Yesterday I walked into work. I felt the sun on my face and the wind at my back. I was upright and smiling. I noticed how people looked and noticed how if I had a smile on my face, the odd person would smile back. Not the odd person as in the nutter…It was a good day. In my head were my plans for the day: the lesson I was going to teach, the meeting I was going to have, the things I needed to get done. In my head were also the influences from the last week’s readings: the role of knowledge in what we do, the ways that our teaching can be improved, the knowledge that our mind is susceptible to the influences of our bodies, the practices of good writers, the success of Nicola Prentice, the arrivederci of Scott Thornbury, the togetherness of a PLN. If it had been a film, I would have known what was coming.
At the end of the day, I walked out of work. My shoulders were rounded. I had a tight chest. My head was fogged with self-doubt and a chanting negativity. My chest felt tight. My breathing was shallow and my mouth was drawn. The positivity of the morning had been transformed into stress, rejection, nullification and resentment. Way to go, Gipper!
It’s too early to say why this had happened. But suffice to say that other people’s actions left me feeling this way. And it’s stupid. I look at what happened and know that it is so ridiculous that I should just shrug it off and wait for the clouds to blow over. It’s nothing – literally something of no substance, if that isn’t too oxymoronic. But again I can see a bank of gloom on the horizon and I can feel the wind blowing it towards me.
Teachers who read this and who feel bad about their managers – hear me now! All of us go to work with the best intentions, I think. I really don’t -or won’t- believe that there is anybody who goes to work with the intention of deliberately doing shag all. Most people would be able to justify whatever they are planning to do or not do. The teacher who does no real teaching and has no real idea of what their job is will only be able to get up in the morning, get dressed and hand over their time to the company because they believe that what they are doing is valid. Similarly, the manager who appears to be a monster from hell is probably oblivious to this interpretation. Both would probably say that they are just trying to do their job.
Outside the walls of work, life also goes by. Life is not always easy for people. Some are trying to balance more than one job; some are trying to support their families; some are desperate to have families; some are terrified about the next post and the bills it will contain. Life is really, really stressful for many people. We owe it to each other to think really long and hard before we add further to the stress that people are almost certainly experiencing already.
This doesn’t mean that we should all just shut up and put up. It does mean that we need to talk to each other. It does mean that we need to be able to share our perceptions with each other – not in the hope of triumphing over a vanquished foe: I don’t need to tell you what I feel so that you can feel guilty and bad about yourself. We need to share our perceptions so that we can engage in a joint exercise to rebuild them in a form that is acceptable to both of us.
Is your manager doing something that you don’t like? Have you spoken to her or him about it? Or have you talked about it with others who feel the same way as you? Did that help? If you have opted for the second choice, has the problem been resolved or have you contributed to a spreading sense of discontent? Have you now set your manager up so that not only are they really pressing your buttons, but now you’re drawing everybody’s attention to how bad they are? Wow! You must really dislike this person! You will now almost inevitably start to notice how in virtually everything that they do, they are incompetent, uncaring, selfish, and ill-intentioned. Of course, nothing will change because you are only talking about them, not to them. But perhaps change is not what you want? Perhaps, at some level, it suits you to let your manager take the flak. But you could have at least had the decency to ask them if this was OK with them…
Behind this kind of thinking is surely a perception that the manager doesn’t deserve to be engaged in conversation. They won’t change. They can’t change. They are bad people. They are to be confronted and defeated. Eradicated. Humbled. Humiliated. You need to win. It’s a war. And wars end with the annihilation of the enemy. Right? Well…not if you want to build a lasting peace. Remember the bit about how we are all essentially people who are struggling to do our best in a world of worries and pressures? There are very few people who are so bad that they deserve to be crushed. Pretty much everybody deserves more than that.
What do I think you should do, unhappy teacher? I think you should go away and think about what it is that is making you unhappy. I think you should try and crystallise it into something tangible and then you should ask to speak to your manager. I think you should go into this conversation knowing that your point of view is no more than just that. And be prepared to accept that it is possible that you are the only person who sees things this way and that you are almost certainly wrong. Don’t go into the meeting hoping to just get things off your chest. Certainly, don’t go into the meeting hoping to make the manager see how things are and looking for an apology. Understand that the conversation probably marks the start of an exploration into how your manager needs to change some things but, just as importantly, you also need to accept your responsibility for letting things get this way. The real aim of the conversation should be to explore how you and your manager can take action to make sure that the situation improves. Blame is never a useful concept; substitute it with responsibility. Who is responsible for doing what? And how can they be helped to do it?
St Augustine once urged the world to “love the sinner and hate the sin.” In these secular times, we scoff at this sort of advice. But let’s look at it more carefully: it comes from a religion that preaches that we are all sinners. In other words, culpability is always shared. The deity of this religion is said to have stopped a public stoning by calling for the first stone to be thrown by somebody who was free from blame. Love the sinner, hate the sin tells us that everyone is worthy of love and its consequences: respect, gratitude, consideration, validation and so on. But we are not so naive as to believe that we can all just get along: the night is dark and full of terrors. By joining together in our repudiation of these terrors, we make a common cause. And that common cause is to hate -that is to reject and seek to eradicate- that which causes pain and suffering to others. We shouldn’t do this in the spirit of self-indulgent charity – we should do this because it is the only viable option. By attributing positive intentions to others and working with them to help reconstruct a negative perception that we have allowed to come into existence, we defend our own integrity and protect ourselves from mental anguish and self-pity.
Talk to your manager and tell them, “Look, I’m sorry to say this but recently I can’t stop thinking that [insert your preoccupation]. I was hoping I could talk to you so that we can work together to help me get over this.”
If your manager is the decent person that they almost certainly are, they will be shocked to hear what you are going through and they will want to do whatever is within their power to help you get over this perception you have. If they are not the decent person that they almost certainly are, you will know that you have done the right thing; you have accepted the responsibility to change and they have rejected it. Your negative perceptions have now been validated to some extent and the person who should be helping you address them has refused to do so. Now is the time to get other people involved – but remember still, the focus is on addressing the situation, not on crushing your opponent.