Anyone who knows even a little bit about horse racing can probably visualize the truth in the following statement: “You can’t win the Kentucky Derby while riding a mule.” Seems quite obvious, right? Most people recognize the apples and oranges comparison. Horses and mules don’t possess like abilities. And no matter how much you feed a mule, train it, pamper or coddle it, a mule is still a mule. No one would ever consider pitting a mule against the elite race horses in the Derby. And even if you were a mule with aspirations, despite how hard we might wish, some things can’t be changed.
Now for an analogy. For success in the field afterschool education, we must work with the right people. If we expect to attain results, we must invest in people who have the capability to run with the same kind of speed and finesse of horses, not mules. Nothing against mules. But mules don’t belong in important races. Horses do. We must employ the fittest professionals with the requisite capacity and abilities to carry our kids to success in afterschool.
And now here’s the problem -- if we are really honest with ourselves. We’ve all probably supervised, worked with, or known someone working in an afterschool program that, despite lots of encouragement from you and your coworkers, still performed like a mule. Against our better judgment, and unfairly to those involved, we’ve created apples and oranges comparisons by allowing incapable workers to enter our profession. I hope these people are few and far between in afterschool, but they populate all facets of education. You know it if you ever sat through a class taught by a mule or recognized that your own child was placed in a mule’s classroom. And here’s the bottom line – despite the common acknowledgement that we share among ourselves that these few individuals will never, ever be capable of performance better than a mule, we often keep these people on staff. For various reasons, we rationalize that it’s easier to tolerate and keep our mules rather than dismiss them. Rather than face the facts, we continue attempts to train them to no avail. And then, when the pressure mounts to become something they can never be, a few morph into wolves, create terror, and heighten fear among our staffs.
Let’s bite the bullet get rid of the mules and wolves. It’s tough work, but for the sake of our kids, and to propel our profession forward at speeds we must go, we have to employ and work with the right people.
Dismissing incapable workers isn’t fun, but necessary. Be honest, fair, and swift. And remember this: Don’t wrestle with a pig. You’ll both get dirty, and the pig will like it!