Category Archives: career


Even though I tried to look on the bright side, work hasn’t gotten any better. If things continue as they are now, this program feels like a fast-track to burnout for the teachers and social workers. I still have hope that things could improve, but not everyone I work with does. Continue reading

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Joking about social work

Remember July’s controversy over an audience member’s report of Daniel Tosh “joking” that she should be gang-raped during his Laugh Factory comedy show? After reading way too much about it, Jessica Valenti’s response article “The Anatomy of a Successful Rape Joke” stuck out in my mind and made me think about humor in and about social work.

I hope we can all agree that rape itself is not funny. No one (as far as I’ve read) responded to the Tosh situation by flat-out saying: Rape is funny. Period. In the same way, I don’t go around saying: Social work is funny. Period. Nor would I say I joined the field for the laughs. But I do think that making jokes and seeing/finding the humor in social work is useful and at times somewhat necessary for both my clients and for me. Continue reading

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Not Another Transition/Termination Post

When you’re in transition, it seems like that’s all there is to talk about. Or maybe that’s just how it works for me. But I do think that people often define themselves by the big transitions and changes in their lives, whether only at the time or for a lifetime afterwards.

Most of my clients experience common childhood transitions as they move from elementary school to middle school to high school. But for a lot of them these milestones serve mainly as markers for greater sources of change. And although they can’t always remember what happened last summer, they remember the grade they were in when their parent left home and didn’t come back. And what school they went to when they first experienced the staying power of abuse, racism, or other injustice. They can pinpoint what they were doing when they found out a family member died. Or went to jail. And so on.

Sometimes transition is the baseline for the youth I meet. Foster care, immigration, or just frequent moves between states, countries or family members’ homes have contributed to constant change in the scenery around them. For some of these clients, routine feels more disruptive and unusual than the upheaval they anticipate daily. Temporary is understandable. Permanent is strange and unknown. Continue reading

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Happy Independence Segue!

While the rest of the country is celebrating declaring their independence from Great Britain, I am celebrating declaring my independence from a mediocre job.

If my life were a movie, this part would have a nice little segue, possibly with a montage. There would probably be some really awesome music. Possibly “Higher and Higher” like in Wet Hot American Summer. In which case Gene would definitely be with me the entire time.

Montage scene 1: I’m on the phone getting the job offer. This definitely includes slow-motion fist-pumping and quite possibly the hugging of a stranger (or two).
Reality scene 1: An unofficial offer hovers and finally leads to an official offer weeks later, which leads to many hoops and barriers to jump through/over to hopefully get to The Contract. Must have the precious… Continue reading

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And Problem begat Problem, who begat Problem…

If there were a social work bible, I imagine the Genesis chapter would read as a series of problems begetting new problems. At least, that is how the first stage of my social work career has been developing. The more I know, the more I know. And the less I know. And the less I know I know. (That was fun to read, right?)

This process of knowing and not knowing can make me feel both helpless and encouraged. It depends somewhat on the nature of the problem. And the client. And the resources at my disposal. And my mood. And all that jazz (I started writing this during Tony’s week).

I feel helpless when I have trouble noticing small positive things and can only see insurmountable obstacles. On helpless days I feel the need to tackle the entire mental health system or child welfare system or educational system… or maybe just world peace.

I feel encouraged on days I notice the little things adding up and when small moments of progress feel worthwhile and real and important. On these days, hearing heartbreaking stories seems like a step forward in addition to being a painful reminder of all the terrible things that happen in the world (instead of only the latter).

So where did I begin? Continue reading

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A staff retreat? Watch me retreat.

Staff retreats. Some places you’ve worked may have had them. Generally they involve similar kinds of activities and similar moments of enjoyment and… discomfort. Here are a 10 tips for What to expect when you’re expecting… to go on a staff retreat based on my experience.

1. Assigned teams.
If you are particularly unlucky, this means you will be put on a team with the head of your organization and an older woman who works in finance and turns out to be surprisingly good at volleyball but cannot for the life of her remember a basic pattern. While teams are being assigned, the head of the organization will insist that everyone restrict phone usage to a minimum during the activities, but he will wander off periodically from your group to stare at his phone with a very serious and important expression on his face. Everything he does will make you angry.

2. A guy with a microphone.
He is incredibly enthusiastic. He probably has a Masters degree in Recreation. (I learned that such a degree existed from a really terrible boss I had at a summer camp job during college. He really enjoyed asking questions he knew the answer to just to “make a point.” And by make a point I mean make people feel stupid.) He has jokes lined up that he knows from experience will make the majority of the group laugh. He has done this so many times that he already knows what mistakes your team will make and what roles your team will fall into before you begin. He is the leader of the activity leaders. He is simultaneously obnoxious and endearing. You will not be able to help thinking he is totally awesome. But you may also be certain you would never be friends with him if you met outside of the staff retreat environment. (I should note that I have had a few women lead these things, but most of the time the main person with the microphone is a dude.)

Continue reading

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When I am someone’s supervisor…

As a teenager, I once told my mom that I was going to make a list of all the things she was doing wrong so I would remember not to do those things when I became a mother. I have since lost the list and forgotten what it said. Given the positive view I have of my mother, I would guess the list was an exaggerated reaction to a particular moment of frustration, but what do you expect from a teenage girl yelling at talking to her mom?

Sensationalism or not, I remember the list as a great coping mechanism, so I’ve decided to make a similar list now based on positive and negative experiences I’ve had (and my colleagues and social work school peers have had) with supervisors. Given that I am somewhat older and wiser and relatively less melodramatic than I was as a teenager, perhaps this list will even prove helpful to me one day. Please note that I will also be taking this opportunity to lightly mock terrible supervisors, including one at my current job (thankfully not my own).

Okay future self, put down that More magazine Dos and Don’ts list and read this…

DOs and DON’Ts for when I am someone’s (social work) supervisor:

  • DO be consistent about expectations and support.
  • DO stay open-minded to learning from your supervisee.
  • DON’T throw a stack of papers at your supervisee and say “These are useless to me.” Continue reading
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A message from the social work Terminator: I won’t be back.

Termination is not the most agreeable topic among social workers, to say the least.

There are people who despise the term with a passion, people who spend their careers researching and writing about it, therapists and clients who own/embrace it, and social work students who discuss it like it’s an overrated Hollywood Blockbuster.

If my memory serves me correctly, social work students at my particular School of Social Work spent many a break between classes distraught over the unfairness of termination in social work field placements. I think it went something like: What a disservice it is to our clients! How terrible that we should float in and out of their lives with no thought to their well-being! What awful, terrible people must have decided this was an ethical thing to do!

I exaggerate, of course, and I do want to disclose that there were times where I joined my peers in their concerns. Perhaps in some instances it was a disservice, especially to the most vulnerable of our clients (or especially with those social work students who were not as dedicated… or studious… or passionate as others?). I still don’t know.

What I do know is that with hindsight, my perspective on termination at the end of a social work field placement has changed greatly. Although I have not written much about my current social work position (yet?), those of you who follow me on twitter know that it has been a fine but not great experience and that I hope to move on to another position soon. Given that I plan to leave, I have been thinking a lot about termination with my clients and more specifically, the absence of any termination process. Continue reading

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Should I smile? Am I on Candid Camera?

Sometimes I feel like there must be a secret film crew following me around making a video about inappropriate workplace boundaries.

Surely somewhere in the future there are new employees sitting in a conference room giggling uncontrollably at this outdated video. “Oh my gosh, she’s so awkward; she doesn’t know how to react!” one new hire exclaims. “I know right? And what was this filmed with—an HD camera? It’s so old looking!” the other chimes in…

I am decidedly clumsy when it comes to handling unsolicited advances from other professionals while on the clock. Not that it’s a skill I am actively working to improve.

In addition to daily interaction with clients and coworkers, my job includes working directly with volunteers, school personnel and representatives of funding sources (auditors). Sometimes (for reasons only they could illuminate) these individuals cross invisible lines that I would rather they did not cross. Perhaps I am too nice, perhaps all social workers are too nice, or perhaps these people are just a little creepy.

In this entry you will have the pleasure of meeting MrCreepyDean, NoBoundariesAuditor and my VolunteerDad: three humans I would have gladly avoided my whole professional career if possible.

Continue reading

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Perfectionism, Shmershmectionism…

You know that moment… and that other moment…and every day when you are barely on top of your urgent To-Do list and you look to over and see that the person in the cubicle across from you is shopping online… again?

Then maybe you are also familiar with the moment afterwards where you wonder why the H–E–DoubleHockeySticks you even bother working so hard. Perhaps that person is praised (for whatever that’s worth) just as often as you are and it is becoming all too clear that no one at this Non-Profit Organization cares/notices who is working hard and who is getting by doing the minimum. And maybe you, too, have been called a perfectionist. Continue reading

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