One of the many things that made this a very busy week at school is that members of the FGS English department who were interested in being interim department chair next year while our current chair is on sabbatical were supposed to email the head of school about our interest by Friday.
And no one at all did.
Well, I actually did send her an email ... but it was about why I was NOT throwing my hat into the ring. No one else sent an email at all.
So now we find ourselves in a pretty pickle.
As some of my colleagues told me at lunch yesterday, they were all just assuming that I would take on the role, which they were fine with since none of them wanted it. And earlier in the process I had kind of assumed that I would take on the role as well, or at least that this was a distinct possibility. But here are the reasons I gave the head of school on Thursday about why I wasn't going to apply for it:
- It doesn't make a lot of sense to me to turn my professional life topsy-turvy for a one-year appointment. Under normal circumstances, I said, I'd be happy to try something out for a year and see if I might want to do it for real down the line, but right now I'm working on this FGS history book; next year will be another one of intensive writing, and while I might be willing to throw a whole new learning curve into the mix (how's that for a mixed metaphor?) for a long-term job -- such as one of the academic class dean positions that she talked with me about last summer -- it didn't seem like the best use of my energy for a one-year position. Plus, there's the issue of my current extra responsibility of advising the student magazine (most of us teach four courses and then have a "fifth-period equivalence," and advising the student magazine is half of my "equivalence"); I assume someone else would get that advisor role for the year, and then they might well want to keep it, and then what would I do the following year, with neither magazine nor the interim chair position (which would be over); I'd have to do something like be an assistant coach for field hockey or the like, and that would be a grim state of affairs indeed. (Coaching is a valuable role in the school, of course, but it is definitely not my thing.)
I tried to be really clear in my email (a) that I was still interested in the possibility of administrative roles and should definitely be kept in mind if any arise, even though I was sidestepping this particular one, and (b) that if the department chairship is perhaps not going to be for simply the one year that it's advertised but might become a long-term role, she should follow up with me. I tried to be clear but subtle on this point. More than one person has voiced aloud the question of whether the school is going to try to ease our current chair out of her position and so perhaps the interim chair will become the "real" chair. I am avoiding this line of thinking, both because I'm feeling so very grateful to Chair right now for her above-and-beyond generosity towards D. and because I thought I had to respond to the job as it was advertised, not as some people thought it might become. Chair made a point of telling me at the beginning of the month that she is definitely coming back to FGS after her sabbatical; I'm sure that she wanted me not to be thinking of this interim position as a step toward becoming the permanent chair. And I honestly think I would prefer the potential position of academic class dean anyway.
- And then I added one more reason that I wasn't going to apply for the interim chairship, and that is that D. is going to apply for the one-year sabbatical replacement teaching position that we'll be advertising. Now, it is by no means my fantasy to have D. and me working in the same department, but we know that it is going to be difficult for her to find a position with her varied professional background (which we have taken to calling a "rich professional background" instead, since it sounds more positive and is just as descriptive). But it's possible that FGS might, because of her connection with me, be more willing to consider her as a viable candidate, and then after a year at FGS she would definitely be in a much stronger position to apply for permanent jobs. And after this week of having her around every day subbing in the English and social studies departments, we both think that we could handle the temporary dual roles of colleagues and spouses; and there are other spouses who both work at FGS, so this isn't outside of the norm, although having both spouses be in the same department would be very unusual. (One couple both are in the math department, but one is in the upper school and one in the middle school.) But if D. were fortunate enough to get the sabbatical replacement gig, I think it would be better for the smooth working of the department if I were not in the chair position.
As you can imagine, this was a tricky paragraph to write to the head of school, but I think my final result was actually pretty darned good.
Here is the email I got back from the head of school later that day: "Thanks for your explanation. In fact, I was wondering why I hadn't heard from you--and I assumed it had to do with your commitment to the history book. I absolutely understand your decision; it makes total sense to me." And then she made an appointment for Tuesday for "a quick chat about the history book and your schedule for next year." Hmm -- wonder what's up with that? It occurred to me that she might want to either (a) drop a hint that it's going to start out as an interim chairship but probably won't stay that way, or (b) offer me an alternative schedule in which I do the interim chairship but also keep my current fifth-period equivalent and just teach one fewer class. Quite frankly, if I were head of school, (b) is what I would do, but who knows? And what does that have to do with the history book? I guess I'll find out on Tuesday, and there's not much point wondering in the meantime because the last time she requested a conversation with me about "scheduling," a couple of years ago, I thought she was going to offer me the department chairship as a permanent position, and in fact she was trying to reconfigure another one of my duties so that I would do literally twice as much work for no more pay. (Fortunately, I put the kibosh on that move; never underestimate the power of a good argument well made!)
But in the meantime, there was this lunch conversation on Friday with my colleagues in which we discovered that NO ONE had put their name in to be an internal candidate for the interim chair position. And the thing that made us all nervous about this was that the head's original email to us said that she was going to "start with an internal search and then expand it externally." None of us liked the idea that an "outsider" was going to come in for a year to be our chair; I mean, of course there will be a sabbatical replacement for the teaching position (that's the job that D. is planning on applying for, along with undoubtedly a bunch of other folks who are more obviously qualified for it), but to have that person be chair? Definitely strange. Schools do sometimes hire someone to come in as department chair, but that's a permanent position, not a one-year one. So this possibility is rubbing us all the wrong way (unless, again, the one-year business is all a ruse and it's actually the first step toward a long-term position, but then she needs to be clearer about that with the department).
So over lunch I got nominated by my colleagues to send an email on our collective behalf to the head of school, saying that we found the idea of an external one-year chair a worrisome possibility and that we hoped the school would do some creative thinking about leadership for the department for next year and that we would like to be part of that creative thinking. The head wrote back within a couple of hours and said that we were right, that no internal candidates had come forward, and that she thought "it makes great sense for the English Department to brainstorm creatively" with her and a couple of other administrators "about possibilities." We may have this conversation as soon as Tuesday, our next scheduled department meeting, if the administrators can make it work in their schedules.
So now we have to figure out what some of those possibilities might be! Any ideas? I figure that the "creative brainstorming" will go better if we've done some pre-brainstorming.
(And I will just note here that the fact that I started this lunchtime conversation and that my colleagues assumed I would be our spokesperson and that I cheerfully took on that role because I was sure that I would do a fine job of it does perhaps indicate that maybe I should be department chair if other details can fall into place. Except that I'm not sure that would be a "creative" resolution, which is what it now seems we should be going for.)
So that's our current pretty pickle. I really would welcome any suggestions you all have about what "creative possibilities for department leadership" might look like. One colleague suggested that two people could share the job; another option is dividing the job up into its variant roles -- going to department chair meetings, finding subs, doing evaluations for the newer teachers, etc. -- and parcelling those roles out to members of the department. Another possibility is that the administration could recognize that right now no one thinks the job is worth it to take on and could somehow make the role more attractive, although I understand that there has to be parity among departments. Any other ideas?