Defamatory Statements

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about attitude: I have not got a bad attitude, and never have had. I have been praised for my teaching, my flexibility etc. I am upset that this man, whom I have worked alongside for seven years, should suddenly strike out at me.

I work as a teacher, and, as with all schools, an inspection is looming on the horizon. Management employed an “inspection expert” to cast his knowing eye over the school, and to talk to the whole staff about the fun to come. I went to the meeting, but, with a fever of 102 degrees, sat with my coat on and my arms folded. I also left ten minutes before the end, apologizing as I had made an emergency doctor’s appointment, and needed to go. I was diagnosed with pneumonia, and had ten days off work, suffering.

When I returned, after a day or two, I was asked, very informally, to come to the head teacher’s office after school. This is not an uncommon request, as we have always had a good working relationship. When I arrived, another member of the school management team was inside the office. The head teacher started the meeting by saying that it would probably be uncomfortable for me. He began by relating the story of the educational expert’s meeting. And then said the expert had met after the meeting with the school director, and had discussed my behavior during the meeting. He was disgusted that I left early, and that my body language was closed throughout the meeting, denoting disinterest. He said “do you really want someone like that working in your school?” and “he will throw the school under the wheels of the inspection bus”.

I protested my innocence, reminded the head teacher that I had been suffering a lung infection, and was seriously ill. This was brushed to one side with the phrase “I recognize you in his description” Shocked, I listened to his portrait of me; an irritant to the smooth running of the school; a negative contributor; a man who deliberately antagonizes the head teacher; someone who has no loyalty towards the school. The list went on. I said children I taught were learning, teachers I helped appreciated my work, and his reply was “your teaching is good, we’re not saying you are a bad teacher”

It was purely my bad attitude that seemed to have got his goat. He said my contract, which is not up for renewal for a year, was under review, and, if it was his to renew today, it would not be done. He asked me if I wanted to continue to work for the school. To consider a change, consider my options. I have not got a bad attitude, and never have had. I have been praised for my teaching, my flexibility etc. I am upset that this man, whom I have worked alongside for seven years, should suddenly strike out at me. I am upset that the educational expert defamed me in the first place. What should I do? Fight? Wait for a blow over?

Signed, Fight or Flight or Ignore

Dear Fight or Flight or Ignore:

It’s good to learn you are over pneumonia. You have fought it and now you have another battle. You label you question “defamatory statements”. Describing you as “someone like that working in your school?” isn’t defamation. You were viewed as negative in body posture and facial expression by the individual who’s been hired to inspect your school and the head teacher fears the impression you left will result in a bad rating for the school. Apparently, the head teacher, with whom you have worked alongside for seven years and who has said your teaching is good, has other unspoken criticism about you or he wouldn’t have implied you should consider going elsewhere. Should you?

This negative description of you and the suggestion you should consider leaving your position has shocked and angered you. This meeting can’t help but affect your attitude toward you head teacher and the school’s management team. Should you walk on eggs and cringe when the inspector visits your class and/or interviews you? Not if you like your job.

Rather, you should quietly prepare a folder of lesson plans and what you have done across the years. Collect all your positive performance evaluations and feedback from parents and students. This year you can also become even more of a cheerleader and collaborator with coworkers.You should not become obsessed with this and allow it to cloud the way you teach that you say has been good. Of course you have known, but you will become more aware that our bodies speak without words. And you will review how well you fit in the system of your school.

In short you will say, “Mirror on the wall, do I not fit in this system with them all?” Asking that question is natural but shouldn’t be answered defensively or echo again and again in your head. You can write a statement describing how distressed you are about the briefing of your head teacher in light of the inspector’s hastily made assessment of you that could prejudice his inspection of the school.

Can you keep your focus on conveying the caring attitude you have for students. You can avoid gossip about this with coworkers. However, if you have a teacher’s union or association, you might seek council of its attorney and ask if you should put on file that statement of inspector potential prejudice.You can learn from all this. Just as a partner’s suggestion of divorce might provoke one to shape up and ask what’s going on and determine to workout, live fully and have a balanced life. Your job isn’t all there is to life. You can think big, understanding the need for your coworkers to put their best face on their performance.

Does this make sense? Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS, and that enriching feeling that flows from a team and school-wide effort is what you want. Right?

William Gorden