Don’t be a jerk

I sent out an email reminding everyone (and letting the newbies, Orsino and Sebastian, know) that the headmaster and the GGE like relatively rapid feedback from us during the course of a job candidate visit.  Both the new guys have worked most recently in higher ed, so I went out of my way to let them know what wouldn’t happen: no department meeting, no departmental vote.  We send in our thoughts, and as chair, I express the most specific opinion regarding whether to hire right away, not hire, or wait and see whom else we see.  Since we have someone coming on Friday, and Wednesday’s candidate doesn’t appear to be considering other offers at the moment, we probably won’t move instantly, but last year, for example, Sebastian got his job offer at about 2 pm on the day of his visit.  We were all going about our days teaching and doing the usual stuff, but the emails were flying thick and fast.  It’s one of the things that make these days so exciting!

I went back through my logged email and reread the conversations around our last few candidates–Sebastian, then Orsino and Dinah the year before (remember, the GGE offered the 2012-13 job to Dinah and then hired Orsino in November of 2012 to begin August of 2013), and a few people who didn’t thrill us, plus the one we tried to hire who went somewhere else.  What excited me was that all of the emails about Sebastian, Orsino, and Dinah very accurately pictured who they are as teachers–they were hardly different from what I think we would say now, after three semesters with Dinah and one each with Orsino and Sebastian.  It gave me tremendous confidence in our ability to recognize good teaching that will work well in this environment (and all three of them are reasonably different from one another, so we must be able to appreciate something of a range).

It also made me think that my direct questions should focus on developing a sense of whether the candidates will be good colleagues.  I did some freewriting about this while my students were writing today, trying to get at what I mean when I say someone is collegial–I like someone who has a secure sense of their own interests and values, but who is able to take other people’s perspectives, too, and be flexible when flexibility is needed.  Someone with good boundaries and good instincts about what’s appropriate when dealing with kids, especially in tricky situations.  It occurs to me that one litmus test is how you respond when a kid complains to you about another teacher–how you listen to that student, ask them what they have done so far about the situation, coach them on what to do next, while also not speaking unprofessionally about a colleague and requiring that the student speak with respect as well.

But as Orsino pointed out in another context, it kind of boils down to “Don’t be an asshole,” although after I finished laughing, I said that people can actually be plenty of kinds of difficult without actually being assholes.  Insecurity, as I think I’ve mentioned before, can be disabling in a colleague, even a pretty nice one.  I might prefer a little bit of assholery to a serious helping of insecurity.  I hope we can get someone who is not an asshole without being insecure.  Someone who cares about literature (I always like it when people actually share my tastes, but if I’m being perfectly honest, it’s probably even better if they have different tastes, as long as they’re not execrable; one of the great things about hiring is people bringing in terrific new books).  Someone who likes kids.  I’m pretty sure we’ll know the good teaching when we see it.

I hope.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. So helpful of you to have told the higher ed folks what will be different about the hiring! A couple of years ago, I was working myself up to be in a snit about our hiring process when it occurred to me to ask a friend who’s been in HS for a long time; she told me that at FGS we actually get a lot of input compared to other schools, which was good for me to know since I was thinking we weren’t having enough input.

    Here’s the one thing I’ve learned to be wary of in potential colleagues: how given are they to sarcasm? We have one person now in her third year at FGS who is great in all kinds of ways but who can be really sarcastic with students in a way that can really hurt their feelings; I’ve seen a similar characteristic in a couple of math teachers. I really hold to sarcasm being a weapon of the weak against the strong, and I think it isn’t playing fair for teachers to be sarcastic with students unless it’s obviously in an atmosphere of good cheer (which it isn’t in any of these cases). But I didn’t see that sarcasm when we interviewed her, so I’m not sure how one assesses it ahead of time.

    Anyway, I hope that candidate visits go well!

    Reply

    • Posted by meansomething on February 13, 2014 at 3:02 am

      The GGE seemed taken aback that I invited both Orsino and Sebastian to watch the candidate today, given how recently they have joined us, whereas I think they are in a special position to assess an outsider, having so recently been outsiders themselves.

      The sarcasm issue is a good one, although I’m sure most candidates are able to suppress theirs. I was talking with today’s candidate about Lucinda’s class, which the candidate observed, and about Lucinda’s amazing ability to be quite blunt with the kids. It’s part of her persona, and they don’t take it personally; in fact, they adore her the way kids will adore an older kid who roughhouses with them. She isn’t sarcastic, though. I agree that sarcasm is pretty corrosive in a school environment (in the direction of teachers to kids; I like your formulation of it as a weapon of the weak against the strong).

      Reply

  2. […] Not like harassment complaints or anything (which I haven’t gotten but would personally take seriously and bump up an administrative level), just teaching kinds of complaints (which meansomething considers a litmus test). […]

    Reply

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