The human factor

Couldn’t seem to do anything quite right today, and oh, there was a lot to do.  Hilda van Gleck asked me to step in for Dinah this morning and I didn’t realize that there weren’t enough quizzes to hand out to her class.  Was vague and spacy in my planning meeting with Sebastian (new pseudonym for ABD Guy).  Didn’t assign homework to my own first class.  Left the homework for my second class sitting on my desk in my own room (it’s one of Gamma’s classes and I teach it in her room).  Students in that class bombed a reading quiz.  Forgot that my class at the end of the day hadn’t gotten quite as far in Hamlet as I thought they had, and hence gave them a handout they don’t need yet.

Oh, I guess I did do a couple of things right: I had a good short meeting with a student who really struggles to write even the briefest of essays, and I went to a committee meeting at the end of the day and made one useful comment.  Okay.

I also had a conversation with Romola, who was stewing over a perceived slight from Dorothea–she’d flaked out on a ninth-grade meeting that she’d already rescheduled with Romola and Sebastian.  I had a hard time seeing this as a big deal, because Dorothea only teaches one ninth-grade class and Romola and Sebastian, who teach four each, don’t really need her there to plan.  And I am sympathetic because Dorothea is covering a Gamma class and I know she’s finding it a strain.  Also, with the Gamma class she has four preps, which is ridiculous.  But Romola was personalizing the flaking out, and seeking advice (she said, “Can I ask you something partly as a chair, and partly as a friend?”–on which more in a moment).  She seemed to feel she should have a heart-to-heart with Dorothea, but I really felt, why?  It will only make Dorothea–who is not, in general, flaky–feel that she is dropping balls.  I suggested that in Romola’s place, I would consider two approaches:

1. Say nothing for now, but reconfirm the next meeting with a clear agenda (“We’re meeting on Tuesday to finalize the test, right?”).  There is unlikely to be flaking, but if there is, deal with it: “You’ve missed the last two meetings.”

2. If you really want to say something, use the “This isn’t like you” approach: “I can’t remember the last time you had to cancel a meeting.  Just wanted to check in and see how you’re doing with things.”

But damn, I would not go there right now.  I hope I was able to convey this to Romola without sounding dismissive.  I also tried to reinforce her authority as the lead teacher in the course, and to reassure her that she doesn’t need Dorothea there to make decisions.  Thinking back, the only thing I wish I’d done a little differently was label the parts of my advice: “As your chair, I hear your concern…As your friend, I would advise…”  Something to think about, especially as I’m still figuring out how to inhabit this role.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Bardiac on October 15, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    I think your idea of labeling your advice is really smart. And also trying to get Romola to see Dorothea’s lapse as likely unintentional, and not a slight. Does Dorothea have a history of treating Romola badly? Is something up with Romola that she’s taking stuff this way?

    It sounds to me like you’re doing a fine job!


    • Posted by meansomething on October 16, 2013 at 2:27 am

      Thanks, Bardiac! Dorothea and Romola are friends, and in general I would have said that they treat one another well and get along fine, except that Dorothea is not one of those reassuring emotional-check-in women, and Romola is, in general, inclined to take things personally. When she and I shared a room, I noticed that she does find slights where likely none were intended, and I frequently found myself urging her to consider that the perceived slight might just have been someone being preoccupied, or overwhelmed, or whatever; anyway, Not About You.


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