Oh ELT! What are you? Are you a branch of applied linguistics or are you a branch of pedagogy? Are you both? If so, which one of your parents do you most resemble? Or are you a foundling – left lying among the cabbages and discovered by a well-meaning old couple who have tried to rear you despite being hopelessly out of touch with whatever it is that you are? Sadly, as far as I can see, whatever it is that you should be, it is not what you are.
We are approaching the start of the formal investigation into the complaints made about me a month and a half ago. I have been summoned to an interview to determine my response to the allegations made against me. This blogpost is to share my knowledge of events as they should unfold in the hope that others may find them titillating. It is also to vent some of the pressure that is building up.
Scott Thornbury recently published a blog post calling for a different learning metaphor to the tired old transmission theories where we are all closed systems beaming out messages to each other and receiving what gets sent. One wonders how simplistic life was in the fifties when this kind of thinking was considered revolutionary. After all, they’d already come up with atomic genocide, communism, fascism, Albert Einstein was dating Marilyn Monroe and the like. You would have thought that they could have tried harder.
The responses to Scott’s post featured the inevitable sowing metaphor with the teacher being the well-meaning agriculturalist who scatters seeds and then nurtures them to glorious and resplendent crops. Builders and architects were also there. As was the recognition that we are well served by a variety of metaphors.
I struggled to get a metaphor that made more sense to me. Then, I don’t know how, the idea of the atom struck me. I think it was probably because I was trying to get a grip on the scale of our sheer insignificance as teachers. Unfortunately, I spent far too much time in my schooldays being a horrible little sh*t in Physics and am left with a rather weak grasp of scientific concepts.
I have vowed to go away and read a little to try and set this right. But until then, allow me to put forward the hatchlings of an idea.
I’ve recently been working with a teacher whose students consistently give her negative criticism. For the last three years she has come in for criticisms about her ability to teach effectively and engagingly. For the last three years, we have put that evidence in front of her and talked to her about what she might do: get some further qualifications; do some peer evaluations; try to include a bit of [insert as appropriate] into her lessons; teach this way; follow this lesson plan; don’t do this, do that. But in 2013, the complaints that are coming out of her classroom are the same as the ones that came out of her classroom in 2010.
What I find interesting, however, is the fact that she is now irate about how she is being treated. We recently observed her classes and put together an action plan that was linked to some external standards which identified potential areas for improvements and how she might adapt her teaching to get closer to these standards. Now she feels that this is overkill and that she is a perfectly good teacher who has only ever had a good relationship with her students. She feels that she is being singled out for criticism by her managers and that there are more nefarious intentions afoot.
One of my teachers has been causing me a bit of bother. Indeed, continues to cause me a bit of bother. Reading around how best to manage such people, I happen across literature about dealing with psychopaths in the workplace. Whew! I hate to do things by halves and the idea that I might be dealing with an out-and-out sociopath is much more enticing than the mundane suspicion that I am dealing with a disgruntled grunt.
Psychopaths are truly fascinating people. Neurally incapable of empathy, they live their lives purely for their own benefit – unhindered by the moral and ethical limits that the rest of their society and culture is bounded by. They regard other people as tools to help them achieve what they want. And what they want, more than anything else, is to have their needs fulfilled. One of the books describes how a psychopath might inadvertently back their car over their own child and think, “Bloody hell – this is going to mean that I end up missing the start of the film at the cinema.” For the person who has to share their life -either professionally or personally- with a psychopath, it is important that they understand that they will never be able to reach the psychopath’s inner conscience; it simply doesn’t exist.
My psychopath appears to big herself up by accepting weighty projects; she then fails to deliver upon any of these but always has a seemingly plausible excuse; she behaves wholly inappropriately towards her colleagues, but does it so brazenly that people appear stunned into thinking that it must be normal; she is unpopular with those people whom she leaves on her periphery and she draws people into her periphery if she thinks that they are powerful and potentially useful or if they are vulnerable and potentially exploitable. She makes all manner of unfounded allegations against individuals and causes division among the team by gossiping and bitching. She lives vicariously through the manipulation of more vulnerable individuals and seeks to promote herself by engaging with powerful individuals within the organisation. She attacks individuals in an indirect manner – either by essentially slandering them in contexts that are not appropriate or by spreading rumours about them and encouraging others to do the same.
The fascinating thing about this is that psychopaths don’t actually do these things as part of some grand strategy to take over the world. They don’t tend to operate on long term planning. These actions are intended to serve the short term aim of living the life that best suits them. They may claim to feel upset about something, but the truth of the matter is that they are neurally incapable of feeling upset. They only claim to feel this way to weaken their opponent’s position. They are capable of incredibly barefaced lies: for example, one person absented herself from work because of chemotherapy. She took to wearing wigs and scarves at work. She was flattered when her colleagues organised a fund-raising marathon for her. She took the money, but there was absolutely no truth to the story. Her real hair sat nestled under the wigs and the scarves. Her chemotherapy sessions were lie-ins and shopping excursions. The lie was so flimsy that it was only a question of time before she was found out. How could this be? Simple – the psychopath doesn’t really care about being found out. They care about not having to go to work when they don’t feel like it.
The literature about psychopaths in the workplace emphasises that individuals should never actually diagnose anybody as an out-and-out psychopath. I accept that my psychiatry credentials are hardly impeccable. As a result, I should point out that I don’t actually know that my psycho is psycho – nevertheless, the literature provided me with a framework that helped explain some very unusual behaviours exhibited by this individual. My lay opinion is that she would score quite highly on the Hare Psychopathy Checklist. This framework helps me deal with her as her manager: I now understand why she appears resistant to reason and why she continues to behave in a puzzling fashion. I understand that this is largely beyond her control and that I am wrong to assume that she is capable of change. I keep my distance!