Do you fit in?

Not so long ago in a far away galaxy I was told that I “didn’t fit in” by a boss in an appraisal. When I asked for more clarification the reasons were related to my style of teaching and my passion for teaching as opposed to meetings, admin and red tape. I was also ticked off for not doing 100% of the handouts I was given and for not spending enough time ‘liaising’ colleagues, even though everyone was in a separate office and had differing schedules.

At first this shocked and rather upset me but now I think I understand the main problems:

1)The boss/colleagues had been schooled in old-fashioned lecture+grammar translation and still used these methods. Thus, they did not appreciate people NOT doing them and so when I did lots of conversation in ENGLISH only, they were not amused as they saw this as wrong.

2)My attempts to adapt my courses to my students and their needs was probably seen as me ‘not pulling the line’ or as criticising their courses. Actually, more the latter, or so I was told.

3)They spent a lot of time talking, I mean a LOT, far more than teaching. Meetings, more meetings, staffroom mini-meetings, email chain discussions on Sundays…So if you were not around or not reading your mail at any one of these impromptu times you were seen as not contributing. And actual meetings involved 5/7 people all arguing about 1 thing, say an answer to a question on a grammar test and if you did not give an answer it was badly seen, even though we had answers in the book.

4)I’m from an old-fashioned ‘DOS consults then makes decisions’ schooling and that the basics (title of a course and basic aims) are set before it starts. Not, everyone argues over decisions for 3 weeks and still don’t make a decision and then you have weekly meetings about what the heck you will be doing next week EVERY week for 4 hours. And this could be for every single course.

5)As they had all been there a while they had really got fed up with teaching and focussed more on admin, which had become far more important to the point that they would give classes a video just so they could complete a ‘document’. They would actually treasure these like gold and say “I’m working on a document” and if you never “read the document” then you were cursed.

6)Handouts were viewed as the superior material and typed out Word Docs (often copied straight from books) were the ultimate. but exercises were rarely given and answers NEVER.

So, the main problem was that YES I didn’t fit in.I like communication in English, creating courses around my students, minimal admin, a course structure in which I can work/develop, being completely dedicated to the lesson I am teaching and materials that help students develop and communicate.

I can’t change these but maybe I have to adapt and compromise. I spoke to other teachers while in this job and they thought much the same but their line was “if you want to keep your job, tow the line”. Another said “I know,you know and the students know that this is ridiculous but we all play along”. My favourite one was “in a few years, when they retire, we can turn the department into a proper EFL one and teach unplugged”.

There is also the ‘way of schooling’ issue at play ie I was brought up in the ‘CELTA is law’ way of thinking splashed with lots of communicative dressing and student focus with no L1 use. Older members of staff may have learned grammar-translation during their training and may not have done a CELTA because there wasn’t one or they studied for a teaching degree with an emphasis on subject knowledge. Straight away there will be some clash it seems between these approaches.

Do you fit in at your school? Why? Why not?

7 thoughts on “Do you fit in?

  1. Why would you want to work at a place like this anyways? I seriously can’t imagine any school being upset by students conversation in English. I always heard that students wanted more, in fact. That can’t be unknown.

    Yes, I fit in well where I am. Our program is very open in terms of curriculum and instructors collaborate well together.

  2. Sounds hellish, Phil, and much worse than any situation I’ve ever been in. I’ve worked with colleagues and bosses with whom I have seen eye to eye and with those whose views were highly divergent from mine, but I guess I’ve been lucky never to have someone “pull rank” on me or try to get me to toe the line.

    I find now I am employed again (as opposed to free lance) I have more of a sense of tension between my preferred way of doing things and those of the organisation, but these are rarely – if ever – teaching based, usually more administrative. Lucky, I suppose…

    • Well, I did tone this one down a bit.

      That tension is a tough one.

      As I progress and get qualifications/experience it is hard not to look like you are showing off maybe. Just because you have … doesn’t mean you are better than someone else. I’ve seen this with DELTA/MA qual teachers and bosses who don’t have these quals or aren’t teachers at all. This is hard to ‘speak the same language’. This definitely causes tension but we can’t look like spoiled kids who think they know best. Having some balance is important and a boss who listens but the person paying your salary will probably have the final say. For this reason I’ve seen some freelancing do just about anything because they need the work. That is also tough.

  3. Firstly Phil, allow me to say how much I enjoy this blog. I find it provocative and well-written. That said, I also need to declare my interests – I am a DoS and whatever I write should probably be interpreted in that light.

    I had meant to write a reply to the post about what you would do if you were a DoS, but time separated me from my good intentions and I will now have to put an APB out on them. I was determined to respond to this one before the same happened!

    Ty asks why anyone would choose to work in a place like this and my first thought was that it’s important to acknowledge the subjectivity of this description. I doubt (I hope) that many of your co-workers would take issue with some of the representations that you have made. To contextualise it, this is merely your impression of what work is like at the moment.

    You say that you enjoy using English for communication, but you’re not too keen on meetings with your colleagues, it seems. This might be because they really are a waste of time, but as a DoS, I think it is very easy for teachers to become a bit precious about their Art and forget that they are also part of a team of workers who are trying to accomplish a common goal. Meetings are necessary to help people along the journey.

    You appear to say that you prefer the benevolent dictatorship of a benign DoS who decides the basics. Again, without knowing the context better, you might be describing a horror story where there is no direction whatsoever, but the way you have written it sounds to me like a DoS who is trying to ensure that people feel empowered to decide even these very basics. The arguing and discussion may come, I would suggest, more from the absence of common goals or a shared sense of purpose.

    You imply that your colleagues were wrong to think that you were criticising their courses. But, let’s be honest, this entire article is critical of them! What’s lacking from it is any self-criticism. Perhaps it would not be appropriate here? But might it not be that your critical stance manifested itself in your behaviour to your colleagues?

    In short, teaching is a major part of what we do – but we are naive if we think that we are private artisans, striving away in our workshops to produce exemplar English language users. We are team members, working together to achieve common goals. To do that, I am afraid, we need meetings, discussion, paperwork and…most importantly…collegiality.

    Forgive me if I am responding to a reality that you may not have been able to describe in its full richness. The comments of your co-workers that you have put forward -rather than the conjecture about their feelings or motivations which you have also included- suggests that your criticisms may be more objectively grounded than your limited time and space allowed you to discuss. But I hope you don’t mind me putting forward the other side of the coin – the side that says that meetings, discussion, decision-making etc are just as important (a strong statement, I know) as teaching.

    • Hi Diarmuid.

      Cheers. I’m a big fan of your Tao stuff too. I was going to do the same blog but found yours and it was so much better than what I had in mind.

      Well, in the interview the situation was not very clear and in fact what they said things were like ‘communicative, supportive etc’ were not actually as things were. This showed a very big difference between what was in the mind of the person/people in charge and the reality. There was also a big problem with who was in charge ie nobody but everybody. There was a revolving system of bosses so although there was one official boss the previous bosses were still running many things. Very confusing for us lower down the line, especially when these people just spent all day arguing over everything.

      Meetings

      Yes, I’m not a fan of 4/5/6 hour meetings or 3 meetings a week when NOTHING is decided. I like short effective ones where everyone contributes and works to help the students/courses. Not opportunities to argue or ‘win points’.

      Boss

      I’ve always just had 1 DOS before so I found having 4/6 a bit weird as I had to tell/ask them all if I wanted to change room and when they can’t agree or disagree just to annoy another, it gets a bit silly.

      My criticism

      Yes, I only figured out things by the end of the contract but I wasn’t told anything or given much training at the start. If someone had said ‘in meetings…’, ‘you have to do everything…’. In fact, that was the problem, I and 2 other teachers were hired to ‘bring in new ideas’ but when we did they were not welcome. I was also hired to set up and run a course that just made problems ie I was hired to fix all these problems and show everyone what to do/teach. But people did not take too kindly to it. Maybe I was not friendly or a ‘team player’ enough but I did put in very long hours, weekends, holidays etc. I think the issue was that these people had been together for over 20 years so fitting in, finding a place and becoming cohesive in a quick time was tough. Also me being EFL style of them being promoted high school, subject specialists and non-EFLers made it tough to speak the same language.

      Team

      I agree completely about the team bit. In fact, me and 2 other newish teachers worked together on setting up, designing, running and improving many many courses as we were eager and had lots of ideas. Some of these were welcomed and some not but there was a general response of ‘this is what we do’ which meant that 20 year old handouts were still copied.

      I’m sure this is very one-sided by as a new employee but as the other 2 teachers agreed, we needed to be integrated more and be supported. Being shouted at, ignored, criticised, asked to do things and then told they are wrong, drawn into personal fueds, used as a pawn in office power battles etc was not our idea of a good teaching/work environment.

      I do think that it is hard to join a dept that has been inexistence for a long time but a boss should give training in how things work and also evaluate, support and encourage staff. If there is a problem appraisals should be given and targets set. This isn’t just good management but being human. Staff make a school and they should (in my opinion) be nurtured.

      As you imply, this has made me reevaluate my way of working and as my first experience of working somewhere with a far higher admin to teaching ratio it has put me off working in such a place again. This is also one reason I would not like to move into management. I did so before but I still spent most of the time teaching. Yes, I trained/managed a few staff, but lightly.

      Thanks again.

    • Oh I just remembered that the secretary had a breakdown then came back 6 mths later for 3 hours. I’m not a doctor but I don’t think this is a good sign. Her reasons were ‘uncomfortable/dangerous working environment’. I’ve never seen this kind of thing before or since and if I ever become a DOS/manager I think I’ll try my hardest to make sure it doesn’t happen to any of my staff.

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