This side of paradise

Some things are happening, while other things are getting ready to happen.

How’s that for an update?

I’m finding these transitional weeks very odd.  NLNRU is doing pretty much what it’s supposed to–we’re entering the third week of classes–and I would have said the collaborative teaching thing was going pretty well until about three hours before last week’s class.  We set it up so that we were taking turns leading the big group sessions, according to our areas of competence, and then breaking out into the smaller workshops.  I was the one charged with leading the first two big group sessions, which is also fairly sensible because I’ve taught the course the most and probably have the firmest sense of what needs to get introduced early on.

And then, last week, several hours before the second meeting, one of my co-instructors emailed the other two of us, enthusiastically proposing  a major change to the evening’s plan.  I can’t really go into the specifics, but I can say that I certainly understood why my colleague thought it was a good idea–it wasn’t crazy or weird or anything.  I didn’t want to do it, though.  I had planned my part, and I didn’t want to set it aside, and I didn’t want to introduce that material at this juncture.  I also thought that since we will certainly be changing the syllabus at points along the way, probably to meet for longer periods in the smaller groups, it was better to stick to the game plan early on and not give the students the impression that we’re so improvisational that we need to start changing things up in session 2.  Unified front, and all that.  Oh, and it involved asking a fourth colleague to come in and discuss a subfield of particular expertise with the students.  And one thing I think I’ve learned about this course is that while guest speakers are a part of the plan, they seem to work better once the class has really jelled as a group and developed some questions and interests and recurring themes.

I also felt, and my colleague may not have thought about this, that I had the veto on this, since it was “my” session in the first place.  In fact, now that the course is planned and underway, any one of us should be able to veto a change to the plan that we made, quite harmoniously, together.

Anyway, there was some email, and then the same colleague kept trying to phone me while I was meeting with students, and finally, about three and a half hours before class, I called back and was met by an absolute barrage of hostile questions.  Why didn’t I think this was a good idea?  What was my problem with it, really?  I was narrow and intolerant for excluding the fourth teacher.  In fact, it was disrespectful not to invite this person.  (The one thing I wish I’d said–and I didn’t say much, because I was so shocked and striving for a level tone–is that it’s not respectful to issue guest-speaker invitations at the last minute, either.)  Finally, an exasperated acquiescence–“FINE” in that tone that means not fine at all–and a hangup.


Now, I know this colleague can be impulsive and testy, but this is a few steps beyond what I’ve ever witnessed.  I took some deep breaths and wrote the most cordial email I could muster to both colleagues, informing #3 that as I’d just told #2 on the phone, although I understood that we would be missing an opportunity, I wasn’t comfortable with the change and wanted to proceed as planned.  I thanked them both for understanding and said I’d see them soon.

My hands were still trembling as I sent the email.

And in fact I’m still kind of confused.  What was that all about?  Why was #2 so vehement?  What happened to what I thought was a good, even warm working relationship?  Why was the attack so personal?  Was it, in fact, quite as personal as it felt?  I know that #2 has been enduring a couple of different life stresses lately.  I also suspect that #2 had actually gone ahead and invited the fourth colleague without telling #3 and me, and was embarrassed to have to go back and uninvite #4.  But if so, not my problem.  (Actually, if the invitation had already been issued, I would have been irked, but I also would have considered that it was out of my hands, and would have reshaped my plan and done the best I could.  I would certainly not have rescinded it.)

Number 3 showed up soon after that, and we chatted (me fairly calmly) about the evening’s plan.  I said that my gut instinct had been that it would be a mistake to change the plan, and #3 nodded and said, “Gotta go with your gut.”  And actually, yes, I am pleased that I followed my instincts on this.  I refrained from saying that #2 had spewed at me over the phone.

And Number 2 showed up, bearing cupcakes for the office (SERIOUSLY, CUPCAKES) and in what appeared to be reasonably high spirits, and was PERFECTLY CHARMING TO EVERYONE, NO MORE OR LESS SO TO ME, which I found, not to put too fine a point on it, WEIRD.

The three of us talked about the evening and about the next week, I gave them the handouts to peruse before class, and then I went off to eat dinner by myself and try to shake off the weirdness of it all.

The class went just fine.


4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Pym Fan on September 6, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    Jeez! Any chance #2 has multiple personality disorder? I’m not sure I like the cupcake personality any more than the spewing-on-the-phone personality. My hat is off to you for managing to handle that whole thing so calmly!


  2. Oh my gosh, what a distressing incident! I’m impressed that class went well despite all of the drama beforehand, but how awful that you had to go through it.

    You know, I can imagine blowing up at a colleague; it would take just the right combination of factors, but it’s not outside of the realm of possibility. In fact, now that I think about it, I did once blow up at my FGS department chair, under considerable provocation. But what I can’t imagine is then pretending that it never happened! When my department chair and I had a yelling sort of fight, we then processed the heck out of that fight, crying and talking and on and on. And yet I’ve had two colleagues (one at St. Martyr’s, one at FGS) blow up at me in somewhat public ways, and both of them took the approach afterward of just carrying on afterward as though it had never happened. And they didn’t even have the courtesy to bring cupcakes! The nerve!

    I’m glad that things are back to “normal” now, although I can’t imagine that you’ll ever feel toward #2 quite as you did. How could you, really?


  3. Posted by meansomething on September 7, 2011 at 6:33 am

    Thanks, friends. I actually talked it over today at SA with Dr. Tea, who reminded me how our former colleague Alpha did blow up like that at Dr. Tea, and although the two people are fairly different, the common element is that they each personalized something that wasn’t meant to be personal.

    Come to think of it, they also both acted as if it had never happened!

    PymFan: I know that #2 can be a bit explosive; it wasn’t completely out of character. I do think the emotional intensity of it was partly a reaction to other stresses.

    WN?, I am really a bit sad about this because I did like #2 and now I can’t imagine getting back to a feeling of ease when we’re together.

    But I’m sure more will be revealed!


  4. […] six and go to bed.  I had to go to an NLNRU barbecue at the home of the cranky colleague of this post, but the Snork Maiden hung out at my sister’s and Stubb met me at the bbq after his […]


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