Tuesday, October 6, 2009
As discussed in earlier entries, at the end of the second term we experienced a loss of two English teachers. On the last day of classes before the Winter break, we were informed that one of these teachers had gotten a job teaching at another school. The other would be on “stress leave” for the duration of the third term. This last minute news left the English department and school administration in a very difficult situation. The late notice of these absences meant it would be all but impossible to find replacement teachers before school re-opened 3 weeks later. Their unexpected departure was especially problematic as both teachers taught Grade 12
It was not until the end of the second week of the third term that a replacement teacher was found for one teacher and mid-way through the third week that another was procured. To their credit, both of the replacement teachers did a stellar job picking up the slack left by the departing teachers, doing their best to get to know students and trying to catch them up on the work that had been missed in the earlier part of the term.
In the interest of preventing the Grade 12 from falling too far behind in those weeks that there were no replacement teachers, the English Head of Department shuffled around and switched the Grade 12 classes of the departing teachers with some of the Grade 11 and Grade 10 classes of the existing staff. This way, the Grade 12s were taught all the way through (especially important as they were preparing for exams), and the new teachers taught those other Grade 11 and 10 classes when they joined our staff.
Despite the fact that taking on Grade 12 classes midway through the year, as they are preparing to write exams (and the corresponding marking of said exams – in English this means 3 exams for each student, one for Language, one for Literature, and one for Writing), the teachers who were given these new classes took them on without complaint, recognizing that this sort of thing was part of the job and that their priorities were the students, not their own interests.
All went well until we reopened this week.
The teacher who had been on “stress leave” returned. As some of her classes had been redistributed, she was given the timetable that the teacher that had filled in for her had been using.
She was not happy about this.
As is the practice, we had a departmental meeting on the first day back from break in preparation for the upcoming term, to touch base and make sure we are on the same page with our classes. During the meeting the teacher who had been absent raised the question of why she was not given her original classes back. She indicated her upset at not having being informed of this timetabling change and stated that she wanted to return to teaching her Grade 12s and be able to take them to moderation. Sidebar – the final term of the year for Grade 12 is the least teaching-intensive. About half the term is spent doing review for the final exams, the other half of the term students spend writing exams that are marked externally. Those teachers then take 9 examples of their students’ work – 3 exceptional students, 3 average students and 3 poor students – to their subject advisor from the Western Cape Department of Education for review. All this technically means that very little work and almost no marking must go into the 4th term for Grade 12 teachers. This is an added bonus for English teachers as in our subject area marking abounds during the rest of the year.
To put it more plainly, this teacher, who had been absent for the entire third term, thereby missing all the teaching and marking that goes along with the exams written during this time, and who, incidentally, is the absolute WORST offender of negligence and absenteeism when she is here (I have referred to her in more than one blog entry), was now upset because she had not returned to a cushy final term of the year. Her expectation that she would be given her classes again meant that if fulfilled, those teachers who picked up her slack would once again be given a great deal of marking at the end of the year for those Grade 10 and 11 classes that had been switched for the Grade 12s (the end of year Grade 10 and 11 exams are marked internally, and these grades do not write exams in the third term). Her gall was unbelievable.
During the meeting, which became quite heated and (if I’m being honest), would likely not have taken place in any of the schools I have previously been in, rules of professional conduct and the like), this teacher actually said she refused to teach the classes she had been given. Refused. She said she had expected to teach her Grade 12s and that she did not want to teach Grade 11. What she was really saying was that she did not want the workload associated with teaching Grade 11 and had no problem shirking her responsibility and giving the work to her colleagues who had been her back when she was gone.
I felt very sorry for my (normally very calm) head of department. I had never seen him so angry and emotional. On more than one occasion I had to step in and mediate, although this was extremely difficult for me out of fear I would say something I would regret, and came very close to doing so more than once.
After a great deal of back and forth, during which her insolence and nerve became more and more unpalatable, we closed the meeting with her refusal to do her job, fulfil her contractual obligation and responsibility towards the students, noted in the meeting minutes.
The blood boiling experience of this meeting was worsened by my knowledge that because of the intricacies of the red tape associated with firing someone who is a union member, the disciplinary action related to this teacher’s blatant unprofessionalism will struggle to accomplish anything of substance before the year is out, if at all.