Monday, January 17, 2005

Office gossip

I just sent an email to a friend who will be working at one of the same places as me from the next academic year, and who attended the meeting/party last Saturday and met some of the other teachers there, plus the boss. She was a bit worried about doing anything to upset the boss. I wrote:

Regarding the Mad Man (aka 'Dear Leader') - he's very easy to manage as long as you flatter him now and again. His bark is much worse than his bite. He responds very well to the good cop-bad cop thing - treat him in a sort of motherly, kind way most of the time, but occasionally say something that displays how much better a teacher/academic you are than he is (without actually SAYING so, you understand - you have to say things that he doesn't know (easy!) but things he will be able to pretend to know because you act as if you assume he does), and now and then say something flattering about how hard he works (ha!) and how much he does for us. He'll be putty in your hands. These approaches cater to (a) his need to be loved and appreciated, (b) his deep-down worry that he's not actually worth it and only a mother could love him, and (c) his fears that his academic ability doesn't live up to his title but thank god nobody has noticed yet. He'll be delighted that you appreciate him and think that he works hard, hugely flattered that you like him (he'll try not to show it, and fail), and grateful that you've informed him of something he didn't know without noticing (apparently) that he didn't know it. This last one should be used sparingly - you don't want to make him feel TOO insecure. Once a year is enough to drop something about how, say, sequential development in second language acquisition is a fascinating area of research that should impact how we teach language, shouldn't it? (It won't matter if what you say is 20 years out of date, he won't know the difference.)

See? It's easy, really! (I recommend Google Scholar if you're not sure what to use for that last one. Look up "second language acquisition." You'll find plenty to go on with.)

Oh, and also, try to laugh at his jokes now and again.

The best thing about working at this place is the other teachers. You have an instant social life if you want one, and most of the people are interesting. Extremely interesting, many of them. If you really want to get to know what's going on (or at least a close, entertaining approximation), make a point of cultivating Mike, whose picture I'll attach here in case you don't remember which one he is. If there were an Oscar for Gossip, he'd get it. And he's a really lovely bloke. The best story I ever heard about him was from someone who happened to meet him in Hawaii one year, who said something like, "You don't want to go on holiday with Mike. The five minute walk from the hotel to the beach took a lifetime, because he stopped to talk with EVERYBODY. He approaches total strangers, comments on their beach towels, and the next thing you knew he's talking to them for half an hour, knows their life stories, your nose is burnt and you NEVER get that swim."

That's Mike all over. The friendliest bloke you ever met. He's a darling.

Everything I wrote is true. Dear Leader is a pain in the arse but easy to manage and likeable enough if you only see him once or twice a week. And Mike is impossible not to love even when gets up your nose by knowing things about you you thought were private. He knows everything about everybody, including you, so you might as well be friends with him. He'll love you even though he found out you pick your nose in the privacy of the bathroom. You thought you were safe, didn't you? Well you weren't, and you won't be as long as Mike exists on this planet. Be friends with him. It's easy. Not that he'd be a terrible enemy anyway - he's way too nice for that - but you might as well know what he's saying to everybody about you. Even better, you'll get to find out what's going on with everybody else.

Staying in the loop is important, and with friends like Mike it's also easy. Every workplace has a Mike, and we're lucky. If someone is, say, a drug-crazed and violent small animal torturer, Mike will make that person sound like an endearing drug-crazed and violent small animal torturer, an interesting person you'd quite like to meet despite their funny little quirks. Our Mike is friendly, tolerant, sympathetic, entertaining, interested in everything and everybody, and even his more unpleasant bits of gossip are laced with comments like, "Oh, but he's a good bloke, really, you can't blame him, he's just a bit mixed up, that's all... " - and what's more he really means it, and that takes the sting out of ... well, everything.


Andy N. said...

Ah, Ms Badaunt, I do enjoy reading your blog, as I'm sure others do as well, even though I don't check in every day (more like once a week); but as you point out, it is good to hear a bit of praise once in a while. I even passed your blog link along to my eldest, who is in university studying to become a teacher of elememtary education (and shares your appreciation for late mornings). :)