicit bias in particular because what Sam doesn’t have in either of these situations is a lack of knowledge about implicit bias (since he himself talked about it being a “proven social issue”); at worst, he is acknowledging his but not planning on doing anything about it and in that case, a book about it isn’t going to sway him, either.

        1. Snuck*

          That’s my thinking too…

          No point giving a book because either he already knows he has an issue… or he doesn’t.

          If he does, and doesn’t care… a book ain’t gonna change that.
          If he doesn’t know, a “Secret Santa” isn’t the way to do it… that will cause confusion or resentment or too much attention (Secret Santa should be fun, light hearted, and not serious…)
          If he knows, and does care… a book might be interesting, but you won’t need to hide it in a Secret Santa gift…

          1. Lucette Kensack*

            I’ve been a little confused (and frustrated) by the multiple comments saying (or assuming) that there is “no point” in this teacher reading a book about implicit bias because he’s already aware of his/society’s bias.

            Implicit bias isn’t solved by just noticing that it exists. It’s a thing we have to work to overcome, over and over and over again. One of the ways we can do that is by learning more about how it works, strategies for noticing when it rears up in our own thinking or behavior, and what we can do to counteract it. Reading a book can be a good next step for someone who is aware of the problem and needs to figure out their next steps to addressing their biased beliefs or behavior.

            1. Snuck*

              I’d say “no point doing it as a novelty Christmas gift moment”

              Still a point having the conversation IF he is receptive to it, but don’t use Secret Santa for it.

          2. Lissa*

            That’s what I thought too! If Sam is being racist a peer giving him a book on implicit bias is not how it should be dealt with! Way too light and not from the right source. And if what he meant was the middle scenario then like, ok he’s aware, highly unlikely OP has the Magic Book that will get him to fight implicit bias even harder! (though it would be nice if such a book existed of course.)

        2. MicroManagered*

          (Or maybe we’re all collectively being obtuse, since Alison seems to have understood it just fine.)

          I don’t think we are being obtuse. I think what Alison understood just fine is: I don’t think Secret Santa gift exchanges should be used to make a point. In a way, the actual issue is really kind of irrelevant.

          1. Lehigh*

            In addition to this, I don’t think that assigning reading via Christmas gifts is generally very effective or well-received. I might feel vaguely obligated to glance through a book given by a colleague, but I would probably also be resentful of the obligation (and the colleague!), regardless of subject matter. (Unless it was something I had expressed an interest in reading, of course.)

            1. MicroManagered*

              It would at least have to be *highly* situational. Like if my coworker/friend drew me in Secret Santa and got me an AAM book (we are both AAM readers)…

            2. Akcipitrokulo*

              I *love* getting books that I like for Christmas. But has to be one I will like, not something someone thinks I should read.

        3. Quinalla*

          Glad I wasn’t the only one running through it trying to figure out which conversation scenario was most likely. I agree that any of these an implicit bias book may not be the way to go, maybe taking the opportunity to talk about it again if it comes up? But yeah, just get a normal, boring secret santa gift for sure!

          1. Myrin*

            I absolutely love coming up with different ways scenarios presented in letters here could’ve played out – and per OP’s comments below, it appears my #3 is where it’s at!

        4. ChimericalOne*

          I personally see conversation #1 as being the most likely, and it’s the one that makes the most sense to me from my own interactions with fellow well-meaning whites who grew up in a “don’t talk about race” era / part of the country. Just saying anything that ends in “because he’s black” is triggering. This is what white fragility looks like — whites freaking out at other whites for dropping “race” into a conversation unexpectedly, even when they’re doing so in a pretty enlightened, self-aware way. He admits he has implicit bias. She gets upset at him for talking about race and reacts by wanting to “educate” him on implicit bias so that he stops saying such things, probably because it reminds her subconsciously that she does, too (teachers are supposed to be above such things, she tells him). IMO, if she actually worked through her feelings, she’d realize that he doesn’t need this to be a “teachable moment.” Perhaps she herself does, though.

          1. pancakes*

            I think you’re way off-base in saying that the letter writer was upset with their colleague “for talking about race.” By all appearances from where I sit, they were upset that their colleague expressed racially biased views.

        5. Steve C.*

          And it certainly could have been that Sam was trying to express the idea in #2 but worded it such that it came off as #3 to OP.

      3. PVR*

        In my area, kids of multiple ages can be grouped together in a special education setting. If that is the case, I could see where that could be especially harmful to Lee to be perceived as older and have unrealistic behavior expectations.

        1. MrsCHX*

          No. It’s harmful in *ANY* and ALL settings. A neurotypical boy being perceived as older than he is has UNREALISTIC behavior expectations placed on him. And then when he doesn’t meet those expectations he’s disciplined. Look at the suspension and expulsion rates of black boys (specifically) to any other demographic.

          The issue needs no qualifiers.

      4. soon 2be former fed*

        That’s where the implicit bias comes in. You know that most fifth graders are ten or son, but you perceive the black child to be the age of a junior high schooler. The same thing happens to larger or taller children. Behavioral expectations change towards these children. Implicit bias is not affected by facts. Please don’t be surprised, black children are harmed every day in school settings.

    5. theelephantintheroom*

      There are a lot of people who think, “If I admit that I’m biased, then it’s OK to have biased thoughts and not be considered racist.” That was the impression I got of him.

      1. pleaset aka cheap rolls*


        I’ll add that the most important thing, once you recognize your own bias, is how you act. If you try to act better, then it’s good. You may not be able to control your feelings/thoughts but you can exert more control on your actions.

        Whereas if you recognize your bias but don’t make very sure you’re not acting on it (or at least try hard!!), then you’re horrendous. Perhaps worse than people who don’t recognize their bias.

      2. Blue*

        This was exactly the sense I got. “Well actually this (racist af) way of thinking is super normal (and this acceptable) is a really common attitude. And, less cynically, I do a lot of work on unlearning racism and I’m still grateful when other white people I trust share resources they have found to be helpful. I see some other commenters suggesting that if he’s aware of the issue he wouldn’t benefit from a resource, but clearly he still has a lot of work to do.

          1. MrsCHX*

            Black people have been required to educated “well meaning” white folks since, forever. White people have the internet and access to libraries. Y’all need to check each other. We’re tired.

            1. LunaLena*

              I wish I could give you a hundred thumbs-up. As a female POC I am so tired of people telling me “well YOU need to bring proof of [issue] to ME, otherwise I don’t believe that it’s really an issue because I’VE never seen/experienced it.”

      3. Akcipitrokulo*

        Could be.

        I think getting the book for him at some point may be useful – but as a Secret Santa, it may backfire.

      4. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        This is exactly how I read it. He’s halfway there — recognizing he’s got an issue — but not all the way there to recognizing that he has to deliberately correct his thinking.

      5. Mia*

        Yeah, that’s how I read it too. Sam’s reasoning sounds like a more lowkey version of “everyone’s a little racist.” Like yes, everyone living in our deeply bigoted society has some unconscious bias, but the point of acknowledging that is to ultimately unlearn it.

        1. soon 2be former fed*

          Everyone may be a little racist, but not everyone is in the position to actively harm children because of it. This is not a benign issue, but I cannot expect people unaffected by racism to get it. It’s horrible especially when directed towards children.

          1. Mia*

            I don’t disagree with that. I was deeply messed up by teachers who sound a lot like Sam when I was a kid. I just meant that his reasoning reminds me *a lot* of the kind of garbage people who explain away bigotry by saying everyone does it.

      6. Gazebo Slayer*

        Yes. Recognizing your implicit biases is a good place to start, but a bad place to stop – and it sounds like Sam is determined to stop there.

    6. LW#2*

      Greetings, All! LW #2 here. What’s missing from this letter is the tone and inflection. It’s possible Sam cannot modulate his voice, but there was no sense of self-reflection when he made his statement. If anything, he came off as very defensive. Also, he made another previous strange racial statements to other teachers before. For example, he told another teacher he didn’t think she could be Puerto Rican because she’s black (spoiler alert! Puerto Ricans come in all colors!).

      1. Squirrel!*

        Hi LW 2! Slightly off-topic but, would you be willing to share the name of the book (or books) about bias that you have read? It sounds like a really interesting read, and I love random topics like that.

        1. Lucette Kensack*

          Not the OP, but this is (part of) what I do so I’m very happy to offering readings! Are you specifically interested in implicit bias, or are you interested in a broader range of topics (like cultural competence, anti-racism, etc.)?

          1. Squirrel!*

            I was moreso referring to the implicit bias part (I’m a big psychology nerd), but I’m always willing to take any interesting book recommendations if someone has them. Thank you!

      2. Reba*

        Ah, then it sounds like he meant the proven social phenomenon thing as a defense, like “lots of people do this, it’s just the way society is!” rather than an acknowledgement of something he (and we all) need to actively combat, like “yes I know this is a widespread bias and I have to think against my conditioning.”

        Oof. Well, I hope you will have a chance to revisit the topic outside of the holiday party context. I’m glad you’ve alerted the principal and that you’re watching out for the kids in this way.

          1. Akcipitrokulo*

            Ah. In that case, definitely worth approaching it (assuming you feel in a position to do so) – but the book for Secret Santa would probably make someone with that attitude double down on defensiveness.

            Maybe a book which has a diverse (ie realistic, but that’s another conversation…) cast – but doesn’t have race relations as a theme? If he likes science fiction, get him an SF book with POC protagonists? The blog writingwithcolor has some good recommendations :)

      3. Akcipitrokulo*

        (Could be mistaken… but is the word “least” missing from the letter? “…he said that at he was admitting it…” – it makes more sense, and fits in with your clarification, if it were “”…he said that at least he was admitting it…”)

      4. soon 2be former fed*

        He’s racist, plain and simple. No sugar costing needed. He’s reprehensible and shouldn’t be teaching black children or any children other than lily white ones. I fought hard against this crap when mine attended predominantly white schools. The struggle is real.

        1. wittyrepartee*

          I think we don’t really want him teaching lily white kids either. Kids with privileged need teachers who challenge those ideas. *shudder*

          1. Mia*

            I mean a racist teacher clearly doesn’t pose an immediate threat to white kids in the way they do to black and brown kids. I kinda feel like you already knew the answer though.

              1. Mia*

                What I’d “come up with”? Your apparent incredulity about the issue at hand is really telling and I hope maybe you’ll reflect on that.

      5. Liz*

        Hi LW! Thank you so much for clarifying! If he’s being defensive, it definitely sounds like a more significant problem, and may very well be impacting other children within the school as well as Lee. I’ve seen students driven away from educational settings due to attitudes such as this. I’d steer clear from the Secret Santa option for sure, see how the actions by the principal unfold, and possibly keep an eye open for any further concerns. I can see this guy being resistant to further coaching, sadly.

      6. ChimericalOne*

        He probably came off as defensive because you came off as aggressive. “That’s a very racially charged thing to say” is basically the Nice White way of saying, “That’s racist.” His original comment sounds self-aware to me — that he recognizes that he’s perceiving the kid as older than he is because he’s black — and your response (“That’s racist”) provoked him to defend his statement, saying, essentially, “This is a common implicit bias, I’m not some crazy racist, I’m just acknowledging that I’m affected by this phenomenon that tons of people are affected by.” So, yeah, he gets it — he knows what implicit bias is. Giving him a book is absolutely going to come across as pedantic & heavy-handed and like you’re doubling down on your initial statement (the suggestion that if someone acknowledges an implicit bias in themselves, they’re a big ol’ Klan member) and is absolutely not going to lead to him handling these issues better.

        The fact that he talks pretty openly about his thoughts & feelings about race makes me wonder a little bit about his upbringing & where he’s from (vs. where OP is from). I know that when I moved from the North to the South, I was very surprised at how casually people talked about race. Where I’m from, people are hesitant to even call someone black for utilitarian purposes: if trying to point out the only black kid on the team, you’d call him tall, skinny, glasses-wearing, and a million other things before you’d say, “The black kid,” as if “black” was a slur, or “color blind” was really a thing.

        Some folks still say you shouldn’t be open about these things, that it’s “putting the burden of your ignorance” on someone to tell them that you didn’t realize that Puerto Rico had black folks just like the US (or that Ethiopia has white folks), but I don’t see it as proof that he’s some kind of serious racist. At worst, he’s tactless. At best, he has a different perspective than you do about speaking of these things openly vs. treating them as taboo.

        1. Jaybeetee*

          Yeah, it kinda depends if he meant it as a “I know this is a thing I need to work on” thing, or an “We all have these biases, I can’t help it and there’s nothing I can do about it!” thing. The latter is kinda… next-gen racist? Like, it’s not pillow-case-over-the-head racist, but to me there’s a big difference between someone acknowledging biases to work on them, versus someone acknowledging biases as an excuse to continue having them.

          Of course, the core of Alison’s advice remains the same: Secret Santa is not for making points or teaching lessons. It would be a bit like giving an overweight family member a gym membership for Christmas. Perhaps needed, perhaps “correct”, but… probably not welcome, and not likely to lead to positive interactions. If LW wants to continue to engage Sam on this topic, she should find other ways to do so.

          1. ChimericalOne*

            Right, it’s certainly possible that he meant, “Everyone has this problem, so who cares?,” but it seems just as likely to me that he was completely on the same page as OP in terms of “We all need to work on this stuff” but was just reacting to her reaction (which seemed to have assumed the worst of him). OP’s best step forward would probably have been pushing for more widespread teacher training on issues of cultural sensitivity, implicit bias, etc., for everyone.

        2. Blueberry*

          So basically, you think he’s a safe teacher for Black kids, knowing he’s going to treat them like they’re older than they are to their detriment?

          I’m with Soon2BFormerFed. I would not want this man in a position of power over any children I might have (who would be Black, since I am).

          1. ChimericalOne*

            He’s acknowledged that he’s treated this kid unfairly in the past due to implicit bias. The logical next step is that he’s going to try to treat him differently from now on. Usually people don’t say, “You know what, I’m being unfair” and then just shrug & keep doing it. So I disagree with the premise that he is going to continue this behavior. Usually, folks acknowledging that they’re in the wrong is step one towards them doing better.

            1. Librarian of SHIELD*

              You keep applying your *own* logic and thought processes to OP2’s coworker. It’s not clear, either from the original post or from the writer’s follow ups in the comments, that this teacher shares your logic or thought patterns. We’re asked to take the letter writers at their word. This particular letter writer has explained that in her conversation with her coworker, he fired off the “implicit bias” line as a way of excusing his behavior, not as a way of interrogating his behavior so he could do something different next time. We should all be taking her at her word in this. She’s the one who was physically present and participating in this conversation.

              You say he’s taken step one in acknowledging that he has bias. But he hasn’t taken step two by working to dismantle that bias. Until he starts that process, he’s not a teacher I would want in a position of power over kids of color, and he’s not a teacher who can help white kids learn to dismantle their own biases either. I’m not saying he’s hopeless or that he’ll always be a hurtful and terrible teacher. I’m saying that he’s got work to do that he doesn’t appear to be doing yet, and I think it’s wonderful that the letter writer is willing to help him do some of that work. I agree with Alison that Secret Santa isn’t the place for that, but her impulse is overall a good one.

              1. JM60*

                “We’re asked to take the letter writers at their word.”

                I think we’re asked to treat letter writter’s as sincere, not necessarily as correct. There are many letters for which Alison’s answer, as well as most comments, express disagreement with the letter writter’s interpretation of what occurred.

        3. Akcipitrokulo*

          I think I have to disagree with what may be an inference from your sentence, “He probably came off as defensive because you came off as aggressive.”

          I read that as excusing his being defensive because someone “was aggresive”.

          I may be misreading! and if I am, and you weren’t defending his defensive reaction, then please ignore below.

          Calling racist behaviour racist is not agressive.

          By saying it in a nicer way (““That’s a very racially charged thing to say” is basically the Nice White way of saying, “That’s racist.” “) is reducing the “aggression”… then that also isn’t good enough?

          And most importantly… if you say something racist, you don’t get to be the victim, and don’t get excused for being defensive.

      7. Phoenix Programmer*

        Tone can also be racial….

        OP what is your goal with this individual? your question about getting him a racial bias book for secret Santa which typically is opened in a public fashion suggests that you might be more interested in publicly shaming or punishing him then actually helping him get over these biases. Is that your goal? Do you really think being shamed and embarrassed will lead to change vs him becoming defensive?

        my general experience with people who have problematic views of any group, LGBT, racist, you name it is that they just haven’t had the privilege of being exposed to a large diversr group of people yet. and that when they’re surrounded by diverse open-minded people they learn and become better themselves.

        I don’t mind using myself as an example for this. In high school I had seriously problematic views of the LGBT community. This is because I was raised that way and I didn’t know any better. But once I was around people who are actually part of the LGBT community I quickly changed my tune. I’m eternally grateful for the folks who were willing to see past my rough exterior and upbringing to realize that I was just someone who didn’t know any better. If they decided that because I’ve been raised in a problematic area with bad views that I wasn’t deserving of a second chance or learning aand tan to the principal on me or tried to get me kicked out of the school we are at I probably would have a very different outlook on life than I do today.

        Instead I spent the rest of my high school years, all of my college years andt most of my young adulthood hitting the streets for legalizing gay marriage. I also took the knowledge I learned back to my community and I challenged the leaders there to do better. Did I change my entire community? No. But I definitely impacted some people and that message spread and those small changes across the nation are what eventually led to the majority of Americans supporting gay marriage.

        I worry about the future because I see all this public shaming and trying to punish as many people as possible for having bias instead of trying to help as many people as possible learn how to be better human beings.

        1. Blueberry*

          All right, while we’re talking about changing our minds since our youth…

          When I was in what’s now known as middle school I was enrolled in a program for talented Black and Latino kids that sought to place us in better schools than we might otherwise have gone to. They taught us a lot of useful information, such as “Never go along with the White kids’ misbehavior. You’re the one who will get punished, arrested, etc.” They also taught us that as children of color we were responsible for being ambassadors for our races. We had to be the best behaved kids, we had to be open and friendly and accommodating and ready to explain at all times, we shouldn’t get angry, we shouldn’t get offended, we should educate. Whatever we did, other Black and Latino kids would be judged by and we had to remember that and act accordingly.

          So I did. For decades. It still shows up — I know I get more formal in my writing as I get angrier because I can’t leave room for someone to dismiss my statements due to bad language or grammar. For decades I tried to be the best ambassador for Black people I possibly could be, and I lived and breathed respectability politics.

          Then came 2016’s election, and I realized nothing I had done had ever helped, in this country where people will believe what they want to no matter how hard however many of us try. And I realized that people are responsible for their own souls and that if someone justifies their bigotry by pointing to those of us who have committed misdeeds that makes them no less of a bigot.

          Phoenix Programmer, I’m glad you changed your mind about queer people and made yourself an ally. But if someone queer had pissed you off and you had decided to remain a homophobe because of it, that would be your responsibility, not theirs.

          … ugh, I said I wasn’t going to let myself write an essay.

          1. ChimericalOne*

            The burden absolutely shouldn’t be on black folks, queer folks, etc. to not anger the majority group in order to get the rights they deserve. But OP isn’t black (I’m pretty sure she would’ve mentioned if if she was). And thus, she has a different level of responsibility to her fellow whites. Would-be allies have a responsibility to do the emotional labor of reacting calmly & thoughtfully rather than in a knee-jerk way when they come across (or think that they’ve come across) ignorance. Would-be allies should be using our understanding of psychology to approach other people in the kinds of ways that leave them open to learning rather than defensively doubling-down. This is work that minority groups shouldn’t be expected to do. But we should absolutely expect it of those who would style themselves allies.

            As an aside… I’m sorry about all the trauma of the 2016 election — this country is sometimes a nightmare. But I hope it’s some consolation that “only” 61.4% of the country voted in 2016 and “only” 45% of voters voted for Trump (ergo, in total, only about 26% of the voting-eligible population voted for an open bigot — which is still a huge number of people! I know. But it’s a lot less than half the country, even accounting for all the folks who aren’t eligible to vote for whatever reason). I hope you can at least sometimes see, in the backlash to Trump, hope for the future of the U.S.

    7. Koala dreams*

      I think it wouldn’t necessary do any harm either. He seems open to the idea of implicit bias, so he might be interested in the book. In the best case scenario he has read some articles and are interested in reading more, but he could also have read the book already and will give it back to you, or maybe he won’t have time to read the book, in which case the books will sit un-read somewhere.

      1. Koala dreams*

        Oh well, I should read all the other comments before writing my own. After reading the comments from the LW, it doesn’t seem like they have the kind of relationship where a friendly sharing of books is on the table, due to that teacher saying racist things and being weirdly combative and rude to other teachers, so I guess you should give that book to someone else who would appreciate it instead.

  7. cape daisy*

    #1: would suggest exiting the room to grab a drink, then go outside for a phone call or breath of fresh air. Or a very long toilet break.
    Just because a cloud of negativity is being released, doesn’t mean you have to breathe it in.
    If exiting isn’t an option, I find an under table phone scroll of my favourite websites, having a go on a mobile game or planning a weekly shop helps drown out ambient bs.
    Or if you are sitting with or standing near work buddies who are on board, how about some sarcastic whooping, cheering, clapping and “hell yeahs” after your toxic CEO makes yet another soul crushing negative point?
    If you have music playing, could you ask for Tina Turner’s Simply the Best, to play when they exit the stage?
    A little petty sarcasm is unprofessional yes. But when you have to sit through a CEO masking a annual temper tantrum as a speech, I think you’re allowed.

    1. Snuck*

      I had this mental flash that at the time of this speech half the table looks down, starts live tweeting it to here, and they all realise they are co-readers :P The rest of the night is spent a bit like a masked ball with everyone trying to work out who is which handle on here :P

    2. WorkIsADarkComedy*

      Maybe they could ramp up the sarcasm by presenting an award to the president, from everyone, thanking him for the measures he has taken to make the workplace a nurturing one for the employees.

      Bonus points if they can find tiny measures he took that really did make the place 0.05% better, and even more bonus points if the way those measures made the place better was by ameliorating the president’s own shitty behavior.

      Ah, fantasy…

    3. EPLawyer*

      I swear I am going to embroider this on a pillow “Just because a cloud of negativity is being released, doesn’t mean you have to breathe it in.”

      If you can’t be on your phone because OBVIOUS, at least mentally check out. Plan your holiday grocery shopping, mentally count the clothes in your closet, imagine yourself at a wonderful spa, figure out how to embroider that saying on a pillow.

    4. Important Moi*

      In other words, she could dish it out but she couldn’t take it.

      People like that are always fun to deal with….

    5. Jennifer*

      I was thinking something similar. Try to sense when the speech is about to begin, go to the bathroom and don’t come back until it’s over. Or text someone to call you, answer the phone, say “WHAT!?” and leave the room and don’t come back until it’s over.

      Man, I would love to be someone who found a new job right around the holidays. I would stand up, yell at this guy that he’s a jerk and a loser and he doesn’t appreciate the employees that keep his company running, and walk out. That would be so epic.

      1. Pebbles*

        Gotta admit, I would love to have that moment. And if not me, can we wish for “elegant eyebrow guy” to be in the room and loudly say “I can’t deal with this”, leave, and never return?

    6. Richard Hershberger*

      I have mentioned before that I write about early baseball history. My writing presents a lot of facts and argument from those facts to reach a conclusion. Organizing these well is critical to a coherent piece. I use my daily commute to work on this, putting the various thoughts together in different orders, all in my head. For a longer piece I will eventually put this down in writing as an outline. For shorter pieces, it gives me a mental outline to work off. Either way, I have a good idea of what I am going to write and in what order before I ever type the first paragraph.

      My point? I usually only do this on my daily commute, but I might during, for example, a particularly dull sermon. An annual Christmas rant from the boss would certainly qualify as well. The trick to practice is to have a fixed facial expression that can be interpreted as rapt attention.

  8. Amethyst*

    #3: related question: What if you’ve just held jobs that aren’t accomplishment based and are just “You will do these things because this is the job” and there are zero metrics and minimal face time with your boss? Like a cashier or processing payments and posting them to the right accounts?

    1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

      I’ve had trouble with this. Not sure if this is the best way (I’m sure I will be corrected), but I worded it to sound like doing my job *well* was the achievement.
      Such as “Provided positive interactions with customers as the check-out to increase overall customer satisfaction”, or “Processed payments to the right accounts with great accuracy to ensure that P&L accounts could be processed without correcting journals”
      (Have personally been neither, so I’ve had to take some licence with the job spec)

    2. Akcipitrokulo*

      Achievements are still the way to go – even if you don’t feel you have them, you do :) “Ensured accurate billing over X accounts” instead of “Responsible for billing X accounts”. It might seem a bit cheesy, but everything does have achievements; “Provided excellent customer service” – and have a couple of examples to discuss in interviews where you went a bit extra to resolve a customer issue.

      No-one is expecting you to have huge, company-changing achievements if that’s not your job, but keeping Mr Smith as a loyal customer by remembering his name or brand preferences is an achievement. Keeping lines down in busy times and keeping a friendly and professional attitude is too – “Consistently upheld corporate image”.

    3. ContemporaryIssued*

      Some customer facing positions do secret shopper type quality assessments, so if you scored high on those (or if your store scored high on those) you put that as achievements. I know some of my old customer service jobs did those, though we never scored high so I didn’t exactly boast about it on my CV.

    4. Sled dog mama*

      For a cashier, perhaps less important now that so many people use cards, but an accomplishment would be how often your cash drawer was correct at the end of shift. Did you have 100% correct counts, the highest % of correct counts in the store. Look at each task and find a metric for it something like how often it was correct the first time.

    5. Jesse*

      There are metrics to any job, it’s just more difficult to figure out in some jobs than others.

      I teach resume writing in college (I promise I don’t suck!). One of the most difficult parts of resume writing is that you’re too close to your job to see from an outsider’s point of view.

      I HIGHLY encourage everyone to sit down with someone who knows nothing about their job and let them ask questions. What do you do? Tell me about a day? What if…? This is where you’ll start to see the accomplishments and metrics that were there all along.

      Example: “Like a cashier or processing payments and posting them to the right accounts?”
      – How many people per day (approximately)?
      – How much cash handled?
      – Did you ever resolve a dispute with an angry customer? I would imagine a 7/11 clerk has excellent examples of conflict resolution.
      – How many processed payments?
      – Accurate processing?

      Etc. I think it’s important for people to remember that resume reviewers are looking for a holistic view of a good employee. It’s not about fluffing a resume but showing them that you have basic common sense and that you can do a good job in a task.

      1. Ellen*

        I was kind of casting around, looking at other jobs, wondering about how to list my current job in a positive way. I, pretty literally, spend a significant amount of my day putting carefully measured amounts of food into a cup. There are details to it (make it pretty) that are not really important, but basically… yeah. Not a highly challenging job. Then I considered it more closely. I’ve trained 3 people to my position. I’ve brainstormed with upper management about how to handle supply issues. I (literally) wrote the training manual – with pictures – on how to do my job. I designed a spreadsheet so I can track demand, so I can make sure that demand is met with as little waste as possible. I may not actually be an idiot, even if all that you technically have to be able to do, to do my job correctly, is count to five and boil water.

        1. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

          Hi, I’ve also spent most of my day putting (not so carefully) measured amounts of food into a cup. Or sometimes a bag. But in my case there were lots of people filling cups together, so it was pretty obvious that some were faster than others and better at counting whether they’d filled the correct number of cups. And that’s how I got promoted to box tote-er instead.

      2. Reba*

        Yes, I was coming here to say something like this. Accuracy and volume of work are things you can resumize.

        Alison has answered a similar question before, and as I recall the gist of the advice was to ask yourself what you do in your job that makes you extra good at it — what do you do or would a high performer do that others don’t.

      3. Amethyst*


        These are all estimates because, again, there was no facetime with any of my bosses in either job & I was never informed about any metrics. In the cashier job, there usually would be a sheet with a list of everyone’s names & how fast they scanned, etc. posted in the stairwell, but no one paid attention to it unless they wanted to know their average speed. No one was talked to about money (as far as I know–I’ve never been) since each register’s tills were shared with 2 other cashiers (sometimes more if it was insanely busy) before the end of the day. On an average day, I’d handle maybe 150 customers through my line? Holidays/massive sales probably 400 people? I honestly have no idea.

        We used to have sales goals when doing fundraising for X charity but that was just for friendly competition, honestly. That ranking would be posted at the door to the employee lounge but I never paid attention to it; some others would take it upon themselves to tell me where I stood, lol. I recall our CSM saying things like “We’re the smallest store in our district & we came in second to the largest store” with these little fundraising things. Other than that, it was business as usual.

        Processing payments… Again, was never told anything other than stuff like “we love the way you do things” or “you do an awesome job” in passing or whatnot. No idea how many accounts I handled within my one client…maybe 7k per month? This client of mine had deposits averaging $150-200k per business day, with the heaviest twice a month on Thursdays. Then the amount would jump up to $750-900k & I’d work it all. It’s the largest account we hold within my company. As far as accuracy, I think mine would’ve been 98% or so? I’m leaving the 2% as a margin for human error, but I know I didn’t make any major mistakes (except for occasionally forgetting to attach a spreadsheet before I sent the email to C suite, LOL).

    6. That Would be a Good Band Name*

      I struggle with this too and recently had some good insight when we had a new person start. It was easy for me to look at how they were doing compared to how others were doing and really spot some key differences. It’s like the what makes someone good vs what makes someone great at a job question that is recommended to ask during interviews. If you were training someone to do your job, what tips and tricks would you give them? If you are doing things that makes things go better, then those are the types of things that go on a resume. For a cashier position, I had regular customers. If I had a long line and someone asked for an item kept behind the counter and I knew the person after them was going to ask for something too, I’d just go ahead and grab it. It would save maybe 30 seconds, but time counts when the line is backing up. I haven’t had my CSR jobs on my resume for awhile, but something like “Proactively anticipates customer needs to reduce wait times” would be close to what I’d put for that.

      It’s easy to think “I’m just doing what I’m supposed to”, but most of us have coworkers that don’t do things very efficiently and those are the kinds of differences you want to put on your resume.

    7. Pennalynn Lott*

      I used to audit the customer service desk and cashiers at a certain big-box home improvement store. Let me tell you, being the cashier whose till was never off by more than $1.00 is a huge accomplishment. So is properly processing returns.

      Do anything well with minimal mistakes is a win in any job role.

  9. Maria Lopez*

    I think Sam was acknowledging that he was perceiving Lee as older than he really was as an explanation for why he thought Lee was problematic. When OP said she just thought he was immature is when Sam realized his biased thinking. More of an “aha” moment than a racist one.

      1. Jdc*

        Same. Also saying you thought someone was older or younger because their genetic heritage makes them look so is so far from racist. Many Asian men and women look younger for a longer time. Just ask them about being carded at 40. The assumption of racism about everything is going pretty far here.

        1. Buzz*

          Black kids — and black boys, in particular — being seen as older than they are is a specific phenomenon that is specifically racist.

          “Our research found that black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent.”

          “Black children are 18 more times likely to be tried as adults than are white children.”

          “[B]lack girls, particularly those age 5 to 14, are seen as more sexually mature and know more about adult topics than white girls in the same peer group.”

          It’s not about black kids definitely looking older than white kids, it’s racism, and specifically anti-Black racism.

        2. Buzz*

          Black kids — and black boys, in particular — being seen as older than they are is a specific phenomenon that is specifically racist.

          (I’ve posted a comment with links to studies and articles on this, but presumably it needs to go through moderation.)

          1. Roscoe*

            I’m black, and I agree it CAN be racist. Or it can just be normal. I went to a pretty racially diverse school growing up. For the most part, the black guys (minus me lol, I was a late bloomer) tended to get their growth spurt and start growing facial hair earlier. Its hard for me to call someone racist for assuming a kid who is 5’10 with a moustache is older than kids who are 5’5 with no facial hair.

            To me getting it wrong isn’t racist. Its what you do once are corrected that makes it racist. If you treat the 14 year old different because he is tall and has facial hair, that is the problem

            1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              I never gave it much thought, but now that this discussion is happening, I remember that when I attended a Greek church with my sons, their Greek classmates matured way earlier than my sons, or most of the Anglo/Eastern European kids that they grew up with, did. There was a guy in my son’s 7th grade with a full face of facial hair and so on.

              But you never hear “I thought he was older because he’s Greek.”

              Neither did OP’s colleague say “I thought Lee was older because he’s 5’10” and has a moustache.”

              Sadly, looks like there is a case of a bias happening that I hadn’t known about before.

            2. Blueberry*

              Yeah, but getting it wrong often leads to awful consequences for the kid being thought of as much older than they are. I mean, I could tell you a thousand examples from my life and others’; downthread, people have quite accurately brought up Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin as examples. It’s not just the mistake, it’s the dangers in the mistake. I don’t think we can let people off the hook.

              1. Roscoe*

                I don’t disagree, however I’m not sure how you see this as letting someone off the hook. I’m saying to jump to “racism” or even “racially charged” over getting someone’s age wrong just seems a bit much to me. Now again, if you KNOW a kid is only 14 and you treat him different because he looks older, that is where the problem comes in. But I don’t think everything has a racial component to it.

            3. VictorianCowgirl*

              Yes I agree. It is what you do with the information once it’s pointed out. My blonde “lily white” (as is being used on this thread by others) cousin was 6’3″ when he was 13 in 7th grade and is now 6′ 9″ as an adult – we are almost all very tall, and my tall neices are perceived as 2 to 3 years older than they are (they are under 6), and so was I as a young child.

              When people find out the ages, they would self-correct. If this isn’t done as a response to race, then I agree that is when it becomes racist.

              There are some black commenters getting very angry in this thread. I think we all need a little grace if we’re going to work together.

              1. Blueberry*

                “There are some black commenters getting very angry in this thread.”

                I’m not certain that invoking the specter of Angry Black People is very… graceful. Or helpful.

                Besides, in discussions of bigotry, it’s the victims of bigotry who always get asked for ‘grace’, never the perpetrators.

                1. Jameson*

                  “Besides, in discussions of bigotry, it’s the victims of bigotry who always get asked for ‘grace’, never the perpetrators.”

                  Indeed. I wish more people would interrogate this in themselves before they ask for more ‘grace’ from oppressed people…

              2. Mia*

                Wow. I was really trying to give you the benefit of the doubt upthread, but invoking an entirely different anti-black stereotype is very telling.

              3. sequined histories*

                You’re really not hearing what people are saying. The examples you mention are only similar in the most superficial and inconsequential way. My (white) mom used to complain that (white) people expected an unreasonable level of maturity from my (white) little brother because he was “so big” when he was still only two or three. But what consequences did these expectations have for him? None, essentially. He was not disciplined in a noticeably disparate way as a child and his teachers (black and white) did not discriminate against him. Being a tall white guy who was always fairly good at sports sure isn’t a disadvantage in the United States! On the other hand, people are talking about here about a set of biases that have literally cost children their lives. That’s a very, very, very different thing.

                1. Maria Lopez*

                  sequined histories, some people know very well what you are talking about but just want to dig in on their point of view and deliberately miss the point. It usually takes being the victim in a situation to understand what is meant, and sometimes not even then.

              4. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Whoa. I haven’t seen anyone getting angry in this thread (although frankly black people have a right to be angry at this topic). Regardless, I must ask you not to police the way people of color talk about issues of racism here. If it’s not clear to you why this is so upsetting, here are two good pieces I hope you will read:



          2. Oryx*

            Yup. Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice are good examples of this. Specifically with regard to how the media portrayed them after.

          3. Jedi Squirrel*

            Exactly this. Racism isn’t necessarily a choice to wear a hood and carry a torch. It has a lot of facets.

        3. soon 2be former fed*

          The same is true for many black people who look younger as they age, which is ironic since the children are perceived as older by white people. It’s racist, and the comments here are starting to piss me off. Stop being apologetic towards this racist teacher.

      2. Mia*

        The thing about issues like racism is that impact matters more than intent. I grew up with teachers perceiving me (and every other brown girl) as older, and it sucked. I don’t think they had racist intentions either, but ultimately they ended up holding us to way higher standards and really negatively impacting our education because of it. I would be really surprised if Sam wasn’t doing exactly the same thing.

      3. Elizabeth Proctor*

        LW didn’t say he had racist intent. She said the comment was racially charged. Usually I’m not fond of that terminology (call a spade a spade), but I do think it’s appropriate here.

    1. LW#2*

      Greetings, All! His tone came off as defensive, like more of an “it’s not MY fault” rather than “Aha!”

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Yeah that’s a… weird defense. He’s basically saying that he’ll make the same assumptions with the next student of color that he has, and that it’s normal. And it’s not.

      2. Blueberry*

        That’s totally what I was picturing, based on similar conversations I’ve been in in my life.

        I don’t know if you’ll see this but I do know you’ve been following this conversation, and I wanted to say — you’ve gotten a lot of pushback and many scoldings in this conversation, but, both as a Black person and as someone who used to work in education, I’m really heartened by your willingness to look out for your students, including your Black ones, and to try your best to keep people from harming them. Thank you, and I for one think you should keep it up.

      3. mayfly*

        If you want to change his mind, sending him links and books probably isn’t the best way to do it.
        Presumably, you’ve worked on overcoming your implicit bias? That’s probably the best tactic: talk about the times where you realized that you were viewing your students through your biases and what you did to counteract that.

      1. Book Rec*

        I’d also like to recommend So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo. It’s a really fantastic book that absolutely sticks the landing between being empathetic towards white people who want to do better but have been swimming in a sea of racist values their entire lives, and speaking to the lived experiences of people of color in the U.S. Even if you don’t share it with your colleague, it’s a really great read, and may give you some additional tools for navigating conversations with him in the future.

  10. Airy*

    #1 I feel like this calls for an ingenious plan to take remote control of the speaker system at the venue. Whenever the boss says something mean, you discreetly press a button and he is drowned out by the sound of shrieking monkeys, glass breaking, a sad magician/schoolteacher aggressively playing Carly Simon on the piano, or simply a prolonged and reverberating fart.
    I would also recommend playing the Imperial March as he gets up to speak, just for a little razzle dazzle.

    1. RecentAAMfan*

      “sad magician/schoolteacher aggressively playing Carly Simon on the piano”.
      Although it probably sounds pretty odd to anyone who missed that letter!

    2. Gazebo Slayer*

      I love this, especially the Imperial March one.

      Or, failing that, you could have the MC “accidentally” introduce him before his speech as Mr. Montgomery Burns.

    1. Jamie*

      Any reference to Tiger Mike fills me with joy.

      I want to save my throat. I don’t want to ruin it by saying hello to all of you sons-of-bitches.

  11. Rabbit*

    Count me as another person who can’t understand what happened in #2 today.

    ” That’s when Sam revealed to me that he perceived Lee as older because he’s black. I responded that it was a very racially charged thing to say, and he said that at he was admitting it and that it was a proven social issue (this part is true; there are several studies about this). I said that might be, but it’s our job as educators to rise above implicit bias to serve our kids.”

    Did Sam explicitly say “I perceive Lee as older because he is black”? Or did he say something along the lines of Lee behaving immaturely for a 16 yr old when you know he is actually 12? The way the letter is phrased it sounds like Sam is acknowledging both his own mistake and the wider background of racial bias which plays into it which leave me confused about OP2’s urge to educate given that this doesn’t seem to have happened as a result of lacking information.

    Is OP2 trying to get a firm commitment to improve out of Sam? Because as written there is already a clear admission of wrongdoing and it’s not clear why OP2 is so keen on additional books as a solution.

    1. Liz*

      Likewise. This is one where the exact verbiage and tone could have a significant bearing on the meaning. I would conclude that somebody admitting to implicit bias, and even referencing social studies on the matter, is pretty far ahead of the curve in terms of social awareness and would welcome open discussion with no need for anonymous hinting or a reprimand.

      Granted, you do get pockets of folk who get this far and then shrug off said bias as inevitable. I’ve seen heard of prejudice exercises where people fess up to all sorts of biases only to declare “so I guess I can’t see past x and therefore cannot work well with people from x demographic”. Was this being implied by Sam, I wonder?

      Or is there perhaps merely a clash between two different but well meaning approaches, where LW comes at racial issues from a “I don’t see colour” perspective whereas Sam is from a “recognise social diversity and implicit bias and talk about it openly” viewpoint?

      Either way, I don’t think the anonymous gift is the way to go on this. If you’re concerned, I would discuss the issue with Sam directly and informally and make any recommendations of further reading in the context of that discussion.

      1. Liz*

        It looks like LW has commented upthread: Sam appears to be of the “I recognise my bias but it’s ok because everybody does it!!” mindset. Depressing, but good to have confirmed. Thank you LW. It sounds like you did the right thing taking this to the principal. Definitely leave the book aside, let the higher ups take your concerns further. But maybe keep an eye on Sam and his students in case of further issues, reporting as needed. Where he has done this with one student, there will most likely be others subjected to discrimination in some shape or form. Best of luck!

          1. Rabbit*

            Thanks for the update – it does sound like he was brushing it off and assuming that being aware of his own bias means that it doesn’t reaaaally count. which is obviously wrong. However the book sharing is probably not going to be very helpful – I would expect him to use the exact same excuse . It’s not a lack of awareness/information, it’s a lack of subsequent action and while you can continue to push back in the moment that really has to come from someone senior to him to have much chance of being effective

            Btw – thank you for doing this work – and for asking the question.

      2. Elenna*

        From what OP2 said above, it came off like your second paragraph – they got the impression from Sam’s tone that what they meant was “yeah, there’s this social bias, nothing I can do about it, just an implicit bias”.

    2. soon 2be former fed*

      Because this person can harm CHILDREN with his racial bias. It is a much bigger deal than it is being made out to be by most of you.

      1. VictorianCowgirl*

        Most people are trying to understand exactly what this commenter asked: Is he excusing his behavior or trying to recognize and do better? The letter wasn’t clear. If he is excusing his behavior, not one commenter on this thread is OK with that. If he is trying to do better, the general consensus is that he needs support to do so.

        It takes work to overcome a lifetime of racial conditioning and we should have grace towards those who are trying.

        No one is denying that CHILDREN can be harmed and your increasingly angry comments suggesting that the commentariat in general doesn’t understand this issue is alienating those people who are on your side and want to work towards better race relations in this country.

        1. Jameson*

          Please stop, VictorianCowgirl. It’s so frustrating to see your comments here. If the rightful anger some are expressing over racism is enough to alienate ‘allies’, then those ‘allies’ probably aren’t all that invested in doing anti-racist work to begin with.

          1. pancakes*

            Exactly. A would-be ally that centers their own feelings rather than the work itself isn’t much of an ally.

        2. Akcipitrokulo*

          Taking it as read that you are aware of a lifetime of social conditioning, and are trying to overcome it, I think something which may help is to avoid comments about “anger” or “angry”.

          This is a harmful stereotype which is used to derail conversations, and dismiss experiences shut down opinions of poc.

          When there is anger towards an issue of racism, then the problem is not the anger.

          If people are becoming angry with your words, pause, consider, and if you can’t understand at the time why, take some time. Defensiveness is an automatic response it takes time to unlearn. Take the time.

          But please realise that calling people angry is adding to the problem.

  12. ContemporaryIssued*

    4: I think it’s fine to suggest reading Alison’s book but giving her the blog as homework may be a little odd. From your letter seems that you have addressed situations and conversations specifically, but does it seem like she takes the advice to heart. Like if she has an oversharing conversation with a colleague and you talk about it, you don’t see it happening again?

    Norms of the office and professionalism are so difficult to learn because it’s like a different mode of operating in the world, and it’s not like you can give anybody a simple rule book and expect them to learn it by heart. But I think that correcting her behavior as she makes mistakes would probably be the best? But if it’s a re-occurring issue one would hope she would herself be the one googling furiously “how to be professional” so as to do the homework herself.

  13. Mannheim Steamroller*

    …has, in the past, threatened to withhold compensation to those who don’t attend ….”

    Has the boss ever actually withheld pay from anyone who skipped the party? If so, then the party immediately becomes work for everybody and any non-exempt employees must be paid (possibly at time-and-a-half) for their attendance.

    Maybe a whisper to HR would be in order.

    1. Asking For A "Friend"*

      Oh yes, I thought this too! You know, that whole pesky mandatory attendance thing.

    2. T2*

      I never attend holiday parties for religious reasons. If he withheld compensation from me for that, then thems the breaks. I do not compromise my religious principles for anyone.

      1. Llellayena*

        If he withheld compensation because you didn’t attend the holiday party due to your religion, you’d have a clear discrimination case you could take to HR. A legal thwack upside the head might be just what this guy needs!

    3. Yorick*

      Right after that sentence, it is mentioned that he hands out bonuses for perfect attendance at the party. So it’s not that people are getting paid for their time spent at the party.

      1. Yorick*

        But if they did get paid for time spent at the party, then those who don’t go to the party wouldn’t get paid, and that wouldn’t be a problem?

      2. Phony Genius*

        I was confused, too. I interpreted the statement that he gives awards for “having no sick days” as if it were a sarcastic award for employees who have used up all of their sick time. And I wouldn’t put it past this guy to do that.

        1. Yorick*

          I don’t think that’s what’s happening. It’s an award for people who didn’t take sick days (i.e., perfect attendance).

    4. pleaset aka cheap rolls*

      I read it as cash rewards for accomplishments being given out at the party, with the requirement that the person be their to accept them.

    5. LCH*

      i’m confused about this too. is it additional money awards or actual salary compensation? is the party during regular work hours? how could he withhold if you don’t attend, but are doing regular work? if after hours, how could it affect regular salary?

      1. LCH*

        if it is just withholding additional awards, meeeeeh. i’d risk skipping unless you think he’d start firing people for this. no idea if you could claim religious discrimination if it is really a christmas party vs winter party. or just accept his boorishness as part of the price to pay for an additional monetary award.

  14. Bookworm*

    #4: “YOU WILL READ THIS SITE I LIKE.” Is it so wrong that I agree with this sentiment? :P

    I actually agree with your instinct, OP. Your question made me think of SO MANY managers, co-workers, etc. who could have benefited from reading this site regularly. I’m all for this. :)

    But I guess Alison is right. :D Good luck.

    1. Mae*

      I think all managers, especially those who are new to managing, should read this site and the book as well. I’m not a manager, but I read the site everyday and have learned so much !! I keep a copy of the book on my desk and offer to let people borrow it. Those who have always say they learned something.

  15. HLK121945*

    For Letter #2, yeah, there’s almost no chance whatsoever that he’ll think that a book or resources to teach him on implicit bias that is offered to him by the LW will ever be taken well or result in a positive discussion.

    If she had done that after calling him out in the hallway and having the discussion, I think then that yes, Alison’s suggestion would be a good one. But she IMMEDIATELY TATTLED on the guy even though he admitted it’s something he sees as an issue that he’s trying to address. I understand that from an educator’s perspective, it’s important to address these issues, and I don’t have a problem with him being brought in on the carpet for this. But the LW can’t expect to now have a positive influence and discussion with him when he has to know she was the one who ran to the principal with the report. I can’t imagine he’ll see any attempt by the LW to offer guidance or books to him as being a genuine attempt to assist a colleague – it’s far more likely to be perceived as moralistic rubbing salt into the wounds.

    1. JustKnope*

      It’s not “tattling” to talk to the principal about a very real concern with a fellow teacher! As has been discussed above, it’s not quite clear whether the teacher was owning his bias and saying he was working on it, or if he was more cavalier. But either way, implicit (and explicit) biases do real, concrete harm to students of color. It’s a valid thing to talk to the principal about so the principal can do due diligence and make sure students of color are being protected appropriately in that teacher’s classroom. This is “raising a valid concern to the right person to address it” – it’s not the OP’s job to coach her colleague. But it does sound like OP said the right things in the moment.

      1. Middle School Teacher*

        Actually, it is tattling, especially if she didn’t tell the teacher first she would be raising the issue with the principal. In a lot of teacher professional codes of conduct you are obliged to tell the teacher you will be bringing the matter to the principal. If op didn’t, she violated that code.

        1. Mia*

          I taught for years and that was never, ever protocol on the schools where I worked. I think part of the rule here of taking LWs at their word should be assuming they’re following the guidelines of their own workplace.

        2. Gazebo Slayer*

          It’s really weird for a professional code of ethics to have a “snitches get stitches” clause.

    2. Buzz*

      “Tattling” is not a concept that should have a place in an adult workplace, for one thing.

      For another, students of colour are absolutely harmed by biases held by educators, and it’s completely appropriate for the OP to raise her concerns with the principal, i.e. the person who actually has the authority to look into this further. If this is happening in the school they’re responsible for, the principal needs to have that information so they can (hopefully) make sure the students under their care, particularly students of colour, are being treated on par with their white classmates.

      1. emmelemm*

        Yeah, Alison makes a very strong point of that. Escalating a problem in a workplace situation is not “tattling” and labeling it as that is harmful.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Also, whining about “tattling” makes you look either childish or like a mobster who’s mad that somebody squealed.

    3. Yorick*

      I don’t think there are many circumstances where it would be ok to give a coworker a book about a problem you think they have. Unless LW mentioned research on implicit biases and he said “I’d like to learn more about that” or something.

    4. Paulina*

      “something he sees as an issue that he’s trying to address”: maybe, maybe not. I read it more as the colleague admitting to having seen the kid as older, and then using a variation on “well, that’s common” defensively. (“It’s not just me, it’s society!”) It’d be great if he understood he’s responsible for fighting that bias and was working on it, but I don’t get that from the letter (nor did the LW get that from the exchange, from what they did and what they’ve commented here).

      1. LW#2*

        Greetings, All, the reason I “tattled” is that I had grave concerns about an educator who is teaching kids of color possibly letting his bias influence his teaching. Also, as mentioned above, he came across as defensive.

        1. Allypopx*

          You did the right thing. You expressed your concern, cited well documented reasons, he got defensive, you got MORE concerned, and you escalated it. I think codes of ethics about “tattling” be damned, if you were actually in violation of those. You’re looking out for the kids, that’s your job, and this isn’t a peer-to-peer issue to handle. He needs to be flagged to the hire ups.

          1. Allypopx*

            And if you’re overreacting, as some commenters are suggesting (and they may be correct, I think a lot of the nuance of this particular situation is lost in the translation to text) all the more reason why you’re not the right person to handle it, and the principal can decide to make that judgment.

        2. Mia*

          You did the right thing here and it’s bananas to me that anyone perceives it as “tattling.” It’s actually kind of ironic to me to see folks use childish language like that to excuse a (presumably) grown white man who views black children as adults.

        3. Cheluzal was*

          Late to the game, but we would have no teachers left if every teacher with biases quit teaching. Millions and millions have them but I think they temper them when dealing with the kids since they are professionals. I know I have been guilty of that myself but I’ve never mistreated or treated children differently because of it. If you tattled to a principal who has way bigger fish to fry in our school without coming to me I would not respect you anymore.

    5. Librarian of SHIELD*

      Dude. Tattling? Really? An adult professional observed their colleague behaving in a way that is detrimental to the population they serve. That person attempted to have a conversation with said colleague about why that behavior is a problem, and the colleague didn’t seem to be taking it seriously. Taking that concern to their superior is not tattling. It is the natural next step in dealing with a problematic employee. If OP2’s colleague does see it that way, it’s even more reason this person shouldn’t be working with kids.

    6. Natalie*

      The the entire “tattling” thing aside, I suspect you might be right unfortunately. The LW commented elsewhere that the other teacher seemed defensive, and that can be a hard thing to counter even before he knows you alerted the principal. So, one way or another, I wouldn’t just give him a book and wash your hands of it – I rather doubt he’d read it with an open mind, if he reads it at all.

  16. Jam Today*

    LW1 I can relate, at one holiday party the CEO of the company I worked for at the time — a healthcare IT company — went on some rant about how being inflexible in things like business processes, application features, etc. was a sign of “low IQ” — his exact words. That was directed squarely at me — because I had a habit of raising the alarm with Legal any time there was an indication that our product put patients at risk or was in violation of extremely strict privacy laws.

    He was eventually fired by the BoD. My only goal at that company was to outlast him, which I did, by one year. It was a very satisfying year.

    1. Leslie Knope*

      So…he didn’t like that you did your job? What a great boss! Haha! I’m glad you got to see him fired. Very satisfying!

    2. Lyudie*

      Wowwwww I am also in healthcare IT and that guy is literally a menace and dangerous. Patient safety is kind of a big deal O.O

      1. Jam Today*

        Yeah, that job took a few years off my life from the constant anxiety. The day I was laid off I was in the middle of my second bout of severe TMJ, bad enough that I was only eating scrambled eggs, mashed potatoes, and whatever I could blend into a soup. I was just about to make an appointment to get fitted for a custom mouthguard to stop my tooth-grinding, but then I got my pink slip and within 48 hours it was gone and has not returned in almost 4 years.

        1. Pennalynn Lott*

          I worked for a place like that. I had night sweats, teeth grinding, heart palpitations, dizzy spells, migraines, and more. I took 3 months’ FMLA leave and saw neurologists, cardiologists, and endocrinologists. All of them couldn’t find any specific thing wrong with me. Then I was let go several months after returning, in round 5 or 6 of layoffs, and every single symptom disappeared within a week or so.

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            I had a job that gave me heart palpitations to the point where I had to get a continuous heart monitor for several days to make sure there wasn’t anything serious wrong. Ironically, or maybe appropriately, they fired me right after I informed them I’d need a little time off for cardiology appointments.

    3. Elenna*

      Yep, clearly you have low IQ because you want to keep people safe and follow the law. How very dare you. Don’t you know that the only rule is listening to whatever the CEO has to say? /s
      Good to know that asshole got fired.

  17. Lady Jay*

    Okay, that “implicit racial bias” story seemed familiar to me–so I looked it up. OP has shared portions of it in two previous threads, inc. 1) Sam’s statement that the Black student seems older (in October) and 2) the question about the Secret Santa gift (in late November). I’ll share ’em in a reply to my own comment.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Oooh, thank you. That’s different.

        From the first comment (I had to do a search on “Sam” to find it):
        “After I (white middle age female) was cheerfully interacting with a young teen (black male), “Kermit”, who is admittedly a sweet knucklehead in the hall, one of the new teachers (white 30ish male), “Sam”, said that Kermit was a problem in class because he was always goofing off. I said, yes, he can be immature, but was very sweet and once he made the maturity leap he was going to be fine. Sam replied, “Well I think of him as being older because he’s black”. ”

        That changes a lot for me.

        Many of the people who commented in this thread assumed that Sam didn’t know Kermit/Lee’s age, and had mistakenly thought that Lee was older than Lee actually was. Come to find out, Lee is in Sam’s class, so I would imagine that Sam knows damn well how old Lee is. He just *thinks* of him as older “cause he’s black”!

        This. is. not. normal.

    1. Llellayena*

      Was it with the secret Santa part? Because I remember reading that and I was thinking it was sent in to Dear Prudence or Ask a Teacher on Slate (I’m a sucker for advice columns). I now read work related questions on other columns and think “why are you asking here? Go ask Alison!”

      1. Leslie Knope*

        I clicked on a link for Dear Prudence on a news website once…which led me to read Ask a Teacher and Care and Feeding (even though I have no kids of my own, those columns are very interesting) and that led me to Ask a Manager! Now I’m so far down the rabbit hole…

    2. Ruth (UK)*

      I was so sure I’d seen this exact question before minus the secret santa part, but then I spend some time searching AAM and looking at the archives and couldn’t find it so I considered I was having some sort of extreme déjà vu… bit yes, I am certain I have read this one before

    3. Lady Jay*

      It’s definitely AAM. One post in late October, one in late November, the week before Thanksgiving. Both Friday threads. Links are awaiting moderation. :P

      1. LW#2*

        You are all correct! I mentioned to Alison that I had brought it up in the comments before. Everyone gave great feedback, but then another teacher friend of mine said I should use the opportunity for education, and then I was confused again about what to do.

  18. Reader*

    #5. My heart has melted receiving these. I keep them to reread when I’m facing difficulties at work.

    1. GDub*

      Send a paper card! Several times I have seen thank-you cards I’ve written colleagues tacked on their cubicle walls. It’s unusual, and it means something to people. Also, lawyers love paper!

      1. Leslie Knope*

        I think people underestimate the power of a paper card. They make people happy, and the effort taken to actually hand write the note and slap a stamp on it makes the appreciation more apparent. Plus, you’re helping keep the post office in business! Yay for jobs!

        The only thing negative about them is the possibility of a paper cut…

  19. Sneaky Ninja for this one*

    Number 4.
    AAM was recommended to me by one of our HR people several years ago. I’ve read it since. It came in up a manager training class, I think, as a “hey, you might find this interesting.” That might be a way to do it overall. Then, if you see something especially relevant, send it to her to read, in case she didn’t take your suggestion.

  20. Campfire Raccoon*

    I trick all my clients into reading AAM.

    You hook them with the EOY funnies, and then they’re fans, and then they learn something.

  21. Spidey Cents & Sensibility*

    OP # 1 – Ranting Boss Bingo! Everyone who hates this process plays & reconvenes at a nearby pub to tally and have a hearty laugh over his speech.

  22. Llellayena*

    I tend to recommend AAM to everyone because it’s awesome. This includes my boss! I don’t push specific articles though, just general topics (except for liver boss, I just think it’s a great jaw-dropping introduction to the site!).

  23. not neurotypical*

    #2 Is it possible that what we have here is a person thinking it’s racist to talk about racism?

    The problem of African American boys being seen as older, especially by cops, endangers their lives.

    OP isn’t troubled by this student’s “very silly” behavior, but the teacher to whom she was talking knows that this behavior could end up hurting him. How? Because he caught himself seeing the child as older and knows that this is a way that Black children are commonly misperceived. He KNOWS about implicit bias. He caught himself at it! And he also knows that, because of this particular bias, it’s especially important for teachers to help this student learn to moderate his behavior before he does something “silly” in public, where he might be mistaken for an adult.

    So maybe, just possibly, it’s OP who needs to read a book.

    1. GDub*

      It’s very possible that you’re right. Not that the OP needs to read a book, but that the other teacher caught himself guilty of racial bias, admitted it to someone, and months later is being harshed on by the internet. How much easier it would have been for him not to be aware of his racial biases and just gone whistling down the hall with them intact!

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        Based on the LW’s followup comments in this post, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

        1. Ann*

          I find it kinda annoying how often the LW shows up in the comment section after they are criticized to add “followup comments” and extra details that completely change their story. Always seems fishy to me.

          1. Mia*

            Idk, as someone who’s been on the receiving end of this kind of racism, LW’s comments didn’t change a thing about the letter to me. Just confirmed what I already figured was going on.

          2. WellRed*

            I don’t think that’s fair. It’s hard to know what might be pertinent when drafting the original question and trying not to go on and on and on. Once they see how something is perceived by others, it’s easy to see what’s missing. That’s not fishy to me.

          3. Ask a Manager* Post author

            None of the details the OP added in the comments changed the substance of my answer.

            From watching this for years, it’s incredibly normal for people not to know what details will end up being relevant or irrelevant, and it’s a crappy experience for them to be chastised for not being able to perfectly predict ahead of time what commenters will end up wanting to know — so I’d appreciate you not doing that, as I’d like letter writers to have a decent experience here.

            1. LW#2*

              Thanks, I don’t take it personally. I was trying to be brief in the letter, and figured I would clarify as people asked questions.

              1. Leslie Knope*

                I appreciate when the LW adds more context in the comments. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve drafted an email to someone, realized I can remove a lot of the lines in the email and get the point across simpler, only to have the recipient ask me for a detail that I had deleted in my second draft. It happens!

    2. Mia*

      The LW has commented clarifying that Sam was defending himself, not owning up to bias in a positive way.

    3. pancakes*

      The solution to the problem of black kids being seen as older than they are is *not* training black kids to stop being kids.

  24. EventPlannerGal*

    OP2 – what to you actually intend to achieve by doing this? There’s a huge difference between giving a thoughtful recommendation for a book that will hopefully challenge his worldview, and giving a not-really-anonymous snark present in a Secret Santa exchange that he’ll probably be opening in front of his colleagues. As Alison says it will seem mean-spirited, and if you did that I sincerely doubt he would actually go to the effort of reading the book. If the point is to amuse yourself, go ahead.

  25. EPLawyer*

    #1 and #4 stuck me as similar. Maybe because both are educational institutions the LWs went right to “read something to learn.” It strikes me as assigning homework. Which is not really what you do in professional relationship. They aren’t your students, you don’t give them homework.

    LW1: You say you trust your prinicipal to handle it. Then let them handle it. If you also try to educate, it is more likely to be seen as piling on and he will ignore it. I wouldn’t even get the book as a separate gift. He’s not going to read it.

    LW4: Your admin is working on her bachelor’s, she already has enough required reading. Don’t assign her more. Even if it is AAM. An occasional article is fine. Especially one of the bat guano crazy ones. If that doesn’t intrigue her to start reading on her own, forcing her to won’t work. Then continue to coach as you have.

    1. EPLawyer*

      Sorry meant #2 and #4 obviously.

      #1 just has my deepest sympathy. Does he not comprehend the idea of a holiday PARTY?

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It’s also pretty rare in my experience for someone to read a book and the lights to all come on.

      Books are a great place to start at times but it’s not going to be absorbed into the mind perfectly.

      AAM is difference since it’s interactive with Q/A and discussion. A book doesn’t have that aspect. There’s less human behind it as well.

  26. ellex42*

    LW3, can you come up with a job description that implicitly covers the wide variety of tasks you did in this job? I had a job where I had a particular role, but I also did a lot of other stuff. When it came time to put it on my resume, I wrote out half a page, then realized that I had basically been doing the job of an office manager. I called up my former boss and asked her how she felt about me using that title (as well as what I’d been hired for in the first place) on my resume, and she agreed (enthusiastically) that it would be more than appropriate. I have found that interviewers will ask for more specifics about what the “office manager” role entailed at that job, but the implicit understanding of that kind of role has cut out a lot of unnecessary detail without devaluing my work and experience.

  27. Roscoe*

    I’m black and a former teacher. Yet something about LW #2 tone really rubs me wrong. Maybe its because, like many, I’m really unclear how this went down. Of course there is tone and inflection that we don’t have. But this also sounds a bit about someone trying to be super “woke” and looking down on people who don’t reach their level of wokeness.

    I can easily see a situation where the other teacher has never actually taught the student, but has interacted with them many times. Because of that, they thought they were older. Maybe they actually do look older, IE taller and with full facial hair. Maybe they hang out with older students. There are a lot of non malicious reasons for getting a students age wrong that doesn’t immediately lead to “racially charged”.

    Then saying “How do I handle this” like you are scolding a child. Secret Santa gifts are supposed to be fun, but you reacted like pulling his name was pulling out the name of the person who is dating your ex. I feel like you need to take the emotion out of this, just get him an amazon gift card or something and leave it. Giving someone a book on something unprompted just comes off as passive aggressive.

    1. River Song*

      It hit me that way, too. Even if Sam sounded “defensive” as OP said in follow up comments, well… they admitted to being wrong and that they knew this is a problem. They dont owe it to OP to beg forgiveness. Defensiveness could just be not like being “called out” unless OP really thinks he was arguing that it is a wonderful phenomenon and we should all actively practice it.

    2. mayfly*

      The Secret Santa book idea is so incredibly tone deaf and passive aggressive. I’m cringing that the LW would even think of it.

    3. RC Rascal*

      Thank you for this comment. For me, the LW sounds very judgmental and punitive. It isn’t her responsibility to continue to punish her co-workers. She appropriately alerted administration; now it’s time to let it drop. Attempting to use the Secret Santa exchange to grind on her viewpoint will come across as tone deaf and endangers her own reputation.

      1. Eleanor Konik*

        FWIW I don’t know the actual ages of … basically any of my students. I know two are repeaters, but I don’t know how old they are; it’s entirely possible they’re the same chronological age as my non-repeaters.

        Point being, Roscoe’s overall point isn’t wrong just because the teacher does teach that student. I have a lot of students (and I currently teach in a predominantly white school, though my last posting was at a predominantly black school, and the previous two postings were much more heterogeneous) who “come across” as more or less mature, behaviorally or emotionally.

        For me, though, my problem is with the idea that the kid will “grow out of it when he matures.” Kids don’t do that by magic; they need to be taught boundaries. But that’s not really relevant to the question being asked in the letter.

      2. Cheluzal was*

        And you can teach the student, know their age, have biases as a human, and still not let it affect how you teach that student!

  28. Lynn Marie*

    #4 I think the OP should consider their own implicit biases. Talking openly about race does not equal racism. The colleague recognized, admitted to himself and the OP, and vocalized that he’d caught himself in an instance of bias. This is a good thing, but the OP seems to think it should not be talked about. This is how we change our society, instance by instance, small realization by small realization. Instead, the OP wants to school the colleague to keep his mouth shut. Perhaps the colleague spoke clumsily and awkwardly. That’s ok. That’s how humans learn and change.

    1. RS*

      It’s not like he acknowledged that the bias was wrong though. That’s a problem. Expressing that you’re biased and doing nothing about it is not a good thing.

  29. Mockingjay*

    #3: Start with a master resume that lists everything you mentioned. This is your source document, not the resume you submit to an employer. It should cover a wide variety of duties: llama groomer, llama herder, farm manager. When applying for a job, select only specific experiences and accomplishments that fit the target job description, and remove the rest for a tailored resume.

    My master resume is about 4 pages. When I tailor it, it’s 1 1/2 to 2 pages.

    1. littlelizard*

      I do this too! I have a file called “megaresume” and I make versions of it with different parts included/omitted. It’s really convenient.

  30. Justin*

    “racially charged”

    eeeugughghgguahghghahaha this phrase

    But otherwise, I mean, I get it (because once you say racist, people Can Not). I’d say it is indeed your duty to point such things out to him (if you don’t do it, who will?), and to assume no ill intent by maybe sending him links (rather than a whole book he will not read), preface it by saying (sigh), that you know he doesn’t mean harm and maybe admit you’ve struggled with the things you’ve been socialized to believe (this sort of things helps people admit to such flaws). Maybe offer to discuss these things with him in the future (I don’t want to assume, but if you’re not white, I wouldn’t say this as it’s extra burdens for POC to do such a thing; but if you are, please do).

    It’s very very important (I say this as a black educator who has always been surrounded by cheerful racists). Thank you for trying, and keep doing so, but, yeah, not via Secret Santa, be direct. And expect him to go all Fragility on you because that’s just how these things go…

    1. Justin*

      Well, I misread the story. It seems like he caught himself! Nevermind! You should NOT be sending him links.

      Do speak with him about race openly, though (you should do it too).

      and let’s stop saying racially charged forever and ever and ever ever.

    1. Jan*

      It reminded me of David Brent from The Office UK! “OK, Swindon office, I didn’t want you here but you are here now, so welcome!”

  31. Jedi Squirrel*

    at the party he hands out awards for those with no sick days

    And on the day when I am oozing mucous because of the flu, but I came into work anyway so that I could get my award at the end of the year, I would make sure that was the day I would have to have a three hour meeting with him to go over the very germ-laden TPS reports I’ve spent all morning oozing, coughing, and sneezing over.

    I’m never impressed by perfect attendance. Life happens.

    1. Jamie*

      Thank you! I’m a broken record whenever this comes up, but awards for perfect attendance be it school or work rewards people for not taking care of themselves and exposing others to illness.

      Or, in the rare cases of someone never sick, rewards them for having a kick-ass immune system which, frankly, is reward enough.

      1. Third or Nothing!*

        Yep! I could easily have perfect attendance due to my awesome immune system…if it weren’t for the PCOS. I won’t force myself to sit through work when I feel like my insides are trying to become my outsides, so I use every single sick day I can during flare ups. Thanks, awesome immune system, for letting me use my sick days for flare ups instead of the flu.

      2. Elenna*

        Yes! My immune system is a badass and I’ve been sick enough that I would have stayed home from work a grand total of twice in five years (“would have” because one of them was on a Saturday). I don’t expect to get rewards for that, because it’s 100% just me getting lucky and if I did get sick I would absolutely stay home.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I’ve been scrolling through the comments to see if someone has already pointed this out! To me it looks like a great way to make sure that your employees are sick all day, every day, year round, because there’s always someone in the office who came in sick and is spreading their germs.

      And then they go home and pass the germs on to their young children, aging parents, and immuno-compromised loved ones.

      My pet peeve.

    3. Aurion*

      I have a decent immune system and am lucky that I’m not exposed to the public very much; I don’t get sick often! I still take my sick leave because I have doctor’s appointments and dentist appointments and emergency leave for the myriad of sports injuries I inflict on myself.

      I feel like even the most healthy people will take at least the occasional sick day just due to life circumstances. If the boss consistently expects and rewards his subordinates for not taking sick leave, he doesn’t want employees, he wants statues cast in iron.

  32. RC Rascal*

    For LW #1–your boss sounds like he has an “ Airing of the Grievances” ritual, which we all know is part of the Festivus holiday. Is there a pole in the corner, per chance?

    I believe you have yourself annual Festivus office party, not a Holiday Party as known by the rest of the working world. Best to treat it as such. ;>

  33. DSattler*

    About thank-you notes: Recently I tracked down someone who’d done me an incredible favor when I was job hunting 30 years ago, and sent him an email telling him the life-long impact his actions had both on my career and what I’ve done for other people since. He was blown away. He told me his wife cried when he read my email to her. It’s never too late to say “thank you,” and it’s always appreciated.

    1. Jamie*

      This is so sweet. I’ve had people affect me in profound and life changing ways to whom I’m completely irrelevant if they even remember me at all. It’s amazing how people can touch your life so significantly and not even know.

  34. Employment Lawyer*

    2. Secret Santa gifts with a message
    Your behavior was not ideal, IMO. Nor is your proposal.

    When someone openly brings up implicit bias to you and acknowledges that they have it (“I think I see black students as older than they are, which I know is common”) then 99% of the time, it’s an initial attempt to discuss things with a trusted (oops) friend (not any more), stemming from a desire to avoid the problem. People who are comfortable with their bias don’t discuss it.

    I don’t know why you marched into the principal’s office to tattle, but I can virtually guarantee that you have lost any future opportunity to help this person, and you may as well just give them a normal present and hope that this doesn’t get around, as other people will then be less likely to talk to you about anything of the sort. I get that you’re sitting pretty imagining you did the right thing, but I don’t agree. In any case, I would not give him any sort of book or help, as it will probably make things worse.

    Honestly, I would consider that you should maybe apologize to him for reporting him, and I encourage you to at least consider that possibility.

    (Seriously, folks. If you think it’s important to avoid biases, then you should probably make it easier ant not harder for people to try to recognize, discuss, and cure their existing biases. Virtually every single seminar on curing these sorts of biases will tell people to “discuss” and “try to fix” and “be open” and “be introspective” and all that jazz. So maybe when this actually happens–yahoo!–don’t instantly run to HR to report it….?)

    1. Blueberry*

      Oh, my wow. I could not possibly disagree more, but I don’t have time right now to write the essay I should explaining why. I can but recoil in horror, thinking of all the Black kids being thrown under the bus by this advice.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Wow, no, good lord. That is harmful advice that isn’t okay here. We are talking about the welfare of children. She doesn’t need to apologize (!) for alerting the principal to a teacher stating that he sees black kids as older and judges them more harshly. This isn’t “running to HR”; this is alerting one’s manager to a serious problem affecting the kids they’re charged with teaching.

      Nor was this a colleague attempting to discuss implicit bias with a trusted friend. She’s said in the comments that he was cavalier and defensive, not self-reflective.

    3. RS*

      “People who are comfortable with their bias don’t discuss it.”

      This is categorically incorrect. Also, characterizing this person’s behavior is tattling is downright immature.

  35. Jaybeetee*

    LW1, I wanted to point out this particular comment,

    “I don’t want to sound ungrateful for the Christmas party, I know many companies don’t have these…”

    Because that’s a fairly common thought pattern on both sides of an abusive dynamic, and it makes me wonder about other aspects of your workplace. The idea of “I should be grateful for what I have, because someone else might treat me even worse.” Or in some cases, the abuser is the one saying, “You should be grateful I don’t do XYZ (even more abusive thing) like some other people do.”

    Most companies do some kind of holiday celebration. Some don’t. Very, very few use holiday celebrations as an occasion to berate their employees, and honestly, you’d probably be better off at a company that does nothing for the holidays, than one that behaves this way. I’m not sure if you came up with this line of thought yourself, or if it’s something said where you work, but… you’re not “lucky” to get a holiday party (especially one like this), and you don’t need to feel “grateful” for someone mistreating you, but not mistreating you even worse.

    Frankly, no, there is probably no way for you, from your own position, to convince this guy not to do this. He wants to do this. He thinks he’s justified in doing this, he’ll probably think you’re the one who’s wrong for not being okay with it. If I were you, I’d look hard at other aspects of your work environment, as I’d be surprised if this is the only dysfunctional thing that happens.

    Apologies if I seem to be taking this too seriously, just I know that “Other people/places can be even worse!” thought has kept many people in bad situations, and I didn’t want to leave it unaddressed.

    1. Allypopx*

      You’re not taking it too seriously. I see these classic abuse signs in the way a lot of people talk about their employers and it worries me a lot.

      -Yeah he loses his temper sometimes but he always apologizes later it’s just the way he is.
      -Where else am I supposed to go? This is all I know.
      -It’s not going to be better anywhere else.
      -It’s my fault should do a better job navigating the things I know set my boss off.

      And others. And while it’s not a personal relationship and the dynamics are different when labor and compensation are involved, the psychological impacts can still be really, really negative and dangerous. I wish this is something we talked about in this language more often.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        YES to all of this.

        I rather suspect a lot of abusive bosses are also abusive partners or parents (or both).

    2. pally*

      This is good advice-for the LW1 and for me too. Step back and evaluate the other areas of the job for abusive practices. Even subtle ones. Might even post in subsequent open threads about any observations and ask for folks’ take on whether it seems okay or abusive.

      It never fails to amaze me when someone doles out the insults to motivate workers to do more, better, faster, whatever. So as an employee, after being insulted, am I going to be more likely, or less likely, to go the extra mile for such a boss? Hmmm.
      Is it really that difficult to hand out complements, praises, acknowledgement of good work and just leave the insults out of it?

  36. Jaybeetee*

    LW3: I’m interpreting your resume description as you listing the job on the front page, but having a separate entry for “supplemental information” on the back page, not that your description for the one job is more than one page. At any rate, it sounds like Alison has good advice here, to hone in on whichever duties would be most advantageous for the job to which you’re applying, which does mean editing your resume for each application. It’s a pain, but it’s what people do now.

    I would also wonder if you can group some of those tasks under more general descriptors, just because I do find it hard to believe that one job can have *that many* completely diverse tasks that don’t fall under any common umbrellas. Like, if several of those tasks are administrative/clerical in nature, you could probably just lump them all under “administrative support” or similar. If several tasks are related to supervising staff or coordinating projects, use terminology like that, instead of listing each individual task. Particularly if you’re working in a particular career field, and applying for jobs similar to your own, you can often get away with shortcuts like that – you don’t need to spell out every little thing, because they’ll have some idea what “supervising staff” or “administrative support” means in that context. Maybe single out tasks that seem particularly important to the job to which you’re applying, but the rest – if they need more information, let them ask during the interview.

  37. A.*

    At my holiday party last year my boss told me I think I’m cute and she wanted to be the one to let me know I am not important. Great thing to hear from a supervisor. I lost all respect for her that day.

    1. pally*

      That’s just mean!
      When will people learn to just dummy up? Deliver a complement and leave it at that.

      1. Allypopx*

        I didn’t read it as a compliment at all! “my boss told me *I* think I’m cute” I read that as the boss telling her that she’s conceited.

        1. Leslie Knope*

          Yeah, it was a dig for sure – along the lines of, “oh you think you’re soooo special.” I’m assuming there was alcohol involved and the boss had lost some of her filter…not a good look.

        2. pally*

          Thank you for the clarification.
          Then I’ll amend to say “why can’t people just dummy up?”
          There’s no need to go around insulting people. Whatever happened to “if you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything” ?

        3. pally*

          Okay. So I just didn’t understand the gist.
          So let me amend with “if you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything.” There’s no need go around insulting people.

  38. Jaybeetee*

    LW4: Assigned reading might be a bit… much, but yeah, there’s some unfortunate reality that with very young workers, you’re going to have to spend some time teaching them professional norms. I used to work at a museum that had a lot of students, and even some teenagers, working there. Now, most of them had the basics about “showing up on time”, etc, and since we had uniforms, there wasn’t a ton of discussion needed about dress code. But I did have to teach a lot of people about professional behaviour in general, how to handle problems with colleagues or managers as they arise, what to do in certain situations, etc. I know there had to be at least one conversation about “Your parents can’t call in sick on your behalf”. Another about “You were hired to work weekends, even *I* don’t get every Sunday off and I’m considered a ‘weekday’ manager, that’s not a thing you should ask for.” I tried to take a conversational, not-too-judgmental approach when these things came up, as I knew they were young and learning. I had a co-manager who tended to get harsher with people, and I felt that was counterproductive, especially in cases where the person clearly didn’t realize they’d been doing something inappropriate.

    That said, if she’s behaving unprofessionally on the regular, and (seemingly) giving attitude to people higher up the food chain, consider that she might just be a problem employee, not simply a young person unaware of professional norms.

  39. LW#2*

    Hello, All!
    LW #2 here. It’s hard to keep up with all the comments especially as I am not in front of the computer for the rest of the day, so I will add some clarifying comments here.

    I am a white middle aged female from a highly racially mixed family.

    Sadly, unless Sam cannot modulate his voice, which might be the case, there appeared to be no “aha!” moment, but more of a defensive “everyone else does it” kind of response.

    I spoke to the principal as the encounter troubled me and my students are the most important thing in the world outside my family. I was afraid that his bias could extend into his teaching. This was not to get him in trouble, but perhaps get him some mentoring. The principal was alarmed but professional.

    He has made some strange comments before, such as being surprised that one of our black teachers was Puerto Rican, because he didn’t think Puerto Ricans could be black ( we are in a large city with many Puerto Ricans as well as other pan-Latinx people).

    Surprisingly, he is not as young or inexperienced as I thought. He taught for a few years in another minority-prevalent school, and is in his mid thirties.

    I hope this helps in understanding my letter! I won’t be able to comment for the rest of the day, but I appreciate everyone’s insight.

    1. Bubbles*

      Like Allison said, I would really encourage you to keep the Secret Santa separate from this issue. It won’t come across as helpful and would much likely cause antagonism.

      But as a high school employee, I would encourage you to share your resources. Not sure how your school organizes itself, but talk to your department lead or the admin who oversees your department about using the book you recommend as a diversity education training. Our principal and learning directors do various diversity education every year and it is part of our requirements from the State. We are fortunate to be in a school that is incredibly diverse and that is reflected in our staff. When we meet for PLC, we typically exchange resources like videos, books, articles, etc., and this would be a great way to educate Sam while also educating others. It gives you a chance to open the discussion up broadly and also gives Sam other people to turn to if he wants to continue the discussion.

    2. mayfly*

      It may also be very helpful for you the share your story, as well as links. You’ve obviously worked hard to overcome your biases and this information will make it more relatable for your co-worker and it will seem less like a one-sided lecture and more like mentoring.

    3. RS*

      Thanks for the additional information. It’s disappointing to see so many commenters here rushing to Sam’s defense.

    4. Mia*

      Idk if you’ll see this, but I really want to commend you for standing up and saying something about this whole thing. The book probably isn’t the way to go, but as a WOC who dealt with this kind of racism from a lot of white teachers growing up, I can’t even begin to explain how much it would’ve meant to me back then to know someone saw what was happening and had my back.

      1. LW#2*

        I’m just seeing this now, and going through all of the comments is intense! Thank you for your thoughtful words!

    5. Trendy*

      The most influence you can have on your peers, is to lead by example. I don’t think it will be well received if you continue to try and influence him. In light of the complaint you made, the principal may end up firing this guy and you don’t want to hand him ammunition in a law suite that you made a hostile work environment.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        That’s… not what “hostile work environment” means, and there is nothing illegal about what OP is doing. (Even if OP were to do the Secret Santa thing, which I agree is awkwardly passive-aggressive and not a good plan.) If this guy filed suit about people trying to get him to work on his implicit racial biases and treat black kids fairly, the suit would be laughed out of court.

  40. AngelicGamer, the visually impaired peep*

    Is it possible #2 has been talking in an open thread lately? I feel like I’ve read about Sam before and this situation but I’m not 100% sure. I agree with calling it what it is – racism – and not using the Secret Santa gift to teach. Nobody will appreciate it and I would instead make it a book you lend / give him separate from the event.

  41. Dr. Pepper*

    #1: That sucks and I would not want to go to that party or listen to that speech either. However, YOU DO NOT HAVE TO PAY ATTENTION. I wish someone had told me this a long time ago. Just because someone is speaking to you (or AT you) doesn’t mean you have to put 100% of your focus on them. Especially if someone is speaking at you, you do not have to listen. Your fool of a CEO has not earned the privilege of your attention.

    You sound like a conscientious person who wants to do the right thing (which here would be giving one’s attention to the speaker), but this should not be at the expense of yourself. When he gets up to do his rant, zone out. Focus on your breathing, how you feel, what your weekend plans are, what food you’re going to snag from the buffet next, ANYTHING that isn’t him or his words. Preferably something about yourself and caring for yourself, but if it’s easier to contemplate a crack in the ceiling or remember the plot intricacies of your favorite TV show, do that instead. Do some breathing exercises that involve silent counting. By all means look in his direction and maintain an outward appearance of listening, but keep your mind and your focus elsewhere. You’ll still be able to hear him, but the words won’t feel so close or so personal. Kind of like putting in ear plugs to make a loud noise more tolerable. You still hear the noise, but it doesn’t hurt your ears anymore. If it feels too hard to zone out completely, every 30 seconds or so shift your focus away from him and check in with yourself. How does your body feel? What’s your breathing like? What would you like to eat? Before you know it the speech will be over and you will feel a great deal better and calmer that if you had listened. You can apply this method in any situation where giving your full attention to someone stresses you out and there’s nothing to be gained from it.

    1. Lehigh*

      I love this. Directing one’s own attention & emotion is such a difficult and empowering skill. I’m reminded that I need to work on it more (for me, meditation seems to help develop those muscles.)

  42. Lorna D*

    OP 2 – So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo is a phenomenal read, if you do end up giving him something! And your instincts are right here; treating black children like they’re older has very damaging consequences for them, I’m so glad you said something! (and was his point “people just do that so it’s fine”???)

  43. PJ*

    For LW#3 –

    What Alison said, and also, when applying to a particular job, you may need to edit/shift focus depending on what they’re looking for. Including as many of the same words/search terms as possible from the job posting usually helps to get a resume past the first gate of the ATS process.

    1. tape deck*

      Yes, this. Maybe you have a “master” version of your resume that includes every single thing, but for each particular job application you narrow it down to the handful that are the most relevant.

  44. Buttons*

    #1 I am not a vindictive or passive-aggressive person, but I really want someone to record his little rant and post it online. He is a horrible person and horrible “leader”, he has no idea how to treat the employees he counts on, he needs to see just how he looks and sounds when he is doing that.

  45. Mockingdragon*

    LW2, I’m going to completely leave aside the question of what was actually said and/or meant.

    I think it’s pretty antagonistic to use what’s supposed to be a fun, low-key, morale-building gift as a place to teach a lesson. It’s very likely to be perceived as punishing Sam – not only are you giving him something embarrassing that he’s likely to open in front of coworkers (again, totally leaving aside whether he needs or deserves it), you’re also NOT giving him something he would want.

    If you want to do the book, I’d definitely make it separate from the gift exchange.

  46. Bubbles*

    OP5 – PLEASE do this!!! People are so quick to complain but compliments and kudos tend to be handed out casually in the moment and never again. Going back to highlight specific times when an individual or team helped you is so awesome.

    I work at a high school and we had a staffing issue with a program last year. One of the parents was on the phone with me, my boss, my boss’ boss, the principal, and even the dang district office every few weeks to complain about something. She was very nice and polite, but she was upset about the situation and was at BEC with everything. We resolved the staffing issues for this next school year and in October the parent’s name popped up on caller ID. I was honestly terrified to answer that call – but the parent was calling to tell us how much she appreciated our hard work in resolving the problem and how amazing the new staff member was. Then she mentioned that she had called all of our higher-ups before she called us to say the same thing – that she appreciated us. I can’t even begin to tell you how much that changed my perception toward the entire situation.

  47. boop the first*

    1. Everybody arrange to walk out when the speech gets abusive.
    That must really suck. I’ve never had a boss/coworker talk to me like that but I have witnessed it happen to other coworkers and I was surprised to find that it triggered a trauma flashback and so I decided that that was the one line I would not be able to let cross. I gave my resignation notice early because of that moment. Just no.

    I’m curious as to why everyone is afraid of being fired for skipping the abuse? Does your workplace usually just casually fire people for no reason or….? Would they really eliminate an entire workforce at once because everyone bailed on the speech?

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      If CEO were really short-sighted and scummy enough to fire his whole workforce because of that, it would be hilarious to watch the company implode as a result. You can’t run a business without people to actually do the work, as dimwitted blowhards who spout off about “going Galt” are prone to forget.

  48. TimeTravlR*

    Before clicking on the link, I thought I might have missed a Michael Scott character! Prison Mike, Date Mike…. why not Tiger Mike?!

  49. pamplemousse*

    For #4: The concept of “professionalism” isn’t always self-evident for those who are screwing up. I’m not sure what kind of feedback you’re giving, but maybe it needs to be more specific.

    For me, unprofessionalism from interns and early career employees usually consists of behaviors that fall into a mix of categories: 1– Generally not OK and against norms, cut it out. 2–Not in line with your personal expectations for that role/position. 3–Not a problem on its own but adding to an overall effect.

    Keep your focus on (1) and (2) first with explicit feedback. “When you do X, the effect is Y. I need you to commit to doing Z going forward instead. Can you do that?” Or “I’ve noticed you do X. Other people here do X too, but they’re more senior/report to other managers. For your position, I need you to Y.” Then it’s not about the amorphous concept of “unprofessional”; it’s about specific behaviors, and you can pretty easily return to the conversation if they’re still not getting it.

    1. OP #4*

      Hey! I just saw this comment, and want to tell you I appreciate its specificity and ideas! The way you’re describing the categories of unprofessionalism makes a lot of sense to me, and helps me identify what I’ve been doing well and what I need to be more clear about with Stella going forward. Thanks for taking the time to write!

  50. Workfromhome*

    #1 If there is $ to be had (which you are quite certain of getting) then yes go to the party. If you are sure you won’t get any $ by attending (not perfect attendance etc) than I’d say don’t go. Its very easy to come up with an excuse for these holiday parties for the most part. I know my son always has a “sports game” or my daughter a band concert that suddenly is scheduled when there is a party I don’t want to attend. I’ve had a couple of busy bodies comment “you always are busy for these things how come you never attend” and always answer “well kids are only young for so long my Dad never came to any of my stuff (not true) and I swore id always go to their stuff” that pretty well always shuts people up .

    If you do go I’m 100% on board with needing to go to the bathroom or having to take a phone call when you know he needs to make his speech and then ducking in just in time to get your $.

  51. Trendy*

    2. Secret Santa gifts with a message

    Great advice except for the fact OP already made an official complaint to his boss. No judgement on if she should have, but it seems to me that if she wants to be anonymous to the complaint she shouldn’t make it obvious that it was her by giving the book. It also seems a bit overkill, she asked her boss to address the issue, but then undermines him by continuing to handle it herself (and a little bit sanctimonious). It reminds me of Hugh Laurie in the show House where he is shot by the husband of a patient. The patient shoots him and later lectures him. Hugh told him he gets to shoot him or lecture him but not both.

  52. Working Mom*

    #3: I can relate to feeling like this much earlier in my career. I was 1 year out of college and worked at a non-profit where I responsible for a LOT of very different tasks. Think accounting, volunteer management, event planning/hosting, admin work, sales, fundraising, and so on. Within each area I mentioned above – there could be at least 10 sub topics, and so on.

    Take Alison’s advice and don’t make the same mistake I made! I had an interview for a really great opportunity with a bigger/better NPO, something I was personally passionate about and would also be awesome at the job – because it was very similar to what I was doing at the time.

    I totally botched the interview. I felt like I needed to express to the hiring manager everything that I did – so they could see how well-rounded I was, how much experience I had, and how good I was at balancing competing demands and priorities. To prepare, I sat down with a legal pad and made lists of everything I did. Then in the interview, when asked to tell them about my current role – I literally read them the entire list. I think it was 3 pages long. It was awful. At the time I thought I needed convey “all the work” I did. Needless to say, I did not get the job.

    What I should have done – was make that list – but then narrow down the most important actions and summarize those. Then, when asked to give examples, I could have drawn from *one* example of an actual event I ran, to answer a question.

    So, learn from my mistake, please! Instead of reading off every single event and activity I planned, coordinated, executed, I should have just said “Event Management.” When asked about event mgmt., I could have explained that I was responsible for the entire event from conception to execution – including vendor management, budget, promotion, and day of logistics.

    Hope that helps you!

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