Today, I’m going to talk about something everyone loves: Bureaucracy and paperwork!

Moving to Italy, I expected bureaucracy to be a little less frustrating than it had been when I was living in China. I expected that my job, which had hired me, would be responsible for knowing the process and having at least a basic list of all the items that I’d need before arriving in the country.

They did not.

Multiple aspects of my life in Italy have reminded me, time and time again, that this is not an organised country in any way humanly possible (unless, I guess, you count organised crime?). If there is a single website that is dedicated to explaining different processes from the government (i.e., documentation required for immigration, fingerprinting services for identification purposes), I never figured out the correct search phrase to input.

The paperwork required, regardless of the country, always feels like one bizarre extra step.

When I started the process to move to Italy for work, I knew that I had to get a lot of documentation. There were some obvious pieces of documentation, as per the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website: a completed entry visa application for (only available in Italian), a recent passport-sized photograph, a valid passport with an expiry date three months after my visa, and a “nulla osta” for work.

I definitely had the passport, and the passport-sized photographs were pretty easy to obtain. I had no idea what I needed for my “nulla osta,” and I was struggling to fill out the entry application due to a language barrier. (Reminder: You do not need to speak Italian to move to Italy.)

I contacted the HR company working for my employer: “What are these? What do I need to do to get any of these things? Do I need something more?”

Their email was vague: “The lawyer will help you later. You need a declaration of valor.”

So I contacted them again: “Exactly what is a declaration of valor?”

Their response was infuriatingly curt: “You get it at a consulate.”

So I spent an evening searching for information on how to obtain a ‘declaration of valor,’ whatever that meant. It turned out that this is basically the way that Italy figures out your level of education in comparison to their system, despite the fact that there is no logical need to compare any of the school certifications you get. A high school diploma indicates that you completed high school, a Bachelor’s degree indicates you finished undergraduate studies, a Master’s degree indicates that you completed at least one kind of post-graduate studies. These things are not so different across the globe that they, from any country, really need to be evaluated in the immigration process.

So we start jumping through hoops.

Acquiring a ‘declaration of valor’ requires that you have all of your educational documentation evaluated against the Italian system, and it can be a lengthy process if you happen to have gone to schools in different jurisdictions. Which I did.

Anyway, what this means is that you can’t just get this at any Italian consulate; you have to get it at a very specific consulate that is “responsible” for your jurisdiction.

In more functional places, they may ask simply for your most recently acquired diploma. This would’ve been my Post-Graduate Diploma of Education and my Master of Environmental Management degrees. Except, Italy’s not really the most functional place. In order to evaluate my most advanced degree, I had to evaluate everything before it. Yes, everything! And that does include my high school diploma.

So the journey started:

First, I had to acquire copies of my transcripts and diplomas from my high school. This meant that someone had to go to my high school and put through a request to get these documents (because who the hell still has high school transcripts in their 30s?). These documents then needed to be notarised, in order to prove that they’re authentic (because apparently that is a thing that cannot be done when you receive them). After getting all of that, they then needed to be sent to have an Apostille attached to them so that the EU recognises that they’re authentic (because notarising them isn’t enough).

During the time that this was happening, my (very lovely) friend was translating copies of my high school paperwork into Italian so that we could send everything to the consulate to receive this ‘declaration of valor’ as soon as everything was returned. These would be sent to the Italian consulate in Chicago because my high school was in Illinois.

Oh, but there’s more!

Simultaneous to these events, I was also doing the same thing with my undergraduate university. At least with them, I was able to order copies of both my diplomas and transcripts online. These then needed to be notarised in Kentucky, as that is where I went to university. This started a fun process of:

Send degrees from Kentucky to Illinois (from the university).
Send degrees from Illinois to Kentucky (to receive notarisation).
Send degrees from Kentucky to Illinois (from the notary public).
Send degrees from Illinois to Kentucky (to receive the Apostille).
Send degrees from Kentucky to Illinois (from the Secretary of State).

The same friend translated these for me (because she’s super awesome). However, these would be sent to the Italian consulate in Detroit. However, they also needed to include the ‘declaration of valor’ for my high school diploma in order to be completed, meaning that we then had to wait to send these until the first one came back.

As I was living in China for all of this (because of my job at the time), my mother was amazing and took responsibility for handling everything for me.

Except, I had to continue with another process all at the same time with the Italian consulate in Sydney, where I completed my (really indebting) post-graduate studies. At least the Australian consulate was more logical than the United States consulate because:

United States consulates cannot, unless it is a federal document, provide notarisation services. This is ridiculous because there is literally no logical reason for this; they could easily contact the institution and verify its authenticity. This also includes Apostilles.
Australian consulates, on the other hand, complete Apostilles for all Australian documents, no questions asked. Just an abysmal fee for putting a sticker on a paper.

So I made an appointment with the Australian consulate, took my documents there and had Apostilles attached to my transcripts and diplomas (super ouch). These were kept for about a week and mailed back to me.

One more time, my friend translated the document for me. (Her patience throughout this process was so wonderful, and I would’ve struggled without her.)

While I was waiting for the translations, I contacted the Italian consulate in Sydney: “My diplomas are A3 and massive. I have certified copies from the Australian consulate, can I send those? They’re A4 and fit better into the envelope.”

The consulate responded: “Yes! As long as you have the Apostille copies for the immigration office in Italy, you can send us the certified copies instead.”

So I sent, via a lovely friend in Melbourne, all of my documentation for the Italian consulate in Sydney. I had to send it to her because the process required a registered envelope to send my documents back to me. You know, because the consulate doesn’t have enough money to spend on that when they charge you hundreds for an ultimately unnecessary process.

A week after everything arrived, they send me an email: “You need to send the Apostille copies.”

Quoting their email back at them, I ask: “Why did you tell me that I could send the certified copies instead?”

They respond, once more: “You need to send the Apostille copies.”

So I package my diplomas and send them to the consulate via a courier because they clearly weren’t going to change their mind on a second try, even if I quote them back the email that they sent to me. Italian institutions are really stubborn.

This entire process took roughly four months between all the sending paperwork between multiple places when, you know, the internet exists. Immigration bureaucracy is a ridiculous process; it doesn’t even seem to matter which country you’re in, but some are more ridiculous than others. All these rules to keep people out? It’s a little intense. And awful.

For those not keeping track, here’s the complete process of just doing my ‘declaration of valor’:

Go to high school to acquire diploma and transcripts.
Go to local notary public to notarise high school diploma and transcripts.
Send diploma and transcripts to Secretary of State (for Apostille).
Translate diploma and transcripts.
Send diploma, transcripts, and translations to Italian consulate in Chicago.
Order diplomas and transcripts from undergraduate university online (easiest part of the process).
Receive diplomas and transcripts in the mail.
Send them back to Kentucky to be notarised.
Receive the notarised copies.
Send them back to Kentucky again to get the Apostille from the Secretary of State.
Translate diplomas and transcripts.
Wait for and receive ‘declaration of valor’ for high school diploma and transcripts.
Send undergraduate diplomas, transcripts, and translations along with high school ‘declaration of valor’ to get the undergraduate ‘declaration of valor’ from Italian consulate in Detroit.
Go to Australian consulate to start the process of getting Apostille attached to postgraduate diplomas and transcripts.
Translate postgraduate diplomas and transcripts.
Receive the postgraduate diplomas and transcripts with Apostille.
Send everything to my friend in Australia so she could send everything with a paid registered envelope.
Friend sends everything to the Italian consulate in Sydney.
Fix the problems that the Italian consulate gave me because, hey, a certified copy totally is a forgery.
Wait for another month to receive postgraduate ‘declaration of valor’.

It angers me when I feel like I have to ‘give up’ on a student because my colleagues and I cannot find what brings them back to learning, what brings them back to appropriately participating with their peers, what makes them care about something or someone. I prefer the frustrating failed attempts at finding what makes that student connect with something or anyone, but only if we can figure out what that something or who that person is at a later date; I hate that feeling of making repeated attempts only to find nothing: no hint of progress, no sign of interest, nothing.

But that’s the kind of frustration I’m going through right now, along with my colleagues. Trying to figure out what kind of discipline works with this child (while being told that ‘positive’ discipline works, which is pretty applicable to most people), trying to find functional strategies by asking for help of people who are better equipped to handle these students (but being told that there’s nothing they can tell me until the family takes the first step to do something), and trying to be patient when all this student does is harm those around him (by ignoring and overstepping boundaries, through manipulation) has made me exhausted.

It makes me not look forward to that particular class, and it infuriates me because that one student consumes so much energy that I barely know the other children he’s spending his time disrupting, distracting, and harassing. He makes me so angry because I should know more about the other students, but I’m trapped with so few available options: stand over him and redirect him to complete things or kick him out repeatedly to benefit the others.

There are no good options right now. It’s not for lack of trying, but it’s for lack of options until someone else at another step does something. It’s not for lack of desire to find solutions, but it’s for a lack of consistent structure in the institution we’re working with. It’s not for a lack of wanting to keep the others safe, but it’s for a desire to improve profits. There are so many things working against allowing this child to function in the classroom, to create appropriate relationships with his peers, to even care about those around him.

I know all teachers have that moment where they feel like they can’t do their primary job: connect with students. This is one of mine; this is the most overt and obvious example of my inability to connect with a student.

But it’s not because I haven’t tried, it’s not because I don’t care. It’s because I’m lacking the support I need from so many angles, just as my colleagues are. I don’t want for us to “find ways to make him less disruptive;” I want to figure out how to help him care about something. Mostly, I want to find ways to make him care about other people.

Except I’m not sure how.

In my many years as an educator, I’ve come to recognise that we have some really archaic practices that we need to throw away because they help no one; there are a lot of practices that really make people disengage, and this is especially true with regards to professional development (PD).

So, as a fellow educator and as a person who has spent a lot of time collaborating and working with various friends on a number of professional projects online, I’d like to offer you a suggestion: Stop making people do group work in an environment where they are not aware it will happen.

Now, I’m not talking about separating people into forums of smaller groups to discuss issues and structures and actually create a smaller conversation that is, honestly, much more inviting and engaging. I am talking about forcing people to collaborate on a genuine project that, overwhelmingly, will mean nothing to us other than “Wow, this was a waste of my time. Glad I got that piece of paper to show I’ve put in some PD hours, even if it was worthless.”

When I sign up for an online PD, I’m expecting that it will cater to my needs as an individual taking a distance course; I won’t get matched up with people who aren’t even in my time zone, and I won’t be forced to rely on other people who have other life commitments (which, by the way, we can’t get rid of because it could be things like work or family or previous commitments that we made thinking we’d be studying for your PD a few hours a week) in order to complete the tasks. I’m free to complete the requirements within the deadlines while still at my leisure.

I don’t expect to have to, on short-notice, figure out how to do a full-fledged project with three other people scattered across the globe; I don’t expect to have to try to figure out how I’m supposed to quickly communicate with people on a collaborative research project outside of the PD forums (because sometimes PD is on really inconvenient platforms that literally have no group functionalities). I don’t expect to be made partially responsible for the work of others and whether or not they are capable of completing the assignment, something that can be hindered by a range of different issues other than our actual lives (lack of computer skills, disrupted internet, glitches in the online service).

The only thing I feel about these “group projects” is frustration and negativity. You’ve thrown us together without any advanced notice (not even in the first week so we could get ourselves organised, which you shouldn’t do as a teacher). Many of you fail entirely to consider time zones, regardless of where you exist. How do you expect people to feel less annoyed about doing this work when you’ve stuck them in a group without consideration for ability to communicate on short-notice, which is a key element of working collaboratively?

As someone living in Europe, it doesn’t make sense for me to work with someone in the US on such a minor project. Schools have started back up and people sleep. For hours of my day, I’m at work doing my job as a teacher; I come home, and I try my best to get through my online PD, to continue planning for my classes, to spend time with my partner, to take a break from work and relax (as I should be able to). When I go to sleep, they’re working. Our schedules, especially during the school year, are not compatible in the slightest; they are even less compatible when you don’t forewarn us about what we’re to do.

When I undertake collaboration with any of my friends, generally to work with them as a researcher and occasional script writer/editor for their podcasts or video essays, I make sure we have a planned schedule. We start looking at our lives weeks before we agree to do it; we make sure we know how busy we’ll be, how much time we can devote to the project, what issues might arise, and so on. We don’t just up and decide to do it without a plan and creating contingency plans for moments where something comes up. We figure out a deadline that, if we must, can move and what we can do if we don’t make it. There’s a reason for this.

It makes us miserable if we don’t. It frustrates us. It makes working together infuriating and impossible, even if we can work together under other circumstances. We start to feel like whoever is involved is unreliable, and we start viewing things negatively. We’re soured from that experience, and we start seeing things as useless, worthless, pointless. We see all the missed opportunities for growth and learning, even if that isn’t the immediate goal; we see how horrible the project that we create is, and we might decide to never show it (continuing that feeling of something being worthless).

So unless you want to plan these out in advance and communicate them to the participants, stop. You’re making it worse. It’s a box to tick and nothing more; people are doing something because they have to and getting nothing out of it.

And maybe that’s what the company wants, whatever. That’s capitalism for you. But maybe, just maybe, help make these box-ticking exercises more bearable for the people who are required to do them just to keep their jobs if you run them. Plan something earlier, let people know that a group project is part of the course, give people information and guidance.

Maybe pay a little attention to your environment. And adapt for it. Because if you’re an educator who can’t (or refuses to) adapt to the environment? And you’re teaching or mentoring other educators? You’re doing everyone a disservice.

Especially the students, even indirectly.

So stop burning us out and start planning better. Everyone’ll be happier, you’ll get your better reviews, and people will feel more knowledgeable on that aspect they spent time learning.

Signed,

An Incredibly Exhausted Educator

It has recently come to my attention – by which I mean, has annoyingly re-entered my consciousness for the umpteenth time and reminded me how absurd everything is – that our workplaces are not nearly as accepting of people who have personalities that are seen as “less appealing.” And ridiculously, this happens way too much in my field of work: education.

At first glance, it might seem that I mean we should be defending people who have a “difference of opinion” when it comes to talking about people of different races, cultures, religions, genders, etc., but I’m not. Those people are typically the bigots who, honestly, either need to learn that you cannot have opinions on whether or not someone is human or go away or be fired.

What I’m talking about is the continued hyper-focus on characteristics that are particular to extroversion, the lack of consideration for individuals with social anxieties and any range of mental illnesses, the lack of inclusion of people who have hidden disabilities and learning disorders, and the perpetual myth that we are inherently responsible for “feeling excluded” because we “haven’t tried hard enough.”

In a conversation with another colleague, I was made aware that my exclusion from the team was the result of things that were largely my fault and that “people who do not know me should not be expected to include me.”

In this discussion, she stated that I:

  • did not actively make attempts to engage groups of people;
  • did not appear noticeably interested or engaged with conversations or things that people would talk about;
  • did not take the initiative to attend after-hours get-togethers that were planned by other teachers and posted in a group on WhatsApp;
  • did not actively seek out a particular teacher who may have been helpful for a particular situation.

For the record, all of this was said to me by a teacher (or, at least, someone who pretends to teach but has zero qualifications). I find that disheartening, especially since we’re supposed to be in the profession of teaching our students inclusion, but our own staff can’t even do it on a superficial level.

Anyway, all of these are things that I can see, from another perspective or entirely in a vacuum, as being true to an extent. They are also things that have correlating responses that were never considered at any point in our time working together. Here are responses that I had in general terms:

Did that group of people ever think to actively engage the individual people who felt excluded in any way? If not, why?

Did they consider that someone could be uncomfortable with spontaneously approaching a group of people? If not, why?

Were they aware of how social anxiety can negatively impact the way a person thinks or perceives group dynamics? If not, why?

Did their body language show that they were willing to include someone? Or did it show that they were happier building walls and discouraging others from engaging with them?

Were they aware that language learners needed context and that conducting conversations entirely in a language other than the common language of the workplace would require more work, such as providing context (which promotes learning of the other language)? If not, why? [Example: In an international school where the common language is English but the local language is Italian, not all teachers will be immediately fluent in the local language and will require context clues to be included.]

Were the get-togethers diverse in interest? Or were they all the same activities, meaning that people who don’t feel comfortable in those environments for any reason are still excluded? [Example: If you constantly are planning things for bars where drinking is happening, you’re going to alienate non-drinkers, anyone who is uncomfortable with drinking, or recovering addicts.]

Did they ever make attempts to check-in on people at any point throughout the year? If not, why?

When asked for assistance by the ‘excluded individuals’ (who were simultaneously told to ‘seek out relevant people’ and made attempts to do so), did they actively make attempts to help them in any way at all? If not, why?

Now, in a work environment, I do not consider it the responsibility of the staff to take charge of building the community. I do consider it their responsibility to ensure that they are supporting and perpetuating systems that actively encourage inclusion, but it is by no means their responsibility to ensure that ‘team-building’ happens.

I consider that to be the responsibility of management. That isn’t to say that management needs to monitor and develop my friendships with my colleagues, but they need to provide numerous opportunities to ensure that every member on the staff feels at least somewhat comfortable with the others. This could be through optional weekend excursions to somewhere relevant (and, as a teacher, almost everywhere is relevant to my job); it could be through having two or three teachers with particular skills work together on developing a workshop for the others, showcasing another way of doing something. They could also ensure that the programs we develop for our performance days are more diverse and showcase multiple talents instead of opting toward the same few skills: children who are singing and dancing while a teacher hosts; this would get a range of volunteers for different activities instead of the same two or three people.

There are so many ways to foster a community that initially start entirely with management modelling them and also providing the funding to do them. As teachers in my high-priced tuition school, we develop residential trips so that the students create connections with each other. Why don’t we do that together? Why aren’t we modelling what we claim to (and in the case of some, actually do) teach our students? If you’re creating an environment that involves showing how to act instead of telling how to act, our issues decrease significant (both in terms of staff interactions and student behaviour).

Instead, my current management opted for this so-called ‘natural team-building’, which really was the development of friendship groups that turned into cliques. I do not consider having friends at work to be detrimental; in fact, having friends at work is frequently shown as being helpful (as long as they don’t stress us out). The problem with this form of ‘natural team-building’ is that, while some people were able to gravitate toward others who they were more likely to feel comfortable with, it left a few people in a position where they were seeking out others for survival; they were seeking out spaces that would allow them to work together and feel even a modicum of comfort. In short, ‘natural team-building’ in an artificially created environment doesn’t exist at all. It’s a cop-out for doing nothing, for being lazy, for not managing anything.

That isn’t to say that those friendships that were forged starting in survival rather than choice are bad; those friendships can be equally as strong (and maybe stronger, due to shared frustrations). Maybe these people actually end up with others who they’d have originally gravitated toward in the first place, or they learn to like and stick up for each other.

However, the entire structure only highlighted the lack of cohesion and the extreme division between the groups. Who can they trust? Probably those in their immediate circle. Can they trust the people who they perceive as excluding them? Maybe, but they’re not sure so they feel really insecure in their position and with their colleagues. How do they figure out who can be trusted? Perhaps they choose not to trust anyone and keep to themselves, or they go full-on and try to trust people in the other groups (getting mixed results), or they play games and feed information to one person to see where it ends up.

None of these are healthy for a workplace, especially if that workplace is a school. And they’re all so easy to deal with.

But only if you have the structures in place to do so.

Sometimes I wish that people were better at taking or giving criticism or recognising suggestions rather than associating them with insults and automatically taking a defensive position. It creates a hostile work environment that decreases motivation, especially when you’re constantly given the same handful of responses: Having it thrown back in your face and placing the blame back on you, as if you’re the problem. Being told to be patient and wait because it’ll get better after ‘new blood’ is injected into the environment… eight months later.

Perhaps it’s the culture many of us have grown up in, where it’s difficult to receive genuine criticism on your policies and actions without a so-called feminist icon being misogynist and saying you need to get rid of your ill-fitting jackets and that you have a ‘big arse’ [video] (immediately after claiming you’re good at your job, somehow missing the fact that they just negated any compliment prior) and then defending why they said you have a fat arse instead of apologising for their comments. Add to it that women, people of colour, and many openly and out queer people are often the people who receive most unsolicited advice from people who haven’t quite listened to the problem or the actual concerns of the person, and the people who provide the advice act as if everything they’re saying is novel and has never been considered before.

Before I have to fend off the #NotAllSomething crowd, cisgendered white men love giving unsolicited advice to everyone else. Straight people definitely enjoy telling queer people how to exist. White people, we love expressing how people of colour should do a thing (presumably to make us comfortable). Able-bodied people love telling physically disabled people how to do a thing, while people without mental illnesses or learning disabilities pretend they’re really good at knowing how people with mental illnesses or learning disabilities should function or conform. We all give unsolicited advice, but some people give it out a lot more without having the lived experience to even give solicited advice to people from specific demographics.

For example: I’m a non-binary queer/bisexual person who lives with ADHD and dyslexia; I’ve been diagnosed as having high anxiety (especially social anxiety) and depression. I’ve also been fat for most of my life. I do not need men to tell me what to do ‘as a woman’ (because I present feminine), and I do not need straight people to explain to me how to ‘express my queerness’. People without ADHD, dyslexia, anxiety, or depression do not need to tell me how to cope with these things (unless they are a trained professional with whom I’m working to address them, which makes it solicited advice). I do not need people to send me weight-loss regimens because if I want medical advice? I can go to a fucking doctor.

As a white person, I do not get to pester any person of colour with advice on how they should exist.

Unfortunately, because so many of us deal with constant unsolicited advice due to having a perceived deficiency, sometimes it’s harder for us to actually recognise what we’re getting as a relevant suggestion (such as the ever-constant ‘how can we make the work place more inviting’) or useful criticism (including classics like ‘if you are going to make a big deal out of student privacy, it would also be nice if you practised privacy for your staff’). But we do need to figure out how to decipher the useful criticism and functional suggestions from the garbage we get elsewhere.

In a work environment, it is an absolutely vital skill to have. It is also easier to figure out what is actual criticism (‘she needs to focus more on building a cohesive staff because cliques are becoming an issue and having negative impacts’) and what is useless drivel that needs to go find a hole and bury itself (‘it would be nice if she would smile more’). As a person in a leadership role, if someone working for you lodges a complaint that they feel undervalued and neglected by the staff, it is worth considering why they feel that way and examining those reasons. Instead of immediately telling them to ‘be patient’ and ‘deal with it’, instead of explicitly stating that ‘new people will make things better next year’, instead of blaming them for ‘not involving themselves more’ or ‘not participating in events’, it is far better to figure out the exact problems. Many people love focusing on the symptoms instead the cause.

IBO's Learner Profiles, outlining the 10 traits that 'make a learner'.

As a teacher in an IB school, it’s highly ironic that I even have to suggest people reflect on their actions to figure out why others feel the way they do. (Credit: IBO / PDF)

Did that particular person try to volunteer for events but get pushed out because a clique made it difficult to have an opinion? Or did they actively stay away from them? If so, why? Were they volunteered for something without consideration for their current workload rather than given an option to participate or asked politely? If you observe meeting structures, do you hear people complaining about the specific work they do in a snarky and attacking manner and frequently without including them? Do you, as a manager, take the word of someone else and place blame on the other without even hearing their side of things? You might get a larger picture if you take a few minutes to reflect on these things.

In a leadership position, if you are hearing talk about ‘cliques or groups causing problems’, it is in your best interests to address it sooner rather than later. For employees who are negatively impacted (overlooked, excluded, or demotivated), it is not enough to simply tell them to ‘be patient and wait for new people to join next year’ or that ‘the schedule next year will fix it’. While the problem may not have an immediate resolution, seeing that you’re doing something will make people more willing to trust that you are trying to find better options. Even if we have to be patient for those Better Options to work, we are more likely to believe in them and to trust your decisions.

Do not do nothing or appear to do nothing; show us that you’re working on finding solutions, even if it’ll take time for them to work. Do not tell your negatively impacted employees to ‘try harder to join in’, especially when you also claim that you ‘see how the cliques are affecting the work environment’. Do not let the clique continue as they are, as it hasn’t been working and is making people more uncomfortable; you will lose employees, and that is a waste both in terms of loss of talent and in having to both find and train someone to fit the role again (while also trying to help them fit in with or reluctantly tolerate the clique environment). Do something. Ask negatively affected people for their opinions first. Talk to cliques and split them up when scheduling duties.

Also, be straight-forward with your own criticisms of staff behaviour. Perhaps it’s the fact I’ve chosen to spend my career as a teacher or maybe it’s the fact that I’m a person who requires others to be more blunt than usual, but it is beyond exhausting to have to decipher half-messages about things that are going badly or what people did wrong. I hate it, students hate it. Honestly, I think most people hate having to try to figure out what’s wrong or what the problem even is. If you can’t directly explain why something is an issue, being a manager probably isn’t for you.

Once upon a time, I had a school manager who liked to overstep boundaries and, whether she intended to or not, undermine the authority of teachers on her staff. When she heard that two of my students took my keys while I was dealing with student drop-off, locked a third student in the classroom, and then hid my keys in a disused locker, she decided that she wanted to come talk to my students about how it was irresponsible. Ignoring the fact that I already dealt with this problem, as it was a classroom/behaviour management issue, frustrated me; I told her that I’d already dealt with it and would contact her should it happen a second time, but she still wanted to come up and talk about it with my students. For me, this showed that she did not trust in my ability as a teacher. After voicing my frustration, I shrugged, said whatever, and she came to my lesson to discuss the problem.

Except she didn’t. She gave them some vague speech about how you should respect other people’s property and that teachers needed some feeling of safety to leave their things on their desks and not have students touch them. She was so vague that my one native-speaking English student didn’t understand her at all. He literally stopped her and said, “Excuse me, I have no clue what you’re talking about. What happened?”

Even the three boys involved had no clue she was talking about them until I asked her to stop and explained to them, asking questions: “Something happened this morning where two people took and hid my keys. Do you remember this event? Could you explain it to me?” At that moment, they realised what it was that she was talking about. At no point did she directly reference the event that happened, at no point did she explicitly state what was an inappropriate and irresponsible action. Had I not intervened — which, by the way, decreased her level of authority in the eyes of my students — they would not have understood what the problem was and why it was inappropriate behaviour.

When I hear this kind of discussion from managers with adult staff members, it infuriates me. If you have adults on your team who refuse to acknowledge their behaviour is hurting others, they are the people you need to focus on. You need to call them out for it, either directly and personally or by calling out the behaviour, because they need to recognise that the person in a leadership position sees how they’re acting and what it is doing to others. You can’t just say things like ‘I see how some groups are affecting staff morale’ or ‘some people have said I’m playing favourites with the duty rota’. Directly address the issues. And do it in a way that puts your staff down, saying ‘Person A can only do this because they can’t teach science’ or ‘Person B can only teach music’. It makes it sound like we have no other useful skills and are just being under-utilised because we’re useless (which isn’t true at all).

And by the way, don’t get defensive. Please.

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