The elephant vanishes

Perhaps you remember my colleague Alpha and my concerns about her.  Turns out she’s not returning next year.

This is, I think, partly why none of us have heard for sure what we would be teaching next year–because now everything will get reorganized around this change.

I will tell you what I said to Stubb about six months ago: “It’s a pity, really, that she’s so hard to work with and annoys so many people, because she has real strengths as a teacher.”

And what he said to me: “I’ve worked with a lot of people who are good at what they do, but when they can’t do it with other people, it doesn’t matter how good they are.”

I think that the Lesson of Alpha is this: You can’t decide that you will only work well–or at all–with people with whom you feel kinship, or people who you think Get It and share your view of The Way Things Are.  You actually need to engage with, be open to, learn from people who do not see the world (the classroom, the curriculum, the school community) the way that you see it.  Yes, there will be the occasional person that you have to not engage with, because that person is not constructive or completely entrenched or batshit crazy, but that person is the exception, not the rule.

4 responses to this post.

  1. Goodness, that is a turn of events! I hope the department will be a more tranquil place next year without that element of mean-spiritedness.

    The Lesson of Alpha is a good one to remember, especially since teaching high school seems to involve so much more working with others than my college jobs have done. (Case in point: At FGS, department meetings are scheduled every two to three weeks; my departmental colleagues are always complaining about how seldom we get to meet as an entire department, whereas I think we meet all the damn time! Clearly we have different expectations.) So one of my personal goals for the last two years has been to work on my own sense of collegiality, to avoid being irritated with colleagues (I always try to avoid expressing it, but I’m trying not to feel it as well), and, importantly, not to internalize it when any of them seems irritated with me. This last point is the trickiest for me, so I guess I’ve got more work to do on it next year.


  2. Posted by meansomething on June 23, 2009 at 8:43 pm

    Do you find that there’s just more friction, generally? The dynamic feels more intimate, like there are just more sparks–people crab at each other, then drop it, or bury it for a while. I remember sitting down at a computer in the faculty workroom where there was an abandoned, half-eaten plate and asking one of the Spanish teachers if he knew whose it was (thinking perhaps someone had stepped away for a moment)–instantly he flared, “Oh, it’s [another Spanish teacher]’s–she always leaves her food around for other people to pick up!” I was startled by his vehemence–and yet I frequently see the two of them chatting and laughing; maybe they’re not the best of friends, but they don’t seem to avoid each other.

    There’s just so much contact! People really know if you are having a bad day–it’s hard to hide.


  3. I find that there’s more friction in a personal way and less in an institutional way. That is, there don’t seem to be factions at FGS, and there aren’t observable political machinations (such a nice change!). But at the day-to-day level, there does seem to be more friction, as well as more genuine good feeling, because our work lives are all so intertwined. The community of faculty seems to matter more.

    In the English department at St. Martyr’s, there was the grumpy old curmudgeon, the terrible teacher, and the guy who never pulled his weight in departmental service; and heck, maybe we had the hothead new professor also! 🙂 These people’s foibles were public knowledge and even sometimes public discussion, but they didn’t really affect other people’s work lives except probably the chair’s. But at FGS, most people in the English department seem very concerned about other people’s pedagogies, service obligations, etc., because somehow it feels as though other people’s work affects our own work, and that obsessive interest in how other people are doing their jobs often brings implicit or even explicit judgment. And on the one hand what the sophomore teachers do does affect me the next year when I have those students as juniors; on the other hand, that was really just as true when I was teaching college, so I’ve decided I need to disengage from that particular obsession with and those judgments about how other people are doing their jobs. So that’s one of my goals for next year.

    On the plus side, I also enjoy the company of my colleagues far more now, in part because there aren’t political factions; so lunchtime at FGS is always one of the highlights of the day. So I’ll take the pluses of HS teaching any day, despite the attendant minuses.


  4. […] in part because of the tonal issue in the letter (it reminded me, faintly but unmistakably, of Alpha), and in part because I didn’t see anything in the letter and resume that would be really […]


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