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When managers are unreasonable

September 06, 2006

Dealing with difficult managers

Hello again,

A recent post on the ESL Employment.com Forum, made me think about the difficult position teachers are often in. Sandwiched between demanding students and exigent employers, they must feel buffeted from all sides. An earlier entry on this blog dealt with the issue of difficult students, but how does a teacher deal with an awkward employer?

Each situation is, of course, unique. The forum post mentioned a manager in a family-run business who was also a family member and whose attitude towards teachers was...

...most unprofessional: berating the teachers in front of students and generally being spitefully critical for no good reason. To understand the problem the teacher needs to reflect on why the manager takes this approach. In a family-run enterprise, it is likely that the post was obtained through nepotism rather than ability. That creates an unhealthy combination: the manager feels safe in post because of the family connection but is perhaps also suffering from a sense of inadequacy. To demonstrate authority, the manager throws her weight around and makes sure everyone can see who is in charge. The key point is that what the teachers do is irrelevant. The manager is probably not equipped to evaluate teaching performance anyway. Really, this sounds to me like the manager’s problem!

However, it impacts most unpleasantly on teachers and many will of course simply go elsewhere. If jobs are plentiful, then this is certainly one solution. However, if teachers really wish to stay, then they need a strategy for coping. The first step is to recognise that it is the manager who has the problem and to refuse to take the attacks personally. The next time an attack occurs, the teacher could try to interrupt and tell the manager that if she has a criticism, then she should raise it in private, but that the teacher will not discuss it in front of the students as this is unprofessional.

If that has no effect, then the next time it happens, I suggest the teachers should simply listen and say very calmly: “Thank you for your remarks. I will think about what you said and respond to them in writing.” Then write a brief summary of the points raised, with the time and place and occasion noted. Refute each point factually. Give the manager the letter but also give a copy to the school owner or the manager’s direct superior.

If this doesn’t work, the choice is either to leave or just ignore the attacks and carry on regardless. Unfortunately, this kind of situation is common in places where family-run business are the norm and posts are allocated not on merit but by connection. So, if you fail to deal with the situation, don’t blame yourself: it’s a cultural mismatch that you can put down to experience.

Let me know what you think!

Bye for now.

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  1. esigus Says:

    Hey... thanks a bunch for this! The way you've perfectly described my supervisor is as if you had a hidden camera at our school. She is really unbearable at times & has, on several occassions, caused me to re-think my determination to remain.

    It is tricky since ignoring ridiculous commands is not really an option while the urge to pointlessly defend one's self becomes rather strong. Most of the teachers at our school have experienced her "wrath," but it is actually most helpful simply to know that we are not alone, that others have, indeed faced the same/similar situation(s) & have found ways to deal with it.

    Thank you again for your empathetic guidance!

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