Dear Ted

21st February 2003 at 00:00
My deputy head harangued me in the corridor for dismissing a class early. What should i do about this public dressing down

Ted Wragg, professor of education at Exeter University, answers your professional problems, big or small, every week. Ask him for independent advice - or offer some of your own - by writing to: Dear Ted, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX. Or email: dear.ted@tes.co.uk

TED SAYS

It is a fundamental rule of professional relationships that no one, however senior, criticises a colleague in front of children, so you are entitled to throw a fit about this - in private. Go to see your deputy and make your feelings clear. If you are not satisfied with the response, complain to your union.

At the same time be honest with yourself about the context. Did you dismiss your class early? Had you been asked before not to do this? Schools have a duty of care, and unsupervised children can get up to mischief, in which case the school would be held liable in a negligence action.

Sometimes even the most mild-mannered people can become intemperate and exasperated if their colleagues constantly fail to co-operate. If you were in the wrong, make sure you are more circumspect in future. The deputy still had no right, though, to harangue you in public and should have talked to you in private.

If you had not, in fact, dismissed your class early, you have two reasons to be cross: one for the public criticism, the other for injustice. If that is the case, go doubly berserk.

You may feel you have a wider responsibility. If the deputy is prone to outbursts in front of children, the general matter of professional demeanour might well be raised, especially if you are one of the more robust members of staff. Your more frail colleagues may go home and simply cry into their cocoa.

Bullies should not be allowed to get away with it, but usually only tough-minded or secure teachers are willing to take them on. If all else fails make a Plasticine doll and stick pins in it. You'll feel better.

YOU SAY

Stand up to the bully

In my relatively short career I have come across a few senior managers who try to manage through bullying. I have found that the only effective way of avoiding becoming a victim - and that, after all, is the result they're after - is to confront them. We teach our pupils to stand up to bullies and that is what we have to do. Ask to speak to your deputy head in private and explain that the public dressing-down made you feel undermined and undervalued. Explain that any future advice is welcome (try to keep a straight face) but that you would prefer to receive it in a more private forum. You will need to apologise for allowing the class to leave early.

After the meeting you may want to make a record of what was said by each party; this will be useful if the deputy in question makes a habit of bullying staff.

Hopefully this was a one-off - all of us have days when we fail to make sure our brain is working before engaging our mouth - but if this is a regular "sport" by this particular member of staff, records of such incidents need to be logged and advice from your union representative sought.

Anita Smith, Leeds

Admit you made a mistake

Have the courage to accept you were wrong. The class should not have been dismissed early. It is a basic of good class management that lessons start promptly and pupils work until as close to the end of the teaching period as possible. Classes learn from the example set by teachers. Plus, had any child been injured in the time between dismissal and the end of the teaching period, you would have failed in your duty of care and could have faced disciplinary action.

Approach the deputy and apologise for your action. This shows a proper humility and demonstrates acceptance of personal responsibility and good professional standards. There is a further lesson. You feel aggrieved for what you see as a public humiliation. If a child misbehaves do you "harangue" him or her in front of other pupils? Is this defensible?

Alasdair Macdonald, Glasgow

Civil explanation is the key

I had a similar experience once when I was 10 minutes late for a class. The deputy was in the room when I arrived and berated me in front of my Year 5 pupils. I said nothing at the time but went to see the deputy at the earliest opportunity. I explained politely that I had been detained by a parent and found it impossible to break away in time. The deputy apologised unreservedly and I took the matter no further.

A Williams, Manchester

Unprofessional behaviour must be dealt with

Your deputy head has behaved unprofessionally, and owes you an apology.

Many schools have at least one staff member whose inter-personal skills can be insensitive. If this was a one-off, perhaps you need to consider the pressure under which most staff have to work - often, in the hurly-burly, messages may be delivered in the wrong way. If this is the case, you can approach your deputy, perhaps in the company of a supportive colleague, and politely explain that, while you accept you were in the wrong, you would prefer not to be corrected in front of pupils. You might even choose to ignore the matter in the cause of good staff relationships - never feel that damage limitation is demeaning. But if you are continually being treated in an unpleasant way by your deputy or any other senior colleague, you must call in your union rep.

Finally, you won't have lost the respect of pupils - you can even gain sympathy votes if they've seen a senior teacher apparently putting you down.

Sue Gedge, Woodford Green, Essex

Coming up: Does mixed-ability work?

"As a secondary English teacher I am a strong supporter and successful user of mixed-ability teaching. Some of my colleagues are sceptical about its benefits. What does the evidence suggest?"

What do readers think? Let us know by emailing dear.ted@tes.co.uk. We pay pound;40 for every answer published

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