The Secret DOS

The Little Emperor Strikes Back

Go on now, GO! Walk out the door!

Events over the last few days have made me reflect…well, actually, have made me feel superior. It occurs to me that we rarely enjoy anything better than occupying the moral high ground. I don’t think that this is an individual character flaw, but something hardwired into humans. We like being right, but we like it even more when someone else is wrong. Might there, I wondered, be perfectly good evolutionary reasons for this? Might it be that we reinforce behaviour that keeps the species alive by feelings of smug self-righteousness and ostracism of the deviants? Maybe. Maybe not…

So, what’s been happening? It happens that a new timetable has been written and there is disgruntlement among a few about the distribution of hours. One in particular is trumpeting loudly about how he should have been given more hours, especially when one considers the vast loyalty that he has shown by staying stuck in the same rut…sorry…by selling his labour…sorry….by heroically standing by the employer for the last X years. This individual is writing emails to all and sundry, is bitching in the staffroom, is saying that they will not be offering any guidance to the new teachers (who, it transpires) are taking hours that Our Hero believes should be his.

It raises an interesting query for me. This teacher is not a good teacher. That is, this teacher regularly alienates his students and they inevitably trail down to my office where year after year, term after term, the complaints are the same: they don’t explain things well, they don’t answer the students’ questions, they don’t know the answers, they don’t have what it takes.

In h-actual fact, what I think is happening is that the students are picking up on the obvious fact that this teacher really is not interested in them. He has enough things going on in his life and the only reason he is sticking by us so faithfully is that we pay considerably more than anyone else and he is on a contract that means he gets the equivalent of 12 weeks holiday a year. When he comes cap in hand, we bend over backwards to try and accommodate his requests. We show tolerance of his shortcomings and we offer support to help him overcome the never-ending (and never-changing) litany of complaints that the students make about him. For this teacher, the job most definitely is not about the students. It’s about the moolah.

The question that I imagine is going begging is why do we allow this to continue? The answer, my friends, is blowing in the wind; the answer is blowing in the wind. No, it’s not.

We allow it to continue because we…hell…I…don’t know how to end it. I am singularly unskilled in how to performance manage a person out of their job. And my employers don’t make it any easier by having a clear process that I can follow. So…students complain. I inform the teacher. We discuss the possible reasons behind the complaint. Sometimes I am bold enough to point out that the complaint is identical to other complaints over time and that really we can’t be having the same complaints come up again and again and again and again. We work together – I offer help with lesson planning; I offer tips about people management (yeah! I know…ME!!!); things improve. The teacher doesn’t want any more help. I sidle off back to the sidelines. And wait. Within a term, some students come to see me…

At some point, I need to refer the matter to a capability process. The question we have to ask ourselves is can this teacher teach? The answer, it would seem, must be yes because when they actually bother to make an effort, the complaints dry up. But how do we initiate our capability process?

HR tell me that we need reams of paperwork – documentary evidence that we have tried until we can try no more. Well, we have that. We have student evaluations, lesson observations, email chains etc. But it seems that this is not enough. It doesn’t help that HR is not really aware of what teachers do, or that we are not the same as managing an officer full of office workers and bureaucrats. It doesn’t help that HR is overstretched and also dealing with the lack of institutional investment in resources.

I really want to have an honest conversation with Our Hero. I want to say, Look, the truth of the matter is that you should be grateful that you’ve even got this job. You struggle to do it and you have some of the best terms and conditions within our city…and within those, you have some of the best terms and conditions within our team. Show some bloody self-awareness and stop bleating about how you deserve more.

I really want to be able to circumnavigate the paperwork and the processes and just say to the individual concerned, You’re not cut out for teaching. You don’t care about the students and they know it. They tell me themselves. They say “In my country, I am a teacher. There is nothing that you can do to change this teacher. He just doesn’t have the right personality.” You’re never going to make the move away from the comfort of inertia, so I’m pushing you out. Go and find something that makes you happy.

How did we ever get to the stage where this conversation became undesirable? Why on earth is it down to the employer to offer training and support to someone who clearly doesn’t want it? We have to be seen to offer support and help to this teacher. We have to sit down, make plans, give guidance, have meetings, track changes, engage in discussions, find resources, point out opportunities and a long et cetera. But why? Where is the personal responsibility in this? If I am being paid £30k+ a year and have three months of holiday a year, but in exchange I am supposed to teach at a standard that doesn’t result in regular complaints, why the f*** should it be somebody else’s job to help me when I clearly fail to meet these rather straightforward standards?

Is it just middle-aged conservatism that makes me think My god! The world’s gone mad! I wish we could be like football clubs and just sit the failures on the bench before moving them out to some godforsaken team that will never amount to more than a hill of beans. And then a moment of panic sets in…Mein gott! Perhaps I am the manager of a godforsaken team…I am the godforsaken manager of a godforsaken team. That’s why I’m not getting any interviews.




13 Dec 2015 - Posted by | Rants and ramblings


  1. Hi there

    Thank you for the post – found a lot of similarities, and sympathize with the situation you need to be dealing with (looks like it is a process rather than an ‘event’ and that there is no clear solution or recipe, besides offering fewer hours to this teacher) I experienced similar situation, and I also heard about them in other schools/countries. Wondering if there is a piece of advice that could be given? I really like Tessa Woodward’s ‘The Professional Life Cycles of Teachers’ – mostly as a reminder that at different ages/stages of life the priorities shift, and (sadly) it is not the students, or the job, that is often in the focus. I am sure you already tried these, but what sometimes helped me was changing the groups for this teacher (kind of ‘make other students suffer’ approach), and/or putting this teacher in a co-teaching team with me or another teacher, or team-teaching with this teacher (not the easiest option, combined with team planning). Yes, a lot of time and mental energy from a DoS. Yes, no guarantee that it might work. Just an attempt to show that you care (to the students) and a small hope that the teacher might get re-excited (invented word!)

    Thank you for the post – I really enjoy your style of writing.

    Comment by Zhenya | 14 Dec 2015 | Reply

    • I really appreciate both your kind words and your engagement with the problem! Yes – we have tried a range of different classes, courses and co-teachers…the problem is really that the teacher doesn’t want to be a teacher and there are very few metrics that our company will accept as proving that this is the case. As a consequence, the teacher is trapped in a honey pot of competitive pay and great holidays and we are stuck with a teacher who isn’t interested.

      The only option is to keep on keeping on. From time to time, the teacher gets it just right and my strategy at these moments is to try and reinforce this with appreciation and recognition. Everybody likes these…don’t they?!?!?!

      Comment by TheSecretDoS | 14 Dec 2015 | Reply

      • Yes, indeed: reinforcement with appreciation and recognition is something that can be helpful. Not the easiest option, but probably the only one worth trying? Hope the situation gets better, if not ‘sorted’.

        Comment by Zhenya | 15 Dec 2015

  2. How the hell is it not possible to get rid of a bad teacher? We have a horribly large minority of unwilling teachers where I work. Students complain, I complain, unit managers complain, they do almost nothing to change their ways and still they go on, blithely entitled. We rotate them around, so that no group of students gets them too often. It’s like working with toxic waste – it can’t stay in one place too long, or the whole site becomes toxic.


    Comment by DOSser | 07 Mar 2016 | Reply

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