Supervisors from Hell…

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Once upon a time during my career, I found myself confronted with a supervisor, a department chairman, who was perhaps one of the most passive aggressive people I have ever encountered.  He managed, during his tenure at this job, to alienate, torture, and drive crazy many members of the department.  At the same time, in his effort to control to his heart’s content, he also had his cadre of favorites, basically good people who have not, even to this day, owned up to the fact that their colleagues were being mistreated in a major way, so good was this man at maintaining control in a subversive way.

I had known this man for some time.  He was a longtime teacher at the school. I have wracked my brain trying to figure out what I might have done to him to trigger the treatment I received over a long period of time.  The only thing I ever figured out was his infamous “All Indians, no chiefs” as he put it, end of the year get togethers for some of my male colleagues.  I never managed to make one of these.  I wonder if he held that against me.  One will never know!

As a Latin teacher, my sense of his ability was that he was highly qualified for what he was doing and that he did a relatively, if not a good job of teaching his students.  I also did sense that perhaps he might have been more suited to be in a college situation rather than in high school and certainly not in charge of anyone.

At several points in my high school career, I opted to run for the job of department chairman.  Never did I manage to procure it, but I must say that I was often told that it would be mine some day. Be that as it may, one time I ran against Cecil (let’s call him that) for the position.  As it turns out, he did indeed land the job.  This began what I called the “reign of Caligula,” a period of time within the department where you would arrive at school and always wonder what interesting and devil ridden turns the day might take. I have to say that I have never undersood how a “Classics” (Latin and/or Greek) instructor could truly comprehend the needs of World Language Teachers, but that is another question entirely.

Cecil was interesting in that he was from, I believe, the middle of the state of Illinois and yet spoke with an intonation, affectation that would make you believe that his origins were much loftier and certainly from a different class than he was really an originator of.  He pursued, while at the school, his doctorate and made it clear to all that he was to be called “Dr.” This, in and of itself, says it all.

Cecil was great at his job of teaching the Classics, as I mentioned.  Once Department Chairman, however, a personality change seemed to ensue.  At first, I had no issues. Everything was status quo.  Then there were rumblings of this person being persecuted, that person mistreated and tension started rising within the department. Rumblings of unpleasantness began to be heard. 

Time went on and little by little, morale suffered.  There were several teachers who had some mental issues.  The good “Doctor” went about trying to deal with them.  This was another school issue.  Although not an administrator, I had numerous high level dealings with personnel in this school through my various jobs on committees, as head of the Faculty Council, and was always considered with great respect.  I tried to nicely deal with things as they were going bad.  One of the things was the treatment of people who had mental illnesses and how, instead of trying to get them help, we seemed hell bent on just getting rid of them.  The ultimate effect of that was negative on the students as these people seemed to “hole up” in a persecution complex situation that sometimes made them absent more often and to not be able to handle their adolescent charges well on a good day to day basis.

Talking to Cecil wasn’t easy as the longer his tenure endured the more he became convinced of his own self-brilliance and master plan.  He always spoke with what seemed an elegant demeanor, but to those of us who were used to him and knew him, we knew it was nothing more than a sham.  He was very capable at something which is inherent to the North Shore of Chicago academia and even other areas, the ability to appear really good, sometimes being without real substance.

My personality is such that I have always tried to do my absolute best in all areas.  Sometimes I think that in my need to overcome my own personal self doubts, that I need the approval I receive from always doing things in the best possible way, to the utmost of my capabilities.  Because I always do things this way, when and if I am criticized for not doing things the right way, I am really, seriously affected.  This is not to say that I cannot accept and/or handle criticism, because I am rational, reasonable, and objective.  I am not saying that criticism is enjoyable to me, it isn’t, but it isn’t for anyone. If I understand that it is meant with the idea of improving my performance and, more importantly, going to benefit the students, then I will more than thankfully work with it.  Anyway, what this all means is that if I am hit with inappropriate, unfounded criticism, my hackles rise immediately and my personality prepares for a legal war.

Cecil was one heck of a “Caligula like” strategist.  You never knew when he was going to hit.  He did manage to take me by surprise.  It was my year for being up for observation and evaluation.  He set up a time to observe me.  Despite his interesting organization and planning, this type of activity never seemed to follow a logical plan and was often done by him at the last minute.  He observed me in my classroom.  I cannot remember (I have blocked some of this out of my mind because of its high negativity) if he did a pre-observation meeting with me.  Something like this was normally standard procedure. Since I was a seasoned teacher with a good reputation, perhaps it didn’t occur.  In any case, the observation took place.  Much time passed before I received an evaluation.  Here is where Cecil’s planning took on an evil tone.  It was the Friday before spring vacation and he hands me a lengthy evaluation in paper.  At first, I thought nothing of it as I had received many of these during my career and they had always been stellar in appearance.  It was toward the end of the day as I began reading and the bile was rising in my gullet although I hadn’t read enough to really realize the ramifications.  When I went home I continued and frankly, was totally blown away.  Not that it was super negative, because it wasn’t, but it was negative enough and fraught with enough lies that I must say, my week of vacation was soon lost to me.  I was so hurt and concerned and in a quandary as to how to deal with/react/move on with the scenario that Cecil had presented me with.  My week of break was one of torment where I would wake up in the middle of the night with ideas of how to proceed.

The biggest shock of the evaluation was that one of the main criticisms of my teaching was that I had poorly presented a grammar topic to my students.  This was detailed in the paperwork.  Since the actual observation had been some time ago, I almost believed what I read.  Cecil didn’t have a full comprehension of me and of my organizational/planning side. I went into my very detailed lesson planning book and quickly realized that the grammar item he complained of was not even what I had done within the class he observed! 

During that week of break, I took much time to ponder, prepare, strategize my reaction to all of this.  I wrote a very detailed point by point response to his evaluation.  I presented it to him and sat down with him to go over it.  He never ever accepted the fact that he was totally falsifying information and denied everything.  He tried to make light of his allegations and stance.

At the time this was going on, I was the Director of the school language lab.  It was something I immensely enjoyed, was good at, and respected for on a local, state, and national level.  Cecil immediately took it upon himself, and succeeded, to make sure that my enjoyment in this area was of short nature.  One day I came in, was told that my desk had been moved from the language lab back to the main departmental office, and that my filing cabinets had been moved, without my knowledge, to a storage area two flights of stairs above the student cafeteria.  The odd thing about this is that one of my French teacher colleagues had just told me, and I had a confused reaction to it, that I was going to be back in the office.  Cecil was so good at destroying morale that he had told his favorites before I even knew.

The end result of all of this is that for years, I was tortured/persecuted/tormented by the evil of this man.  I was a lucky recipient of his evil in that my reputation within the school and community could not ever be tainted by his allegations.  I did realize, however, that there were other, less fortunate people within my department who could and would, in fact, be harmed by his behavior.  My being tortured made me less of a pleasant spouse, father, etc. on the home front and I am very sorry for any trouble this has caused my family.  They did not deserve one iota of this. It was literally years of being unhappy on a daily basis the minute I arrived on scene at school.  I wasn’t alone in this, there were others in my situation and we formed a “club” of sorts to maintain our sanity.  When Cecil was absent, life was beautiful on campus, I must say.

I did everything within my power to dialogue with Cecil to no avail.  He was a lost cause and it was just a question of biding the time until he retired.  I didn’t realize that at the time as I spoke to everyone I could within the administration in a very professional way.  I informed them as to what was going on and as to how I and others were personally affected.  They sympathized.  That is about it.  I still hold them all responsible for the mental cruelty that was inflicted upon so many good people.  Essentially, they all agreed with me, but they did nothing!  The problem is that if a problem such as this does not create a major outburst and have profound effects on the school, they often pretend it does not exist.  If you don’t acknowledge it, it doesn’t exist.  I tried to get support from my colleagues to do what had been successful in other departments when a chairman went “crazy.”  They were running so scared that they just couldn’t do it.  They were unwilling to band together, make an appointment with the administrative team, and air their problems.  Things did get so bad we actually had professionals come in to work with all of us, although they never really addressed the true problem.  Cecil was so good at looking good to many that no one would address the awful things he was doing.

I did go to the teachers’ Association to see what they could do for me.  At my school, the department chairman is not considered to be a full administrator; therefore they still can belong to the union.  Cecil was a union member.  I therefore could not file a grievance against a fellow member.  Nonetheless, union officials now knew what was going on.

The only good news in all of this is that despite the torment and persecution, teaching went on without a hitch.  My students were never aware of the turmoil going on.  That is not to say that it didn’t have an effect on me, obviously it would have to.  I never let the students suffer.  The bad part is that my family did, inadvertently, feel the wrath of Cecil.  My cool was less consistent at home and I would fly off the handle far more easily than before Cecil’s tenure.

Cecil, after a good amount of years in the position, decided to retire.  I have never felt as good as I did the minute I heard of the decision.  Essentially, Cecil “disappeared from the face of the earth” although we knew that he still lived in the area.  Although most people came back for the “Recognition Dinners,” as we called Retirement Dinners, Cecil never attended any to my knowledge.  We have Retirement luncheons twice a year; I don’t know that he has ever attended.  He did, recently, start coming out of his cave to make appearances at, if one can believe this, wakes and funerals.  He recently showed up to the funeral of a colleague’s husband.  This colleague was unbelievably persecuted by Cecil.  No one can believe he would have the audacity to do this, but he does.  We believe that he is so mentally unaware of his situation that he thinks people would be gratified to see him.

Once he retired, his name was effectively “mud” within the school.  The person who became department chairman following Cecil found that the office had been pillaged of all necessary information and the evaluations that had been housed there.  Apparently Cecil was aware that his standing, despite the tolerance that the “collaborating” administration had for him, was negatively viewed.  The new department chairman had many difficulties upon assuming the position as all sorts of information were no longer available and Cecil was totally unresponsive and unhelpful although he lived in the same area.

I recall one day following his departure, and two department chairmen later, being called into the department chair’s office.  The minute I was asked, a feeling of horrible apprehension took over my body as I walked into her office.  Linda noticed my reaction and asked me what was wrong.  I told her that the many years of ill will caused by her predecessor had made walking into that office a negative experience.  She and I dialogued a lot about it and we had a heart to heart about issues within the department and the fact that the issues were not related to her, but to the position she held.  We remarked that it would, in fact, take many years to get beyond it.  I do believe that to this day, that although I have been retired three years, that there are still issues relating to Cecil and his nastiness.

Following my retirement from the high school, I held two jobs, one with a language laboratory software concern (which I still hold in a very part-time way) and with Ohio University as an undergraduate admissions advisor.  My university job lasted one year, despite my love for my alma mater and my enjoyment working with them.  My immediate supervisor, much to my dismay, displayed many of the same characteristics as Cecil.  At the end of the year, after my confronting him, not getting the reaction that was needed, and my talking to his superiors, I quit.  Quitting is a luxury since often we have to endure bad situations to make the mortgage payments.  On quitting I had a heart to heart with my supervisor’s superior, the head of the entire department.  I said to him, I can tell you what is really going on because I am in a unique position in that I do not need this job.  I can tell you what others are feeling and perhaps cannot tell you because of possible professional ramifications.The morale and feeling of persecution is real and detrimental to everyone from the students we work with to the office workers.  I will not abide by it and you need to be aware of it.  As it happens, three other advisors quit at the same time.  It is sad when administrations will not own up to the sometimes bad choices they make in supervisory personnel.  That is reality, however.

Writing this all down is very cathartic to me.  I only hope that in some way, this can be read by people and they can come sooner to the realization than I did that some people are just inherently evil and thus learn to deal with it better and more easily than I did.  Life is too short!

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