Here is a great article on Nit Picking in the office.
Since my last post I have forgotten to turn off the lights after using a classroom to sort papers, forgotten a dish in the sink as I rushed to class, and accidentally hit Mrs. K with the door. And to be clear, I did not rip the door off of it's hinges and beat her with it. She was standing behind it, totally unexpected because nobody ever stands there with the trashcan for company.
For each of these infractions my reputation as a teacher has flashed before my eyes. Minor does not matter. We are the non-light-turn-offers, the non-computer-turn-offers, the scum of the office by turns. It wasn't until after I was un-lumped and then re-lumped (these are technical terms) several times, that I was finally able to put my finger on this maddening sense of "not right."
M. is our sort of manager. Her power is asserted over non-essential things like Monday cleaning and who is the worst employee of the week, but never abdicated on things that she may be held accountable for. She and S. would single staff out over these small things. And as long as we all bought their premise-- the unimportant was important--they had power to dictate the worst employee of the week while acting as they were never guilty of any of these infractions.
Understanding the issue at hand also meant facing my part in the game. I gotten upset when somebody didn't do the smallest thing. I had demeaned other staff for minor things. I had been mean to S. and ThatGuy to avoid having a target painted on my back. It sounds so ugly when I put it into words, but it was. I was. A good part of that sense of not right came from my internal sense of right and wrong. I had been acting counter to my own moral code to appease people who were never going to like/ approve of me. Yikes. So I set about changing. I became the office Switzerland and in turn, I became the third least favorite of M. and S., and with the two least favorites on their way out the door, I started to worry. ( that's what I do). Would I become the scum of the office? What was everyone saying behind my back? Did everyone hate me? What could I do to fix this... that didn't involve treating ThatGuy and A. like crap? Nothing? Oh, my God, I'm powerless!
But I wasn't powerless. We always have a choice, even when we're between a rock and a hard place. I had an article. The article refuted that logic better than I could have and also with more authority. So, I shared it with everyone. Actually, that is a summation of what I did. The point is, that words have power. And they don't have to be your own words nor does everyone have to read it. In my case, the two people who needed to read it the most didn't, but the one person with real power did. She shared it with the people above her and now, not only are the people in the office asking "is this a big picture or a minute issue" but so are people higher up.
I've written about a particular co-workers here and here and here. What I haven't written about is how he has changed. After eight months of ignoring advice from everybody in the office, he finally got the clue and changed. Unfortunately he waited to change until after the number of students quitting because of him was brought the principal's attention. In the last two months, he has developed report with the students and started acting like a leader, but in a case of too little too late, he isn't being resigned.
I wouldn't mind if he stayed. I like how he is these days. He never was a bad person, just clueless. What surprises me though is how many people in the office can't see the change. Or perhaps, it's more than that. There's a "there must be a bad guy" mentality at the center. Even though he has changed, he's treated unfairly for every mistake.
I had an epiphany of sorts the other day. I've been a bit forgetful recently. Like not hugely forgetful, but about three weeks ago, I forgot to turn off the lights in the office. Then, the next week I forgot to turn off the computer in the restaurant classroom. And then on the day of my epiphany, I forgot to turn off my desktop.
Because I have forgotten those things, I've suddenly found myself being treated as if I was a terrible worker. Never mind the 1001 moving parts of the center that I remember. I am bad. It struck me then that I've been having this feeling when That Guy gets treated badly. It's, Thank God it's not me. Then I realized that I had been participating. Yikes!
Way back when I first started getting good at horseback riding an instructor said to start each day as a blank slate. Forget what the horse did before and ride him as he is now. I carried this over into my teaching. No matter what I student does one day, tomorrow was a new day. And it worked. Instead of treating kids how I thought they might be, I treated them how they were. However, I haven't been doing that with my co-workers.
The thing is, when you carry an expectation, your interactions are colored by those expectations, which can cause expectation fulfillment. There is a positive side to this when, on rare occasions, people and/or animals fulfill your good expectations. But far too often, we remember the one time Mr. Ed was afraid of the bucket in the corner. We forget the 1001 times Mr. Ed trotted past the bucket fine, and, because we are worried about the bucket, Mr. Ed will begin to worry about it too.
I think it's part of human nature. We tend to remember one negative moment and forget the positive ones. So I'm going to challenge you (dear readers) and myself to wipe the slate clean, to write a blank check each day for someone you work with or a pet that's driving you crazy or your mother. To do this for one week.
Mariel R. is an ESL teacher, horse trainer, writer, editor, sporadic blogger, and lover of beer. She lives in South Korea with two cats, three horses, a German Shepherd and 17 chickens.
Bear (Gom in Korean) then (above) now (below)
Geumbi (Goldy in English) R.I.P February, 23, 2018