Sorry for judging

The picture is still vivid in my mind, as is the emotion I felt when I saw it. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Here was an experienced teacher (and one I was officially and tacitly expected to model myself after) doing this kind of shit. I was at my desk and he was in the middle of the room, at the Director’s Desk, with the folder of grades for the term in front of him. As he entered the scores you could see him thinking about what to enter. He had that sort of looking-up-and-to-the-right-and-making-things-up-as-he-went-along  look. It was like I could see him matching the students to the score that he was creating right then and there on the spot.

I was aghast. I was something close to disgusted. I was shocked.
Most of all, though, I was feeling superior.
How could I, the guy with a fucking spreadsheet full of scores dutifully compiled throughout the term, be asked to follow this guy as a model?  It was shocking and unprofessional. It was not fair and it was not right.
gavel
18 months later I did a similar thing.
I am not exactly proud of it, but I could see how such a thing could happen (especially, in fairness, in a place like this where grades didn’t matter at all or mean anything). I have been in this TESOL racket for 15 years and I have seen a lot and I have judged more than my fair share. In this post, I’d like to share some things I have judged in the past but now don’t have such a big problem with. I’d also like to retroactively apologize to those I judged for such things. Better late than never. Sorry. Below are some of the things that drew my judgment and ire but I have since decided might not be so horrible or at least think the perpetrators might have some solid reasons for doing.
Saying “That’s not my job.” 
I am not sure exactly why this bothered me so but it did. I think I had deeply ingrained beliefs about hardworkers and teamplayers being needed and wanted in the workplace. When I was younger I heard lots of teachers say this to what seemed to me like reasonable requests from admin. I thought the teachers were out of line and I thought it was unprofessional. You know, just do what you are asked and move on. I have surely changed my mind on this. I think people are hired to do the job they are hired to do and anything more than that is a new conversation and a new negotiation and a new agreement. I think it can be an extremely slippery slope when additional responsibilities are added without further payment or a decrease in other responsibilities and I think English teachers need to be aware of this. I am not saying we need to be recalcitrant but rather cognizant of the potential for increasing burdens without compensation. Inches can turn into miles if we are not careful and I think these teachers were aware of this and their actions and words made sense.
(I’d also note that sometimes it is easier and better to just do the thing and move on)
Making (to my eyes and brain) horrible materials/plans etc. 
In the past, when I was in a new jobs, I was very critical of lesson plans and materials and things that were passed down to me from previous teachers. I think part of it was the feeling I’d be expected to use something made by someone else that might not work for me. There was probably the ego and “I can do better” attitude at play here as well. With more experience I can see maybe the materials they passed down were not the best stuff or were not exactly what they’d used. I think it is hard to judge such things by just how they look in my hand or on my screen months after the fact.  A very intricate backstory is a possibiltiy with materials and maybe teachers were in a neguices-type situation and just passed along any old thing and figured the next teacher/sucker can sort it out on their own. After all, many things are shyte for a reason. 
Using (to my eyes and brain) horrible materials/plans etc. 
Sometimes it is out of the teacher’s hands and they are not responsible for the choosing of materials. It is really that simple. Previously, I was quick to make the super judgmental decision that any teacher who was using Interchange was obviously an inferior teacher. Hopefully,  now with some more perspective, I can see there might be a whole host of reasons teachers might be using Interchange that have nothing to do with their intelligence, character, or suitability as a professional.
Going to a conference but not attending sessions from others  
I did this a few weeks ago. Yikes. When I saw this move from a few people 5 years ago I thought it was rude, egocentric and telling. I thought it conveyed a message of, “I have learned all I need to know” and don’t need to learn from you people, but come to my session please.” Having been guilty of this sin very recently I can see there are a variety of possible reasons for this and it doesn’t necessarily imply a massive ego or disdain for others in the field.
That is my list for now, though I believe there might be more I could add.  What do you think? Are these deplorable? Have you changed your tune on any of these or any similar things? What used to cause you to wear your judgy pants but doesn’t do so any longer?
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22 comments

  1. Pieces of 8

    I’m still relatively new to the business, but I wholeheartedly agree with much of the above. Mostly regarding the creeping increase in admin which my current employers are heavily guilty of. A great piece of advice I got was, “never care more about the job than the institution you work for does.” My institution have freely admitted (only verbally, of course) that as the volume of work they expect from us has increased but the hours and pay have not, they are prepared to trade off the resulting drop in quality in the classroom.

    • mikecorea

      Thanks for commenting! I think you raise a really interesting point (at least one interesting point!). I think the advice about caring for the institution is good, especially for preserving the teacher’s sanity.

      You wrote, “My institution have freely admitted (only verbally, of course) that as the volume of work they expect from us has increased but the hours and pay have not, they are prepared to trade off the resulting drop in quality in the classroom.” I think this is very interesting. My usual approach to this would be to do a crap/rushed job on the admin work and do my best for the students (while cutting corners as needed). I think in some senses it is sad admin is willing to trade classroom quality for something else.

      I am getting a bit off topic here but in the past I have just done the bare minimum with the assumption that admin woudln’t really know the difference between quality work and not. I think I am rambling now, so I’ll get going.

      Thanks for reading and commenting and for the thoughts.

  2. ven_vve

    Hi Mike,

    I like the choice of topic! I have definitely judged people in the past in the four cases you mention and my line of reasoning was pretty much the same as yours, except I’m afraid I haven’t really evolved. 🙂 Especially with regard to #1 and 4. Admittedly, how (and how often) someone says that something isn’t their job can make a world of difference, though. Also re #4, I would be the first to say that attending every single session at a conference is exhausting, but there is a difference between skipping a couple of sessions and not attending a single one. Although I’m sure there can also be good reasons for the latter, but I’d still expect this to be an exception rather than the rule. Can’t help it!

    • mikecorea

      Hi Vedrana!
      I am glad you liked the topic!
      As I was thinking about it and writing it I figured it was quite personal and maybe these things would be just things that bugged me in the past and not so applicable to others. I wonder what else would be on your list. 🙂

      Great point re: the how often and how #1 (or many things!) is said. I think that makes a lot of sense. People that continually say “That is not my job” for activities that frequently fall within the realm of “The job of teachers” can be very annoying and can draw my judgment.

      To add more to this, I think (as always!) the context is key. Thinking back, I am sure I left a bad first impression one summer when working on a teacher training course because I was hyper aware of being taken advantage of by the admin (as that had happened recently and frequently) but trainers flown in from the US were treated very well and would have thought (read: thought) I was stubborn and rude because I strongly insisted on following the contract to the letter.

      Surely previous versions of me would have judged that one.
      Thanks for the exchange!

      I believe I will show in my next post or so exactly how not evolved i still am. 🙂

  3. cioccas

    Mike,
    Thanks for a very interesting post that I will be reflecting on for a long while to come.
    I could have written your final point myself. My judgement is possibly clouded because I have met people at conferences who have made it quite clear they were there for presenting and not receiving information or even networking. Like Vedrana said in her comment above, there may be a variety of possible reasons for going to a conference but not attending sessions from others, but I still haven’t completely evolved either 🙂
    I started writing a much longer comment on this, which turned into a blog post of my own –
    http://cioccas.blogspot.com.au/2014/06/why-attend-conferences-if-you-dont-want.html
    Cheers, Lesley

  4. Russ

    Life has a way of making us hypocrites. It happens to me time and time again. I think, as I get older, I get a bit more cautious about judging.

    • mikecorea

      Well said, Russ. I think that part about being more cautious about judging is right on point.
      When I think about the example of “that’s not my job” I really thought those guys were jaded, cynical, greedy and rude.
      Now I am them. 🙂

  5. Hana Tichá

    I find it interesting that you always go public with something that’s subconsciously and secretly swirling in my mind. 🙂 The thing is that I’ve just been ‘offered’ (assigned) a lot of new responsibilities for the next academic year (not more money) and I think I’ll have to be very careful not to panic, stress out and subsequently burn-out. I’ll definitely go back to your post in September to re-read your insights and advice.
    One more thing I’d probably add is replying to people’s comments on blogs. When you are a newcomer and you do nothing else but checking your blog for comments and hits, you don’t understand why some bloggers leave some of the comments ‘unnoticed’. But later on you discover 1) that the comments were not necessarily left unnoticed and 2) that it has nothing to do with the blogger’s ego and that he/she has some very good reasons to choose this strategy.
    Thanks for this inspiring post, Mike. Enjoy the summer!

    • mikecorea

      Hi Hana!
      Thanks for reading and commenting. I am so very happy and honored that you can something of interest in my blog (especially because I like yours so much.) I’m also scared that anything I have said here will be taken as advice. 😉
      But I am glad that my points might help you frame your decision! And I think being “very careful not to panic, stress out and subsequently burn-out” is a very good starting point. In the past few years I have been very good/bad about just saying yes and then having a bit more on my plate than I want. Except this term, which was a bit of fresh air in many senses.

      Thanks again for reading and commenting.
      Comments like yours are great motivation to keep writing seemingly random) things.

      ps- I like your point about blog comments…. especially because I am very guilty of being poor at responses. lately. This is, in fact what I am trying to remedy right now. My best excuse is that I have been doing most of my writing these days when I am not online and then when I am online I always seem to have tight deadlines and things and comments get pushed to the end of the list, unfortunately.

  6. Chewie (Gangwon Dispatches)

    Another thoughtful post about an important topic! To briefly comment on a couple of points:

    “That’s not my job.” I agree. I advise newcomers to Korea and EPIK to say yes to anything that comes up during the first few weeks and months because it demonstrates a strong work ethic and commitment to learning Korean culture. But as we know, inches can indeed turn into miles (well phrased, that!) with regard to “extra” duties, tasks, or classes. The line about choosing your battles comes to mind here, for some things DO warrant a “no.”

    I find it important to remember that Korean subject teachers often have extra things asked of them as well, for we foreign teachers aren’t always alone in this area.

    Attending a conference and not seeing others’ presentations. This behavior irks me. I understand that there sometimes are valid reasons for missing conferences, like getting set up or last minute adjustments, but it sounds crazy to attend a conference and not see what other people are presenting. The whole point of conferences rests on getting people into a room and exchanging ideas. It’s a two way street. I hope that if I ever have the chance to present somewhere (and it sounds like fun!) that I make sure everything is ready to go in advance so I can see other presentations.

    Again, thanks for the intriguing post AND the commentary. I’m finding some excellent posters and bloggers here.

    • mikecorea

      Hello and (a belated!!) thanks for commenting. I apologize for the delay.

      I like your advice to new teachers to say yes to anything at first to create a good relationship. I think it can be a slippery slope but i think it is better than being branded as just another uncooperative teacher. Yes, I think it is completely about choosing your battles wisely. Often it is easier to just do something than make a big stink about not doing so. That said, sometimes there are times when it is worth fighting and the requests are too ridiculous (and/or hurried)

      You wrote, “I find it important to remember that Korean subject teachers often have extra things asked of them as well” Yes, I think this is a huge point that can’t be mentioned enough to foreign teachers in Korea.

      A big change for me mentally over the past few years is a better understanding of the more mercenary-like teachers. It just makes sense that if the organization is not going to look after you, this is something you need to do on your own.

      As for the attending conferences but not attending others, I tend to agree with you but I also think there is room for differing purposes of attending conferences and extenuating circumstances. If you haven’t already check out Lesley’s post: http://cioccas.blogspot.com.au/2014/06/why-attend-conferences-if-you-dont-want.html

      I am glad my blog is a source for finding good blogs and bloggers. I recently co-created a document of resources and there some great blogs there too. Here is the link: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1lVoDE_IecTC4yY2fhuw7aPz9fniuQx7TUFQSmX87L6A/edit?usp=sharing

      Thanks again for the comments! It is very nice to see your comments here!

  7. thesecretdos

    You make some very interesting observations, Mike. With regard, at least, to the first thing, I would advise people to do what they think is the right thing and be prepared for any adverse consequences.

    As a manager, I would have more regard for the newbie version of you with your clutch of hoarded scores than I would have for the seasoned pro who pulls numbers out of the air. It doesn’t matter how crappy the environment is within which we work until it begins to make us crappy too. Then it’s time to move.

    People are paying good money for our “professional” guidance. And part of this professional guidance is meeting certain standards. We can do this by being clear with our students what those standards are and giving them reliable feedback on how well they are approximating them.

    As for the addition of new responsibilities, the job changes. Jobs do. How can a manager avoid dumping all over the grunts? By remembering to speak to the grunts before and ensuring that, whenever possible, any changes that are brought in are brought in by the team, not the manager. Easier said than done.

    Overall, though, I think we should all aim to do the right thing, whatever that might be. We should all avoid the temptation to judge others. And we should all resist the compulsion to offer justifications to anyone other than ourselves. Everyone else will have to make do with explanations.

    • mikecorea

      Wow these are some great and thoughtful comments. Thank you oh secret one.
      I hope all is going well or reasonably with you in light of your recent post.

      I apologize for not responding to these comments earlier. I think i need to carve out a time to respond. If I don’t respond immediately it turns into a viscous cycle of procrastinating and guilt. Well, enough about my fragile psyche.

      Regarding the score invention, i still find it hard to believe I did the same thing later considering how distasteful I thought it was when I saw it at first. I think maybe part of the crappiness of the place seeped into my veins. Luckily I moved.
      By way of excuse making, the grades didn’t matter at all to anyone and existed, as far as I can see, only because schools have grades. I’d like to think I did a reasonable job providing non-scores feedback on student work.

      Oh crap I just ignored your line about “we should all resist the compulsion to offer justifications to anyone other than ourselves.” Oh well.

      I think you make a great point about jobs and responsibilities changing. My sense is that teachers are a bit more sensitive (read: bothered by) this than in other areas. At a guess this is because the way contracts/agreements are structured in many places. If more hours of non-teaching work doesn’t increase pay (or prestige? or development? or something) then I think it is quite different from adding some more responsibility when an office worker is working 9-5 anyway. Does this make sense? I was talking about required professional development for teachers the other day on twitter and someone said this happens in all fields and is not something to complain about. I still can’t shake the feeling that teaching is different (or at least is set up differently)..

      Maybe I am rambling now. I shall stop here.

      Thanks again for the thoughtful and thought provoking comment!

  8. Sandy Millin

    Hi Mike,
    I used to be really annoyed with two things in class:
    1. Students speaking their first language. Now I realise what a hypocrite I am, since most of my Russian lessons are in English, and although I try to speak Russian, I’m also lazy at times. I encourage English as much as possible, and if students clearly have a good reason to speak L1 (for example, because they’re processing a new grammar point), then I don’t have a problem with it. Having said that, if they’re clearly just being lazy, it still really annoys me!
    2. Students not doing their homework. They’re busy people, with a lot of calls on their time. I try to balance the amount of homework I give them and keep it reasonable, varied, and relevant (not that I don’t assign the next workbook activity at times too) as well as discussing how much homework they have time for. But again, if they’re clearly just being lazy then I’ll get annoyed. Also quite hypocritical here, since for a long time I never managed any Russian homework, although I do try hard to do a bit of Russian every day!
    Thanks for making me think.
    Sandy

    • mikecorea

      These are great Sandy. Thanks!
      (Also thanks for sharing the post).
      Your point about L1 gave me some uncomfortable flashbacks. Gosh. Maybe someday I will feel like writing more about it but for now I can just say I am not very proud of all my reactions or behaviors related to this. Wow.
      I like your disctinctions here on times and reasons (laziness or other!)

      The homework is a good one too!
      To be honest for me at the moment it is not such a big concern because when it is really needed (meaning my lesson requires it) students don’t have much chance to miss it! But, that said I have surely faced some frustration from this.

      Thanks for sharing these. Somehow it was oddly cathartic to read yours! 🙂

  9. Lily-Anne Young

    Re: presenting at conferences but not attending sesssions.
    I do this all the time and it’s not because I don’t respect my colleagues or that I have nothing to learn. It’s that I have worked hard on my presentation, given up part of my weekend free time plus I work hard all week and once my session is over I want to go and have a well earned drink, do some sport or sleep. 🙂 i am sure many other presenters feel this way. Yes – it would be great to go to the other sessions but sometimes you have to learn to give yourself a break.

    Thanks for the post. 🙂

    • mikecorea

      Thanks very much for sharing your thoughts here. You offer some more very good reasons why we can’t just make assumptions about people based on attending other sessions or not. This s very helpful, I think. I will be sure to keep these in mind the next time I feel some judging creeping up on me. 🙂
      Thanks again! 🙂

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