Mugabe-style bosses and on working hard

This time, 10 years ago, I was preparing to go through threshold. This is performance-related pay for teachers. It’s shite because I’ve never known anyone fail it, even if they later end up on competency procedures. Not sure how you can be incompetent yet performing well.

At the time, I was working for one of the nastiest bullies I’ve ever had the misfortune to work for, and her lacky. She was a misogynistic un-Christian mealy-mouthed bully, which is funny considering she was a former head of RE and a reported church-goer and a lesbian to boot.

I should have known during the interview that she was not cut out to be a head teacher (or to interact with ANY people in ANY way… or animals… in fact, some kind of relationship-less lab was probably waiting for her) when during the interview she looked at her watch. Repeatedly. And very obviously. Manners?!

I got no welcome. I started in at the deep end and was given more and more responsibility. I worked SO hard. Everybody in the department did. It was a lovely department on the whole, with some of the loveliest people I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with.

I should also have known that this wasn’t a cohesive school when I saw that nobody went in the staffroom. It was deserted. People were afraid of going in because the head would notoriously come in and tell you off for laziness. Even if it was your dinner break. This from the woman who took five days of ‘home’ leave either side of school holidays so she could jet off early on her travels.

I learned a lot from her about how bullies operate and how to deal with them. Unfortunately, what I learned is that you can’t beat them unless you have a good employment lawyer.

Now I am a hard worker. I was at that school from 7:45 til gone 6:00 most days. I worked and worked and worked. I got good results. I shifted KS3 results with the aid of this amazing team of teachers and we doubled the amount of kids getting better than average results. 60 more children went from being ‘average’ at 13 to being ‘good’. GCSE results went up. We invigorated a department that had been doing the same stuff for 15 years. It’s my one regret that the time I had with Andy was very little because I worked so hard here.

But a small incident occurred with the threshold application. I still have the note attached to it. In fact, I still have the comment etched in my head.

The first thing was that she had pinned a deadline for something or other up in the staffroom. I read it and made note of the date. Then she asked me for the thing we were supposed to hand in. It was a week before it was due in. I told her I hadn’t done it and that the deadline wasn’t until seven days hence.

“No it isn’t.” she snapped. “It was three days ago.”

I marched to the staffroom and took down her HANDWRITTEN sheet with the deadline on it. Before I could go and challenge her about it (since I had actual teaching to do!) I got a missive. I used to love her missives. They were always written on paper with a cat border, as if she were an animal lover. In fact, the cat loving was more of a sign of being in league with Satan and having his familiars hang about. The missive said: “I am very annoyed that you missed the deadline. I would have thought you would have considered it more important, especially when your threshold application is pending.”

Two things. In the 13-page document, no mention of deadlines or timekeeping is made. Thus, it’s not an assessed quality for performance-related pay. Second: I hadn’t missed the deadline.

I marched to her office.

“Glynne… what is this?” I had yet to learn better. “Are you really threatening my threshold application because you think I missed a deadline?”

She actually blushed. I think it was with anger, though.

“And I didn’t miss any deadline. HERE’S the memo.” I put it on her desk. “How did I miss a deadline that’s not happened yet?”

“I changed the deadline…”

“When? Am I supposed to guess that you’ve done that?”

“I did it in briefing.”

I dug out my detailed briefing notes. I’m not stupid enough to work for a tyrant and not keep detailed notes.

“What day?”

“Tuesday.”

The day before the supposed deadline??! I looked at my notes. I said:

“On Tuesday, you told us about this pupil’s health issues, a visit from an SEN inspector and a maths competition that we’d won. Besides, that was a day before you wanted the document.”

I handed the document over anyway. I’d done it a week early, because that’s how I roll.

“Here.”

You don’t catch me with my pants down.

This woman was pathologically unable to say either ‘Sorry’ or ‘Thanks’. Literally. She used to get her lacky to do it. I left it at that.  I walked back to class feeling smug and virtuous. I pinned the note to my wall in my office.

I passed threshold with flying colours. I was the only one she asked to evidence things. I was asked to evidence all 13 pages. I did. All it proved was she was a thuggish bully and I was very good at my job. Like I said, I worked hard.

Unfortunately, she had no way to get out of this. She knew I’d go above her if she failed me. Like I said, nobody fails. Especially not people who work hard.

So she wrote on the bottom of my application:

“Miss L is an excellent teacher. Unfortunately she needs to learn some humility.”

Oh, right!

You make me prove how good I am and then I need to be humble. I felt like asking for lessons. Besides, PRP needs to be evidence-based. If you’re going to set a target of ‘be more ‘umble’ then it needs to have assessment criteria.

How will I know when I’ve become more humble?

How does one become more humble?

Are there courses you can go on to learn humility?

What assessment scale was she using for judging my humility?

In her role as RE teacher, could she have taught me some humility?

p.s. I still haven’t learnt. That reflects on her ability to develop my personal skills. I still have had no humility training to this day, nor seen any assessment criteria for it.

The only thing I learned was that it was pointless to argue with her. When we were awarded lead department and that brought a small grant, she refused to give it to the department, even though we were cash-strapped. I complained about that.

One afternoon, she sent her lacky to pull me up on something. It got heated. It was four hours of being nagged by the lacky, including her asking if I felt ‘threatened’ by a newly qualified teacher. I was so outraged I told her I was going to be out of there at the next available opportunity. I applied for a job the next day and within a week, I’d been appointed. I went on to work for the best boss I ever had, Dot.

You might think I got off lightly. I didn’t. She constantly pestered me to pull someone up in my department – whether it was someone who’d had one day off sick (her first in two years) – or a guy whose cleanliness of shoe was a concern for her. She’d come and say:

“Can you talk to such-and-such about the fact he’s been wearing the same jumper for three days?”

“Yes, Glynne.”

And I never would. Unfortunately for her, her school was filled with retarded teachers who would wear the same jumper for three days and she needed to bully them as well. What we learned is that hiding is good, saying yes and never doing it was a quick way to get out of it and that you should expect her to send you two or three cat-bordered missives a week if you were in a management position.

She is nothing – NOTHING – on the boss of a friend of mine. We call him Mugabe. He is the one reason to me why academies fail. He is a power-hungry idiot who has risen up through the ranks on the back of Nu-Lab’s desire for change. Unfortunately, where a head teacher is also chair of governors and they don’t answer to a local authority, in academies where union laws do not apply, you are creating a nice little niche for tin-pot dictators to act with total impunity. I’d tell you what this one ordered and you’d be dumb-struck that a) he could even mention doing what he ordered and b) he’s still in a job.

The only joy – and it is the ONLY joy – is that most employers breach employment law every minute of their opening hours. From breach of contract to breach of care of duty, there are thousands of ways to hang them. My Uncle Paul picks off just one. He calls that the sniper approach. I have what he calls the blunderbuss approach. I would prefer it if he called it the ‘bludgeon them to death with the Employment Rights Act 1996 and 2008 approach’ but either way, whether you decide to get out of the kitchen or whether you decide to fight, there’s some moral virtue in knowing you’ve got rights.

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