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Being a SEIT in a Toxic Work Environment

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Being a SEIT in a toxic work environment is terrible. There’s nothing worse than hating your job or dreading going to a case. These situations can be very complicated for us because we adore the kids. It’s not their fault if case managers or parents make it hard to keep people on their case. So how do SEITs handle toxic work environments?

One time, I hated a case so much that I would sit and calculate what percentage of the session was left every five minutes. 

Another time, I had a mother scream at me, and I wound up running out of her house crying. Not professional, but it might have been one of the best self-care moves I ever made.

We’ve all been there. In a work environment, you hate and just want to leave, but a toxic work environment is different than just hating your job. 

What’s the difference? How do you deal with it? And what does it mean for the kids?

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So the story I told about calculating what percentage of the session was left every five minutes is a little different than a toxic work environment. 

While it might be hard to define a toxic work environment, you know it when you see it. 

Usually, signs that a work environment is a toxic include…

  • Belittling coworkers
  • Gossiping behind people’s backs
  • Gaslighting 
  • Pressure to do unethical/illegal things
  • Unreasonable expectations and punishments
  • Undermining authority 
  • Abuse of power 
  • Disregard for safety or mental health 

It’s important to also remember that for a work environment to be toxic, these elements have to be present on an ongoing basis.

One bad day isn’t enough, you need a pattern. 

Now, normally if you’re in a toxic work environment, I would tell you to get another job and quit ASAP. 

Your mental health is not worth some prestige or money or whatever you think you’re getting from that job. 

You are more important! 

However, when you’re a SEIT during a toxic work environment, it’s a little more complicated because there’s a child (your student) involved. 

Our goal is to always to help the child, who is already vulnerable and, chances are, nonverbal. 

It’s not their fault that their case has been turned into a toxic environment, yet they are the one who suffers for it.

Why do they suffer, though? 

Well, because toxic work environments lead to resignations. See my above advice. 

If you don’t believe me check out this Forbes article.

Children with complex cases who need SEITs benefit from having people on their case for an extended period of time because then their interventionist knows them and can better customize their instructions to them.

Plus, they’re kids who respond well to predictable patterns and keeping the same teacher cuts down on disruptions to learning. 

So ethically, it’s more complicated than just finding a new job and quitting. You have to consider the kiddo.

Here’s what I recommend, try to fix it before quitting. 

There are things you can do to alleviate the situation and make it better. 

  • Shut down belittling or gossiping behavior
  • Talk to people who have been on the case longer than you about your issues
  • Draw firm boundaries
  • Always stay calm (it’s hard to bully someone calm)
  • Be explicit if refusing to do something illegal
  • Document what you experience 

Also, if trying to do this on your own, then sit down with the parent or case manager, whoever is contributing most to the toxic work environment, and tell them how you feel.

Explain to them that if these things don’t change, you’ll have to quit. 

I’ve done it a few times and had coworkers do it a few times. I’ve been lucky, and the changes I have asked for have happened because no one wanted to lose a good person from the case.

At the end of the day, we all are there for the kid, and if you’re a good fit for the case, then hopefully, people will want to keep you.

That being said, if the changes you want don’t happen, then quit.

Especially if it’s affecting your mood and your work on other cases. As much as it may suck to leave the student, who again is not at fault for any of this, remember that you aren’t responsible for the damage it’s causing. The person creating the toxic environment is. 

Your mental health is important, and while it might be easier to leave a case that’s toxic, I get why a lot of SEITs are reluctant to do so. We’re soft touches who love our kiddos and always want to be compassionate and helpful.

For more tips and tricks on dealing with parents and the complicated environment of being a SEIT make sure to check out this blog post on a SEIT’s Role with Parents.

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