Good Lord, what a week! I knew from the get-go that it was going to be exhausting -- deadlines, meetings, tons of work to get through, and on top of it all I had a terrible cold -- but I didn't know that it was going to begin with an attack from a departmental colleague, after which things just kept going downhill.
On Monday, the one part of the day that I was not at all worried about was the lunch meeting with my two Freshman English colleagues, Mrs. Q and Mr. Z. The junior American Lit class is the vexed one, complete with lively and substantive arguments among the faculty, but my two Freshman English colleagues and I get along really well, sharing resources and ideas but also content to let the others do our own things; that's the relaxing course.
Or so I would have said before Monday, but apparently I would have been wrong!
The point of the lunch meeting was to kick around ideas for a unit that we've added this spring, plus there were a couple of other decisions we needed to make for next year's course. Mrs. Q and I were doing some lively brainstorming, and Mr. Z was participating quietly in his much less lively way; Mrs. Q and I are both extrovert talkers and processors, while Mr. Z is much more slow and deliberate in his thinking. Things seemed to be going well and productively until I brought up the last decision we need to make for next year.
And that is when Mr. Z unexpectedly unleashed a tirade! He is always soft-spoken, and so this was a very quiet tirade, but it was in some ways all the more powerful for that since he spoke in this intense, hushed way as he leaned in. At first he was ranting about the "culture of change" that he was disturbed by and how he was always feeling pressured to change everything he did in his courses, and Mrs. Q and I were trying to figure out what he was talking about and who he was feeling this pressure from. And he said that the source of his unhappiness was ... ME!
It turned out that he lays this "culture of change" entirely at my feet, and he said that he was very concerned about the effects I was having on the curriculum and that I was such a rigid and controlling person that I wanted everyone to walk in lockstep as I dictated. He clearly feels victimized by having to work with me.
It was such a shock that I didn't even know how to react at first. I latched onto his "culture of change" comment as a place to start responding, and I brought up the only actual change that we'd made in the course since my arrival and said that I thought he'd been really happy about that one change. Yes, he admitted, he had liked that change. And then I said that, when I'd come into the course last year, I'd agreed to teach it exactly as Mrs. Q and Mr. Z had since they had planned the course together as they wanted to teach it, but that I'd always been clear that, once I'd taught it for a year, I might have some suggestions for us to think about; I asked, did he not think I had the right to have as much say as the two of them in the course if all three of us were teaching it? Yes, he admitted, I did have such a right. So what change was he unhappy about? I asked. Well, he said, he just knew that I was going to make him change everything, and that was clear by the way I'd forced the decision about a grammar curriculum on the whole department. Now this is a particularly irritating comment for him to make since there was an entire departmental committee that investigated grammar books, and all we'd done was to present what we'd found and point out pros and cons of the top contenders, and in fact it was Mrs. Q and Mr. Z who'd actually made the final decision since I'd said I would go along with whichever choice they made! But apparently none of that mattered; I'm still the one who is, in his eyes, responsible for the "culture of change" that he doesn't like.
Imagine this entire conversation happening very quietly, such that folks at the other end of the long table wouldn't even have known anything was going on except for the moment when I reared back as his tirade against me began. And I'm sure I sounded defensive in my response, but I was also being very respectful toward him in a way that now makes me angry to think about -- I kind of wish I'd been overtly pissed off -- but somehow with his quiet tone it always takes me awhile to really get angry at what he's said. (I've had that experience with him before in meetings, where it's only later, driving home, that I get really frustrated with him. It's a very useful weapon he's got in his arsenal!) What I am happy about is that I didn't cry and that my voice only wavered once, when I said that he could just decide the grammar book because I'd done more than enough work for the department on that front and that I was now done.
But my keeping it together lasted only as long as getting out of the cafeteria. I started crying in a quiet way on my way back to the classroom building, and then I locked myself into the little faculty bathroom in the basement and had a major cry for about 10 minutes. But then I needed to wash my face and pull myself together, because of course that would be the afternoon that I had two observers in my classroom, a couple of administrators from a girls' school in another state. (And did the administration ask Mr. Z to let them observe his class? No! Mine was one of the 2 or 3 classes that they observed that day. Suck on that, Mr. Z!) I was not in top form that afternoon, I'll admit, and the observed class wasn't bad but wasn't my best ever, and the rest of the afternoon I felt the tears very close to the surface. Unfortunately D wasn't home to comfort me that night, so I stayed on campus and worked and didn't let myself really think about the conversation until that evening. I wound up crying myself to sleep, not really about Mr. Z himself but out of a kind of paranoia; if Mr. Z, who I always thought liked me, apparently resented my very presence in the department, what did that mean about all of the other colleagues who I thought liked me? Maybe I had been a pariah all along and hadn't even realized it?!
By the next morning I knew that some of my paranoia of the night before was silly, but I was still feeling really vulnerable at school, not least because Mr. Z's classroom is right across the hall from mine. We don't actually run into each other very often, since he tends to stay holed up in his room, but we do share a hallway and a printer, and as luck would have it we had a department meeting that afternoon.
It helped to talk with Mrs. Q about what had happened. She'd had to leave campus right after lunch the day before (she works only part-time), but on Tuesday she made a point of bringing up the Monday conversation. She said that she was sorry that she hadn't said anything the day before but that the whole thing had been so bizarre and unexpected that it was only as she was processing it that night that she'd fully realized how attacked I must have felt (so apparently I'm not the only one who takes a while to work up a response to Mr. Z's comments), and she wanted to make sure that I knew that Mr. Z's attacks had been entirely about his own anxieties and that his characterization was not the way that the department and other colleagues saw me. As soon as she said that, I started crying again, but this time out of relief of some of that paranoia I was still feeling.
So now the question is, how to go forward? At least with my junior American Lit colleagues, when we have arguments we all voice our opinions very clearly and strongly, and there's no residue of constraint left afterward; we're all very clear about what we agree and disagree on, we've expressed ourselves quite frankly about the others' decisions, and our collegial relationships don't seem hampered. But with Mr. Z, it's quite a different thing because he stores up resentment and then lets it out forcefully but quietly, and there is no catharsis apparent after his explosions. At the departmental meeting Tuesday afternoon, we both participated but didn't make eye contact or speak to each other, and perhaps that is how I'll plan on proceeding. It's not at all clear how we'll make the decisions we need to make for next year; one a couple of issues, including the grammar book, I just told the chair quietly that Mr. Z wanted to think about it a little more and that we'd get back to her with a decision, but at some point books have to get ordered! I also don't want Mrs. Q to wind up as go-between for the three of us; I'll admit that, when I heard the two of them having a pleasant conversation in the next room a couple of days later, I felt resentful, because apparently there's a part of me that wants Mrs. Q and me to join together in freezing him out, but this is obviously not the best part of me, and I'm doing a pretty good job of not giving into it. I don't know whether it makes things easier or harder that FGS is a girls' school that emphasizes a culture of niceness; we just don't do open hostility, and everyone gets along, at least on the surface.
And speaking of gender, there's one more piece in this whole messy puzzle that's bugging me, and it has to do with an entirely different colleague, someone who is actually a pretty good friend. I told her all about the messy conversation and my tears, and she thought I should go talk with him and tell him that I was hurt and that we needed to talk through these issues. And maybe she's right about that, but I'm simply not in a place to do that right now. I'm really hurt, and I think I'd cry if we started talking again, and besides I think he should make the next move by apologizing to me, at which point I'll be happy to talk. (I'm not holding my breath for this to happen though, so we're at something of an impasse.) Her assessment is that Mr. Z is clearly a pretty weak man as far as gender types go and that I'm obviously a strong woman and that he's threatened by me. And I think that's true. But here's what makes me really frustrated with her: She thinks it would be a really good idea for me to go talk to Mr. Z and for me to cry in front of him, because that would make him see that I'm really vulnerable and would thus make me seem like less of a strong woman, which would lessen his own anxiety about his weakness as a man, and then he wouldn't resent me so much. WTF? I responded that I am indeed a strong woman, and if Mr. Z has a problem with that he can just suck it up and learn to deal and that I'm not going to cater to his gender anxieties by letting him feel superior to me after he attacked my character and my professionalism. No way.
So you can see what a very difficult week it was. I felt absolutely stretched to the breaking point emotionally, and I'm not speaking to one of my colleagues and feeling entirely out of sync with another. And there are only 5 full-time faculty in the department! By the end of the week I was wondering if I should tell the chair that I didn't want to teach the freshman class after all next year -- just take myself out of that particular mix -- but then I decided that I was reluctant to let Mr. Z drive me out of a course I really like and that I should clearly not make any big decisions during such a bad week. So I'm in wait-and-see mode.
My big goal for the weekend is to recover my health (the cold is on the wane but still with me) and my equanimity. Yes, I have 42 research papers to grade and classes to plan and tons of other work to do, but all of that can wait until I'm feeling fully myself again.