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Departmental Politics--Opinions?We all have them, whether we like to or not. The...

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engtchr5 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted October 17, 2008 at 7:57 AM via web

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Departmental Politics--Opinions?

We all have them, whether we like to or not. The inevitable schmoozing and sicophancy that accompanies life inside a "department" of any kind is unavoidable. But what do you do when it grows out of control?

Here's an example (completely hypothetical): A department chair plays favorites. To be more specific, he/she has one teacher who is his/her "pet," while the rest of the department is met with emotions ranging from complete ambivalence to outright scorn. When approached about the situation by others, the department head grows hostile and dictatorial.

How does one thrive within a department such as that described above? If you're not the "pet," you're unvalued as a team member, and in order to become the pet, brown-nosing and unjustified flattery seem to be the only stepping stones, as proficiency holds little worth to the aforementioned department chair. Your thoughts, por favor...

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kwoo1213 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

Posted October 17, 2008 at 11:41 AM (Answer #2)

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This is a super-touchy subject for many college departments.  There is a lot of "politicking" that goes on in individual departments and divisions (I can only speak from my own experience a my college).  I have never faced this situation, however, because my English dept. is a true rarity.  We ALL really like each other and are genuine friends.  We all get along well with our division chair, who is fair to all and who always looks out for us.  We all have the wonderful but unusual distinction of being friends and truly liking one another LOL.  If I were in the situation you described above, I would ask other colleagues to aid you in approaching the chair as a group.  It sounds like the rest of the department is being treated the same way, so perhaps a good approach would be to gather the colleagues and confront the division chair very calmly and rationally, providing evidence of his or her partiality.  If this doesn't work, I would go above his or her head to a dean.

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timbrady | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted October 17, 2008 at 5:03 PM (Answer #3)

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This is truly a sad situation. Like kwoo, I have always worked in departments where people liked each other, at least professionally since we didn't always see much of each other outside "the building."  For many years I was a department chair, and I can honestly say that I think my only interest was the students --- working with the teachers to make the students experiences more effective for them, more "fitting" to what we thought their future would look like.

My only thought would be about how the department leader is selected.  If the Principal/President make(s) the decision, then you can probably speak with them; if you have an HR department (rare in a HS), you might take it up with them.  If you elect your leader, then you should be able to take care of this.  

In any event you have my best wishes.  Teaching is difficult work; obstances from other adults make no sense at all --- but it may help to remember that abuse of power isn't all that rare a thing ....

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puzzlepieces | High School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted October 20, 2008 at 12:18 PM (Answer #4)

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As a department chair, I truly hope I don't play favorites, but I will certainly be aware of my actions/attitudes from now on to ensure that my department members do not perceive any favoritism.  Perhaps it's different with my department -- I am chair of the special education department, and the members of my department seem to sense that we either "live united or die divided". We really stick together and catch each others' backs.

Whe is equally concerning to me is the "cliqu-i-ness" of high school departments.  I sat in a teacher inservice today and watched staff members segregate themselves by department -- all of our foreign language teachers at one table, science teachers at another, the entire freshman academy filled two tables.  One of the greatest things about my job as a "resource" teacher who goes into others' general ed classes to serve students is that I get to interact and share ideas with a wide range of content area specialists with diverse opinions, teaching styles, and knowledge bases.  By segregating ourselves in situations where we are encouraged to share ideas, we miss out on so many different and valid opinions!

I'm sure that we all hated the social heirarchy that existed when we were in high school, and struggle to integrate the diverse populations that attend our schools in our own classrooms.  Couldn't we best do that by modeling? Next time you attend an inservice, sit next to someone new!

 

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kwoo1213 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

Posted October 20, 2008 at 4:55 PM (Answer #5)

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As a department chair, I truly hope I don't play favorites, but I will certainly be aware of my actions/attitudes from now on to ensure that my department members do not perceive any favoritism.  Perhaps it's different with my department -- I am chair of the special education department, and the members of my department seem to sense that we either "live united or die divided". We really stick together and catch each others' backs.

Whe is equally concerning to me is the "cliqu-i-ness" of high school departments.  I sat in a teacher inservice today and watched staff members segregate themselves by department -- all of our foreign language teachers at one table, science teachers at another, the entire freshman academy filled two tables.  One of the greatest things about my job as a "resource" teacher who goes into others' general ed classes to serve students is that I get to interact and share ideas with a wide range of content area specialists with diverse opinions, teaching styles, and knowledge bases.  By segregating ourselves in situations where we are encouraged to share ideas, we miss out on so many different and valid opinions!

I'm sure that we all hated the social heirarchy that existed when we were in high school, and struggle to integrate the diverse populations that attend our schools in our own classrooms.  Couldn't we best do that by modeling? Next time you attend an inservice, sit next to someone new!

 

  I agree with you!  This type of grouping does exist, even though we may not be aware of it all of the time.  I just attended my 20-year high school reunion and was disappointed to see that the "groups" still sat with one another, even when everyone should have been mingling with each other.  Amazing stuff LOL.

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engtchr5 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted October 21, 2008 at 7:05 AM (Answer #6)

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As a department chair, I truly hope I don't play favorites, but I will certainly be aware of my actions/attitudes from now on to ensure that my department members do not perceive any favoritism.  Perhaps it's different with my department -- I am chair of the special education department, and the members of my department seem to sense that we either "live united or die divided". We really stick together and catch each others' backs.

Whe is equally concerning to me is the "cliqu-i-ness" of high school departments.  I sat in a teacher inservice today and watched staff members segregate themselves by department -- all of our foreign language teachers at one table, science teachers at another, the entire freshman academy filled two tables.  One of the greatest things about my job as a "resource" teacher who goes into others' general ed classes to serve students is that I get to interact and share ideas with a wide range of content area specialists with diverse opinions, teaching styles, and knowledge bases.  By segregating ourselves in situations where we are encouraged to share ideas, we miss out on so many different and valid opinions!

I'm sure that we all hated the social heirarchy that existed when we were in high school, and struggle to integrate the diverse populations that attend our schools in our own classrooms.  Couldn't we best do that by modeling? Next time you attend an inservice, sit next to someone new!

 

  I agree with you!  This type of grouping does exist, even though we may not be aware of it all of the time.  I just attended my 20-year high school reunion and was disappointed to see that the "groups" still sat with one another, even when everyone should have been mingling with each other.  Amazing stuff LOL.

How true is that?! My school hosts "chamber mixers," where business reps from the surrounding community come in and mingle, ideally. But the last time I attended one, all the business owners and all the teachers/admnistrators who were familiar with one another's "group" clung to their acquaintances like we were at a junior high dance....

Go figure.

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cburr | Middle School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted October 25, 2008 at 5:47 PM (Answer #7)

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In my experience, one person who is willing to devote some real energy to the task can have a significant impact on the dynamics of a department.  People need to be helped to get beyond turf, whining and grudges.  The key -- I have found -- is to reach out to people and really listen to what they have to say without reinforcing negative patterns of blame, etc.  Many people will feel far better just by being truly heard.  Still more can be accomplished by helping those "in power" to see the issues by approaching them gently and non-threateningly, or even through subtle, well-placed comments on interactions.  

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linda-allen | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted October 28, 2008 at 11:19 AM (Answer #8)

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I guess I'm pretty lucky. My department doesn't have any of these kinds of problems--at least, not this year. We did have a problem before this year because two of the older teachers hated each other and refused to work together on anything. Fortunately, one of them retired last year, and now we all get along fine. I hope it lasts!

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morrol | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted October 30, 2008 at 12:13 PM (Answer #9)

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I think that having a strong sense of who you are outside of school is important in this scenario. My department can get a little petty sometimes, but it's a lot easier to not let it bother me knowing that when I go home, there are other more positive aspects to my life. I don't think that having a separate life from the classroom makes you a bad teacher, I think it makes you a teacher with staying power.

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sullymonster | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted November 2, 2008 at 7:44 PM (Answer #10)

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On the first issue, I agree with #4 as how to handle it.  I will also say this - I have a department head who plays favorites, and I have found that just being confident in my work and polite in general helps to bring about positive results. 

I have also found that the latter (confident and polite) helps to bridge the groupies.  In my school, it is the good ol' boys who group the most.  But just reaching in and being the friendly one actually works.  They are formal at first, but they loosen up with time.

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litteacher8 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted February 14, 2011 at 1:11 PM (Answer #11)

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I have worked in truly collaborative departments, where everyone worked together and got along.  Even in those cases, there were some people who did not pull their weight.  In many cases, a good department chair can pull everyone together but speaking from experience that is not always possible.  It is really hard for a department chair to keep everyone from getting at one another's throats if that is what they want to do.  This job has all of the responsibility with none of the authority.

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