Opening Statement



Friday, 27 May 2011

The Politics of School + Office

Nobody likes to admit it. It’s the large unspoken elephant in the room which we often pretend is not there. To put it in the most basic terms, politics can be a blood sport. One participant goes for another’s throat, so to speak, in an attempt to hurt or destroy them. It can happen at school, at the board, and even in our own union activities. It is obviously very stupid, because it can reduce any conversation or activity to the lowest common denominator. One might try to provoke, or put down someone to ridicule. For others who see or hear, it can also have a weird fascination. Politics is also a spectator sport.
In a school context this can be referred to as office politics. An administrator or even a fellow teacher goes after another teacher, and deliberately tries to humiliate them in front of others, to make themselves look better, or get something that they want from them. Most of our own TSU members aren’t like that, but we know it does unfortunately happen, possibly even more than many of us would like to admit.
I am especially surprised when it happens at a union meeting, or in the context of an election. Here we find more elephants in the room, be they sore losers, simply those with oversized egos, or even members with a sense of entitlement, who just want to always come out on top, regardless of the cost. It is very disturbing and ironic because we are supposed to be working together to help the membership. So when this is happening then what are the conversations and activities really all about? Helping the members we serve? I think not.
I have recently been the target of two such attacks. I was with a member who was trying to belittle me in front of our co-workers, and even a board superintendent, I would suppose to make herself look good. There is a name for union people who try to create problems for you with management. I would digress if I laboured that point here, but suffice to say, I had to ask her not to tell “whoppers”, because she was coming up with some very wild and unsubstantiated stories. The member then screamed right in front of our super that I had called her a “wop.” Think of the irony here; my last name is “Chiarelli”, and I am being accused of calling somebody else a “wop”?!? These sort of put downs at either school or the union office are often quite ludicrous, and not in the funny sort of way. Are we not teacher professionals? I am afraid education is not always the antidote for this kind of bullying. I’m sure many of you could tell even worse stories from school.
Even more recently I actually had a member interrupt me on a point of “personal privilege” when I was explaining something very important at a teacher meeting, with about a minute to do it. It was very provocative. They were complaining about my diction! Sometimes when I speak fast I can slur or mispronounce a word, maybe even stutter another word or two. The member was supposedly outraged that I had mispronounced "Woodbridge" as "Woodsbridge". Although they don’t live in Woodbridge they still insisted it was an insult and an attempt to make fun of the town and it's people. Huh?!? Obviously that is an incredibly stupid notion that makes little sense, quite pointless in and of itself, or is it? No doubt it threw me off my chain of thought for a moment, wasted our precious time, and even provoked some snickers from their friends. Now why would anybody really do that? God bless the town of Woodbridge. It’s very Italian so let’s not go there again. Please! God bless Italia! The soccer team anyway.
So what’s my point? Life can often be very political. Political doesn’t just refer to those of us in political office. It can also happen between teachers in the staffroom or department office. It can include bullying, when it involves making fun of somebody, or involves words with a superior be they a principal or a superintendent, or even our co-workers and department heads. Many schools and teacher meets are of course not like this. Most of us aspire for more. But these elephants in the room are often ignored. Should I even write this or admit it happens in my blog where other teachers will read it? Regretfully, I think so! Yes. How can we be leaders, educate our students, or even tell some board members not to bully us, or be simply concerned about their own self interests, if we do that ourselves?
In future posts I will discuss two initiatives we are working on to promote better relations through TSU that could help all of us with these problems. One is the Respectful Workplace Document. The other is Bill 168, the new Health and Safety Act, which also aims to help make our workplaces safe for us at teachers. Are you familiar with these? Do you think they are needed at your school? Or is politics, bullying and spectator sport just human nature, something that can't be changed? I look forward to your constructive feedback as fellow teachers.

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