Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Wading Through the Crap That is Office Politics

On Monday morning, after months of being strung along, and after having to basically wash my hands of the school, I finally got an interview for one of the two (still) open special education teaching positions at the high school for next year. And even after all that had happened in the last five months, the school is still going to make me wait some more before giving me an answer. Those who know me know that if there is something I can't stand, it's office politics, power trips, and passive-aggressiveness. So it's unusual for me to have hung in there this long and to have shown such restraint.

It all began in January. As I had mentioned months ago, I've been getting a lot of encouragement since the fall from many people here -- administrators, teachers, and students -- to apply for a job here for the next school year. One of the positions, advertised since last November, would be for a replacement for the special educator for whom I've been subbing the last two months; he has been asked not to return next year after nine years here. Initially, I didn't want to apply -- this was not something I had planned on doing when we moved here, and I wasn't sure I wanted to go to the trouble. But as time went on, and more and more people urged me to, even offering to be my references, I thought it wouldn't be a bad idea to get back to working full-time. Might as well, as long as I'm here, I thought.

So, in January, I sent an email to the high school principal indicating my interest in the position and asking him what he would need from me -- a resume, an application form, or something else. He was eager to hire me. The problem here is that he -- as well as the other school administrators -- doesn't do his own recruiting. There is a woman here, the deputy head of the school, who does most of the recruiting. The problem with that is she is extremely incompetent and a little (or a lot) crazy, and has no idea what she's doing. She's been at the school for 30 years, rose through the ranks from teacher to principal, and now is the deputy head of the school with way too much power. She makes well over $10,000 a month and no one really knows what she does. She also has a reputation (and it is an international reputation because that is the scene here) as someone who doesn't do anything and is incompetent. There are all kinds of stories about her during her years here (such as the time when she, as the principal of the middle school, had the refrigerator from the faculty lounge moved to her private office so she could store her fur coat in it). I will call her S.

Consequently, as much as the principal and assistant principal wanted to hire me, they had to run the idea by S first. But when broached with the idea, she refused to even entertain the thought of interviewing me, the main reason being that I am not currently certified to teach. That would be a legitimate and understandable reason for her refusal, if it weren't for the fact that the school has hired many, many uncertified teachers over the years, some as recently as this year. Not only that, but these teachers were given opportunities as long as two years to get/renew their certifications. For me, it would be a re-instatement of my former certification, which would take only one or two semesters. Still, the answer was no. (Every day, major administrative decisions are made arbitrarily, which is unprofessional on the school's part and frustrating for everyone else.)

During this time, the recruitment season had begun and was in full swing by January. I followed up with the principal at the beginning of February (this principal also isn't great with communication) to see what was going on. He spoke with me in person, saying that S was in the midst of attending recruitment fairs all over the world, looking for candidates to fill many positions at the school, but if presented with candidates competing for the same position I was, he would not give consideration to those candidates so as to leave the position open and increase my chances of getting an interview with S. He asked me to give him until the end of the month. He wanted to try to convince S to give me a one-year contract, with the provision that I work on getting re-certified during the year. The way he put it, S needed justification for the school to pay for her jet-setting lifestyle, so she couldn't very well do that and hire someone who was here at the school all along. Whatever.

Well, the end of the month came and went, and I still had not heard anything. Finally, I followed up yet again in the middle of March and told him that I would need a final answer by the end of March. I was ready to be done with it, whether or not it was in my favor. By this point, I was losing my patience and had pretty much lost respect for all those involved. I also considered going home permanently at the end of this school year, even though my husband still has a year left of the contract (we could break the contract, but we are more professional than that, unlike some people).

A few days after this email, the principal told me that he was in the process of convening a meeting with all the decision-makers to hash out this whole situation and other hiring decisions. More importantly, he also told me that, by Thai law, I am automatically certified to teach here because I already have a master's degree in the field. He again asked me to give him more time. Shortly after that, though, a crisis came up (involving some wealthy parents pulling a power trip on the school) that the school had to deal with immediately, so the meeting never happened on time (if at all). Following that was our April school break, which took up half of the month. In the meantime, I learned that the high-school principal really doesn't get along with S and has no influence with her whatsoever, which would explain why he hadn't been able to persuade her to give me an interview up to that point. So basically, they were playing some kind of game between them, and I was caught in the middle of it and being led on.

After our April break, I made one last attempt to figure out what was going on and get a real answer from him. This time, the principal responded to my email right away, but what he said really made me angry. He essentially told me there was nothing more he could do, and suggested that I submit my CV and "see what happens." Are you kidding me?! After months of asking for more time, he was suddenly done with this whole thing? Moreover, he led me to believe that he was going to do more to get me hired, but in the end, he basically did nothing at all. And if I could've/should've submitted my resume months ago, why didn't he say so in the first place?! It was all I could do to keep myself from dashing off an impulsive, not-so-nice response that would've come back to bite me later. Not that I cared at all, but I had my husband and my son to think about.

I responded the next day, after I had had time to sleep it off, and told him that I felt I had been more than patient through this "process" (using the term very loosely) and that I was moving on because nothing had changed since we began this conversation five months ago. (Meanwhile, I've been subbing for the departing special educator since mid-March and will be here until final exams begin the last week of May…so basically, I'm qualified to work here as a substitute teacher, doing everything the regular teacher was doing -- and more, from what the students tell me -- but I'm not qualified to work here full-time.)

Well, wouldn't you know it, two days after that, the head of the Pupil Services department, the high-school psychologist, paid me a personal visit, in the middle of a class, to talk about interviewing for the special education position. I asked him what had changed within the last two days, and he said, "No one was in the position to give you the go-ahead before." What B.S. According to him, he had spoken with S and she had given him the green light to interview me. I couldn't resist, but I asked him if S knew that it was me he was talking about. But this guy is a politician too and tried to make it seem like nothing could be done before.

Needless to say, I felt a very bad taste in my mouth after that conversation. I thought about just declining the interview, and it was very tempting to tell them where to go. But I also didn't want to bite off my nose to spite my face because at the end of it all, I would just be hurting myself and closing the door to the possibility of us moving to another school. It was really no skin off the school's nose if I refused.

But even the process of scheduling the interview was needlessly confusing and exhausting; everyone was talking in circles for at least a week. The important thing is that the interview actually took place. And it went well too. As soon as they realized that I am a lawyer, they looked at me differently (people always assume that women who follow their teaching spouses here didn't have something of their own going on back home, but men who follow their teacher wives here don't receive the same treatment). They were impressed with my credentials and my knowledge, and that I conducted myself professionally. From what I hear, there was an interview via Skype with another candidate last week, and in the middle of the interview, the candidate suddenly said, "I can't do this anymore," and signed off. I think it's safe to say I did a bit better than that applicant.

Just to illustrate how crazy this situation is, at the end of the day, neither the principal nor S was involved in making the interview happen or in the interview itself. And my lack of certification or ability to get re-certified -- the crux of their argument against hiring me -- did not come up once during the interview. The interviewers even asked me what I would do if they offered me a two-year contract (a typical offer for incoming teachers)! Of course, I didn't commit to anything and just said I would seriously consider any contract that I'm offered.

Now I wait. And take bets on how long the school will take to make a decision. In the meantime, my husband and I will be thinking through all our options for the upcoming year and thereafter. But since the interview, I've learned that the entire high-school special education department and the department chair wrote letters to the school on my behalf, in support of hiring me as a teacher. I'm overwhelmed and touched by what they did, but it also makes me feel a bit obligated to them in making this decision. Isn't that always the case, though -- those in the trenches are usually the best people you could ask for while management is full of [bleeping bleeps].

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