Thursday, June 20, 2013

Dealing with Co-Teacher Conflict

So, like, I totally just sorted out the stuff that's been bugging me lately. I won't go into it on my blog; that would be inappropriate and tedious. Ain't nobody got time for that. So I've been deliberately obscure about it. It's not the point of this post. 

Instead, let's just say it's a classic case of co-teacher/NET miscommunication about many different things that was on the verge of spiralling into something self-destructive. And here's how I neutralised it:

Did I call in the DMOE? No. Did I talk to higher powers within the school? No. Did I pore over my contract or throw my toys in any way? No.

Because that's not how I roll. Instead, I spent the day being above reproach. No facebook. Lots and lots of diligent admin. If I wasn't teaching I was doing epik training, planning, or (briefly over lunch) my Korean homework. Also, following the advice of some very smart people, I kept track of everything I did over the day, which helps me to know which class is where in the syllabus, while covering my ass later if there is some kind of disaster (highly unlikely although I'd like to remind you of the title of this blog).

As for sorting out the drama - I had a conversation with my co-teacher. A gentle, lets-clear-up-this-cultural-confusion conversation, where I expressed where my worries were coming from and how I thought things might have been interpreted differently on either side of the divide based on the bad actions of a foreigner minority who generally make it worse for the rest of us. The kind of people who call in sick because they have hangovers, or complain that they have to deskwarm when others don't, resulting in policy changing so that everyone deskwarms by default. The people who call in the DMOE over anything and everything that they find unsatisfactory or difficult without trying to resolve the situation themselves.

Don't get me wrong; you're perfectly justified in calling in the DMOE if you've tried everything you can to resolve a situation and you've gone through the hierarchical ladder step by step, or if your contract is being obviously flouted and you are being abused. If it's a matter of policy or safety, by all means, call them in. But personal relationship problems are not their problem.

Basically, I spoke to my co-teacher in my gentlest, most easy-going voice. I circled ever so softly towards what was worrying me, and used all the self-help techniques I could think of - starting sentences with "I feel that..." or "It seems to me that...", never making any direct accusations, just explaining to her how it appeared to me that the situation had come about. My main concern was that the situation made me look unprofessional and just like every other Lazy Foreigner who is too hungover to bother going to work on a Monday.

I did this for every conflict we've had over the past couple of weeks, from me querying my schedule (which came across to her as an aggressive refusal to teach beyond the hours stated in my contract) to talking about our different teaching philosophies. I also let her tell me how it looked from her side of the equator. Her concern was that yes, it did appear that way, and that was terribly embarrassing for her and for the students, and everyone was feeling pretty damn awkward about the whole thing.

And by the end of the conversation, we've both put ourselves in each others' shoes, and I've shown her that I'm not the Lazy Foreigner that I was appearing to be, and she realised I take my job a lot more seriously than it may seem when I get sucked into the Facebook abyss, and all is well in Teaching-Land.

Anyway, basically, the point of this post is that 1) don't assume they're out to get you. There's probably a cultural misunderstanding happening causing embarrassment on one side of the barrier and that's making both of you look bad. 2) Try to resolve your problems quietly, internally and completely non-dramatically. It will make things easier for everyone. 3) Keep copies of all documents (doctors notes) and track what you do every day so that if the shit does hit the fan you've got your ass covered, just in case (but don't be a demanding douche about it). That's a professional thing to do, and keeping track of your work hourly can actually make you better at your job.

And finally, when in doubt, call home, have a big cry, and get some clear-headed perspectives on the mountain of a molehill you're struggling to deal with. Do NOT fuel the inferno.

Oh, last thing, I promise: stop bitching about everything on Facebook. I was guilty of this. I've stopped and deleted all my whingeing. No one wants to read it, and if it becomes known to your employers you can be sued for defamation. Just a little heads up. Facebook is not for airing your grievances about your professional life. That's what friends and beer are for. Facebook is for Star Wars jokes and cat pictures.

PS - little shout out of thanks to the people who gave me sage advice this week. You know who you are, and you're awesome.