The head of my school likes to walk into the classroom and interrupt class. Give you an example. I had my students writing about an important question of interpretation in their reading this morning. They were to use their texts to find evidence to support their answers; they were to be clear and precise; they were to proofread their work. I timed this writing exercise because i’m trying to encourage my students, who are still learning English, to be able to perform well even under stress. Each will have to take several western standardized exams, like the ACT, in order to have any hope to attend university outside of Cambodia. So, we’re working on being concise (answer the question and only the question,) being clear (using good subjects and being able to recall technical language used in literary analysis,) and being precise (having strong subjects perform precise actions.)
The head of my school walked into class and stood over my students—each of them, today—and for an agonizing eight-minutes strolled and lurked; he pulled their notebooks away from them so he could read what they’d written, and then he insisted they make changes to words by silently pointing to mistakes and whispering phrases at them. I heard him pointing out subject-verb agreement errors (misplaced s endings) and missing apostrophes. He was doing their work for them; he was patronizing them; he was stressing them out; he was harming them, in my opinion. Worst, he was doing it because he knows I don’t want him doing it. So, he was purposefully harassing my students today in order to encourage me to say something about it.
This man enjoys standing over students. He does it all day, everyday. He enjoys asserting his authority. He enjoys being correct. He cares not for learning, in my opinion; he prefers merely to be obeyed, which he’d likely refer to as modeling and assessing. Watching him quietly harass my students is one of the hardest things I have to endure. It is harassment. They hate it. They are intimidated by him. When I arrived a month ago, I thought he was just naive with good intentions. After all, anyone can see the way the kids stop what they’re doing, slow down, become quiet, and shrink from him in his presence. He must find it pleasing.
I’ve since learned his concept of teaching is telling students what they need to do and assessing whether or not they’ve done it. It’s like the authoritarian’s version of base memory and repetition education. Worse, he wants me to teach that way. Because I refuse, he thinks I’m uncooperative. In his eyes, we have a consistent struggle that he insists effects the entire school. Of course, I teach in a room and work from that room all day and talk to no one about our problem. So, he harasses my students and projects his personal garbage onto me to justify his reason for distrusting and disliking my work. He brings his problem into my professional development. It’s quite awful.
I was writing a novel and not working last month and for the previous four months. I was poor but working on what I love to work on. It was slow-going, the writing, because I had stopped for a while. But it was coming. I’m trying to finish my dissertation, and now I’m not finishing it in the time I wanted to. But it’s for a reason. I stopped that work to teach. What isn’t cooperative about my decision to work with high school students in reading and language arts and to work twelve hours a day, five days a week, to do it? What isn’t cooperative about tolerating a dolt in my classroom and his persistent betrayal of student confidence? What isn’t cooperative about learning a model for lesson-planning that is entirely foreign to me, making mistakes, and attempting to correct those mistakes, after which enduring the humiliation of being told the work I do in the classroom is meaningless unless it can be quantified and represented on an observation form? Our model isn’t about quantities, by the way. That’s a basic misinterpretation of how the assessment pieces work according to the model. The goal is that the students and teacher stay focused and together during work and that students and teacher always be attempting to build while learning. I’m not used to the format the organization should be presented in and I’m not used to the highly-structured classroom. There’s good reason why. I taught university. I lectured. I taught writing. It’s a different thing I’m doing. What isn’t cooperative about admitting i’m learning and trying, within one month and with no formal training, to implement this model in my classroom? What isn’t cooperative about resisting the urge to quit and to return to the comfort of reading and writing?
Everything I’m doing is about being more cooperative because I believe in cooperation and community work. I want to be here. But each day this monumental prick reminds me that he thinks I don’t want to be here. It’s making me sick. I feel harassed. It’s the worst I’ve felt as an employee for a very long time. —And teaching in Korea—being the lone foreign teacher in a large high school in a poor neighborhood—was difficult. And it’s only bad because of one man.
Any administrators reading this will know what I’m talking about, and teachers will surely know. This guy is acting the way he thinks an administrator should act: a boss who has his say and knows he’s being listened to because people illustrate they are following rules and simply respond to him with “yes” and “no”. He’s performing.
I don’t think the head of my school is aware the students hold him in contempt, at worst, and fear him, at best, that the teachers are afraid of him for their jobs and annoyed by his presence in their classrooms. I believe he thinks he’s doing a tough job. It’s white of him, certainly. It’s patriarchal, of course. The privilege to not have to rely on others. But I think he’s like so many foreigners, in Cambodia and Korea, who believe they know exactly what must be done to fix things. Now that he’s achieved an appearance of power, he’s ready to wield it as a tool of direct authority. He doesn’t seem to realize it’s just an act; that we all can see it’s just an act; a poor, impotent performance that represents lack of knowledge and training as much as lack of confidence and self-esteem.
I know this because he insists I need to be concerned about my relationship with him rather than be concerned with my work in the classroom. He conflates his relationship with me and my work in the classroom. It’s as if he thinks I care about being fired more than I care about learning to be a better teacher.
I wish he’d read this because I want him to know how humiliating it is for the employees, faculty, and students to realize that each day we have to endure his disabling presence and pointless criticism. I want him to stew in the anonymity in which he dwells and will forever dwell as long as he seeks temporary restraint of things beyond his control. Fact is, the students are the ones doing work here; the ones doing the important work. And he’s lost that thread, hasn’t he? He thinks he’s necessary. They are. They are the school. And nothing else much matters.