20 May 2005

She said...He said...

I thought about last night's problem and wrote a bit. This morning, I woke up with some further ideas and incorporated them into my letter to the Difficult Colleague (DC). When I got to school, I told the assistant admin what I was going to say and why. I know he had advised DC a bit differently.

After some futher wordsmithing, here is what I sent DC (names and places have been altered, of course):


As usual these days, I will likely be out and about in the district for most of the afternoon. But I wanted to provide you with a response to your questions from yesterday. I appreciate you giving me some time to reflect on what you said and asked.

I'm sure that you will continue to gather input from various people in your life about your professional future. Most (or all) of us have had similar decisions in our past. And, like us, you're the only one who can make the choice about your fate. Personally, I think that a job with the cushy district is your "bird in the hand." You've expressed an interest in being able to work in the same school as your wife. You would have a simpler commute (with less negative impact on your family budget for gas and wear/tear on vehicles). You would likely have more time with your family and for yourself. I know that a full-time math position isn't your first choice of a teaching gig---but I'll bet that classes in science will soon be yours. It seems like you would have a better opportunity for collegial interactions because you would have your own classroom (instead of "floating"). Also, if you needed to do things outside of the school day (or your wife did), you would be there to support one another.

If you choose to stay here, there is no guarantee that your wife will be hired. Suppose the applicant pool for the positions is rich---and there are better qualified (by HR's definition) people for the jobs? We can't predict what will happen. I also don't feel completely confident that the department here will be able to "heal" if you stay. I think that there will be lingering hard feelings and trust will be very difficult (if not impossible) to re-establish. I have to say that my interactions with you have led to far more positive outcomes than negative ones. And even the negative ones provided me with good opportunities for discussion. You're right in that I can't speak on behalf of the entire department---and I don't want to. I can say that I have observed other department members very stressed after interactions with you. It upsets me greatly to hear about their trouble sleeping, that their reaction is to just "shut down" when you're there because of what they fear you'll say or do, and to see how dysfunctional things have become for the first time in 9 years (and with all sorts of department members during that time). The assistant admin may very well be right in that you shouldn't let one unfortunate experience colour your whole perception of things. But I don't think that what has happened within the department has been confined to one instance.

If I were you, I'd jump at the opportunity to start fresh and forge new relationships. As you know, there is no Utopia to be found anywhere in education. Problems here at school and within the district will not be immediately resolved---change may be happening, but it is going to be very slow. Organizations this size just can't turn on a dime, as much as we wish that they would. The cushy district has its own issues, but perhaps they won't bother you as much as the ones here do. The culture there may very well suit you better as a professional and lead to more personal happiness.

I truly believe that you're a good person and a good teacher. I think you deserve to have the kind of teaching environment where you feel you have the ability to be supported and encouraged. I just don't think that you will find what you need here anymore. That may be a sad thing to say, but it doesn't make anyone "bad." It just means that this school isn't a good fit for you while it is a nurturing environment for others. Being an educator is challenging enough without having the kind of place that helps feed your soul and keep you moving forward.

I wish you the best in making your decision and finding the kind of teaching job that's right for you. I have no doubt that kids will benefit from your talent, regardless of where you end up and what you teach.

The Science Goddess

I thought I was diplomatic and pretty positive. My intent was to give him a graceful way to exit our lives. Here is the reply I received:

I greatly appreciate your input. “Other members of the department” are not the only ones that have been stressed or losing sleep. It is very difficult to hear that the department is “dysfunctional” because of me. As can be very easily verified by talking to ANYONE at my other schools or in the Math Department here, I have always been thought of in the highest regard and a positive member of the staff.

So, in my mind what is different about this science department that specifically that causes issue? I have talked to numerous staff here and have had some good advice and input. If you do not have a problem with me, and another department member says that he does not, and Colleague Going to Teach in China and you (for the most part) are not here next year, then who is so upset that they cannot move beyond things and be professional? I feel that I have been attacked and made uncomfortable and singled out, but no one is addressing that. I have made the first move to extend the “olive branch,” which is more than others have done.

As I told Dr. Colleague, to be frank, this is not Survivor. The department does not vote members on or off the island. My boss is the principal and he has extended the invitation (along with assistant admin, math department chairs, athletic director and several others) to stay. Not as Dr. Colleague expressed because they are afraid of a law suit (I am a ‘P2’ and can be asked not back without cause) but maybe because they see some value in me. I seriously wonder why the department thinks that I have to “behave” in a certain manner and if not, then I can leave. I guess that is the root of my biggest concern. If some people in one department cannot work with me, then who is at fault? I am trying to bridge a gap. I will not be “run out” of a school because certain people who are employed right now and might not be here in the future cannot get over my supposed “attitude.”

I am not angry, just perplexed that there seems to be a strong “clique” mentality in Science and a propensity to force everyone to conform to one modality of doing business. I look at the interactions of other departments and staff and myself with other staff and the only “bad experience” keeps going back to one department and a couple of people (in my mind). So again, if “they” cannot get over whatever is bothering them, I am willing to do my part, but it is a two way street. Extremely derogatory remarks have been made about me and others without any punitive measure, but I am not ”allowed” to even be passionate or negative without offending someone. To me this is a serious double standard. Some of the remarks about me and other members of the department, made by Dr. Colleague specifically, I would not even come close to saying. I feel there is a lot said behind doors, I am least open and keep it about education.

I am sorry to be so long winded and take up your valuable time. This decision to stay or go is extremely difficult and needs to be carefully thought out. I am worried that a few or less people are trying to manipulate things (Which is why I am concerned about a conflict of interest with my wife applying so I will have to address that I guess since you bring it up.). I have always said this school is THE school on the Peninsula with the greatest potential, but I also believe (as does others) that we are not living up to that potential. We cannot effect change without the hard conversations and staff being willing to hear the good and the bad. I see change happening and am still willing to help in my way to bring about that change, however, I am not a “yes” man or “go with the flow” man either. As Albert Einstein said “Great spirits often meet violent opposition from mediocre minds.” (That is NOT implying that anyone has a ‘mediocre’ mind, just that controversy is inevitable when trying to accomplish enormous tasks.) Thank you for all your support.

Sincerely, DC

Or maybe I should call him "Dick"?

I have chosen not to reply to his message. There is nothing that I (or anyone else) could say that he would like to hear. He asked for my opinion...I voiced it...and got another round of his favourite tirades. He does love to play the victim in public and be the bully in private.

I saw the Assistant Admin later in the day. He was busy, but not so much that he couldn't look out his window at me and mouth "Oh. My. God." You see, DC had cc'ed his reply to the Assistant Admin. And for the first time, he got to find out just how DC treats his co-workers. I didn't get the feeling he was very impressed.


Anonymous said...

I think it's interesting that you chose to color your words in blue and his in red. Unconscious or not?

There's obviously a personality conflict here. Your message was not neutral and I can see why he was defensive (you're advice, however diplomatic-sounding, was essentially 'yeah, it would be nice if you left. see you later.'.

And you couched it in admin-speak instead of just saying what you meant, and he probably recognized that.

He's looking for appreciation for his work and his dedication. Now, he does seem to be a hard-driver and demanding (and probably egotistical, arrogant, and everything else), but he's, as you said, a good teacher.

Maybe you can address the specific concerns, rather than say 'you don't get along'. Tell him that teachers don't appreciate being told what to do, just as he wouldn't.

I don't know the whole situation, and I can't pretend to know what's best. These are just my observations. Good luck.

The Science Goddess said...

Thanks for weighing in. I did think about the colours of the text when I posted.

DC asked me for two things: Could relationships be patched up (between the department and him) and should his wife try to come teach at our school?

The answers are "No." and "No." But I didn't feel I could just say that. I was trying to provide a graceful method for parting ways. I absolutely did couch it, as you point out.

And instead of just taking my opinion (that he asked me to provide) for whatever it was worth, he went on another tirade...as if that was going to persuade me to change my mind. This is his pattern. As long as everyone agrees with him, he's fine. If you start having a mind of your own, watch out.

I don't know what will happen. I haven't talked to the admins yet to see what their views are. I know that DC has a meeting with the cushy district on Wednesday. I'm just hoping that they'll make him an offer he can't refuse.

Mr. McNamar said...

As I have learned recently, some individuals are not really interested in the truth, no matter how you say it. I thought you answered the questions that were asked. And a no reply is surely in order.