Who’s been sitting in my chair?
Nope, it’s not Daddy Bear singing this song – it’s the poor school secretary!
Big schools staff their school offices for long hours and therefore tend not to have this problem – there’s usually a secretary in the office. Many smaller schools, however, have part-time secretaries and administrators. (At least the pay-slip says it’s part-time, despite the many unsung and unpaid hours they put in.)
As a consequence, it’s very common for a secretary to come in to work and hear him or herself say with some frustration, ‘Who left that rubbish all over my desk?’ as they look at the new town tip that’s sprouted overnight in their formerly pristine environment.
There’s a mistaken belief in many teachers’ minds that the school office is public territory. Wrong. It’s somebody’s workspace. How would teachers like it if any other staff members wandered into their classrooms, used the tools, and left their rubbish or unwanted papers strewn all round their desk or workspace?
It’s a bit like the ongoing debate in some countries (including New Zealand) about public access to private farmland. The most vociferous proponents of ‘it’s our right to walk across a farmer’s land’ would have the police on anyone who sat on their front lawn, had a picnic, picked their flowers and left piles of ugly rubbish behind. What’s fair here, people?
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you!
If you haven’t already done it, can your school set up a separate work area for people using fax, photocopier, phone, organising mail or whatever other task has them in the school office taking space, nicking the secretary’s supplies and leaving clutter?
And an extension of that point – where do the teaching staff make their personal calls? Most large schools have a staff phone in or near the staffroom. But what about smaller schools? Office staff are generally the receivers of messages for teachers, but it’s not fair on either office staff or teachers that outgoing personal teachers’ calls should be returned in the school office.
Assertiveness is ok – some teachers need teaching too!
It’s not uncommon to hear of people taking advantage of the kind hearts of support staff.
Let’s hear how Wendy turned the tables.
‘One of our teachers was on the Board of Trustees. Every month he had to present a report which would then be given to the Board Secretary for inclusion in the minutes. Mario wasn’t a good typist and didn’t have a computer, so he asked me to type up his report.
‘I didn’t mind doing it for him but what I did mind was that, every month at about 1.30 or 2 o’clock on the day of the meeting, he’d come racing into my office, scrappy notes in hand, and expect me to whip it up for him before I left for home. He never seemed to consider that I might be working on someone else’s equally important work which had been delivered in a timely way; he was only thinking of his own needs. I work part-time, supposedly leaving work at 2.30. However, this meant that every time Mario wanted his report done I’d be late for my own kids because of his last-minuting.
‘This went on for some months, until finally I realised I had to take a stand. As he stood expectantly in my office on this particular day, I said, ‘Mario, I’m happy to do this report for you, but from now on you must get it to me before lunch or I can’t do it. Your lateness is causing me all kinds of problems.’
‘He apologised profusely and promised in future to mind my appeal. The next month I was delighted to receive his notes before lunch, as requested.
‘But – the second month, guess what! He slipped right back into his old habits. At 2 o’clock he dashed in, apologising profusely, and stood hopefully in front of me clutching his report. I felt really mean doing it, but I stiffened my backbone and said firmly, ‘Sorry Mario, but you know the rules. I don’t have time.’
‘That night he had to hand in his scruffy badly-presented report. He never missed my deadline again!’
Some adults are kids in bigger shoes: they need boundaries just like the students they teach.