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Stick up for your values and vital interests.

Updated: Jul 10

Here's a little blog post about sticking up for yourself at work — and (incidentally) about the current state of higher education. It's an eight-minute read that relates an issue I had with a student — and subsequently with my boss — and how I dealt with it.


The bottom line is this: You might be better off dying cold and alone under a bridge than lying down for the nonsense that students, administrators, politicians, and parents routinely throw at teachers — including college teachers.


(Other teachers are not necessarily great allies. Most are cowardly suck-ups, and the most cowardly of all eventually become administrators.)


The point of this post is to encourage ALL of you to stick up for yourselves when the time comes. I know it's hard, and you have a lot to lose — but every social ill arises precisely because good people do NOT stick up for themselves often enough.


This is especially the case for professional educators. Our job is to "hold the line" at the last bastion of civilization, so a lot depends upon our ability to speak the truth to power. Whether or not we are doing our job is a different matter altogether.

Some of the worst social ills in our nation today are disguised as "patriotism" on the one hand, or as "social justice" on the other. This story relates an encounter with a "social justice warrior" who was anything-but.



Here are two new Golden Rules:


1. Start by giving it good.

2. End by giving it precisely as good as you get it.


A tiny morsel of victory is more nourishing than a king's feast of defeat.


Here’s what my day was like today, as expressed in an email I just sent:


Hello All,


I knew it was coming, and now it's finally here. The Political Correctness Gestapo is coming to get me.


What follows is an email correspondence between me and my boss at the community college, regarding a single class I taught as a substitute last Monday. The initial issue has to do with a female to male transgender student who was sitting in the front row, and who prefers the name "Gary" to he/r given name of "Mary."


Actually, I still do not know for sure if this student is female-to-male, male-to-female, or something else entirely. I also still don't know if he/r preferred pronoun is "he," "she," or something else entirely, because I was never told.


I am only guessing. Sometimes, that is all you can do.


The secondary issue has to do with professional courtesy and respect.


My boss sent the first email to me last night at 8:46pm, demanding to have a meeting with me, in person, at noon today.


-----------------------


Subject Line: the class you substituted


Nick


Please meet with me and Sarah tomorrow around noon or 12:15. We need to discuss a few things.


Gina


-----------------


Hi....


Can I know what this about, please?


Tomorrow is not convenient for me. Can we aim for Friday as soon as soon as my class lets out at 5:10pm?


Thank you,


Nick


----------------


Hi Nick


I prefer to discuss this in person. So meet with us tomorrow, Friday at noon. We can't wait until you finish class at 5. Sarah and I leave around 4 on Fridays.


Also, can you get back to Sarah about what you did with the students for the class you substituted and also the materials?


Gina


--------------------------------


Hi Gina


I just checked my CCP email and replied to Sarah about what I did with the students on Monday, as well as what I did with the folder she handed me.


As for the meeting you requested:


My classes are on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 3-5:10pm, and my office hours are from 5:10-6:10pm.


My time away from the main campus is normally dedicated to grading, class preparation, and other pursuits for which CCP does not pay me, but somebody else often does. In other words, my time is valuable to me both personally and economically.


I commute from Walnut Township, which takes at least a full hour, both ways. Once we factor in waiting for trains to arrive, commuting to your office on a Thursday would take three hours out of my day, not including the meeting itself. If we add in the time it would take to have a meeting, we are talking about four hours at a minimum.


To put that in perspective, when I freelance write, I earn about 22.5 cents per word. I can write about 1000 words in four hours. That comes out to $225 for four hours of my time.


So when you ask me to show up in your office, without notice, at noon on Thursday, you are essentially asking me to put $225 in your hand.


In light of this, please consider the curtness of the email you sent me at 8:46pm last night:


Subject: the class you substituted


Nick,


Please meet with me and Sarah tomorrow around noon or 12:15. We need to discuss a few things.


That is all it said. I pasted it here verbatim.


Your email comes across as purposely cryptic, intentionally alarming, and indicative of a total lack of respect.


Upon reading it, I thought to myself, "Does she really presume that I am ready, willing, and able to cancel my entire day at her merest whim?" But in the end I decided to take a more charitable view: "This must be a misunderstanding. She's had a long day, too, so she must not be thinking straight."


I replied politely that I am not available at the time you demanded. I suggested another time, asked what this is about, and then did my best not to lose any sleep over it. I awoke today to find your reply:


Hi Nick

I prefer to discuss this in person. So meet with us tomorrow, Friday at noon. We can't wait until you finish class at 5. Stephanie and I leave around 4 on Fridays.

Also, can you get back to Sarah about what you did with the students for the class you substituted and also the materials?


I added the underlined type in order to call attention to the seemingly deliberate lack of courtesy your second email displays. This time, you did not even offer me the ordinary salve of using the word "please." You simply commanded me, baldly, to appear before you at noon on Friday — over what, I do not know, because you refuse to say.


You also made it abundantly clear that you believe your time is more valuable than mine: "We can't wait until you finish class [because we] leave around 4 on Fridays"...yet you asked me to sacrifice no less than $225 worth of my time without so much as a "please" or an explanation for why?


You must be joking, right?


I am quite certain that I have done nothing that should incite you (or anyone else) to address me in this way. I am a 40 year-old man with a full schedule, a clean criminal record, and bills to pay.


What's more, until this very moment I have never failed to present myself to you with anything less than good humor and a fair degree of deference.


Most important of all, I work hard every day, and I deserve to be addressed as a professional, not as a naughty child.


It is highly irregular to presume that you can commandeer an entire day out of a person's life, with no notice whatsoever, whilst refusing to offer even the slightest explanation for why.


I do not presume that there has been any complaint against me, but If there has been, I am entitled to know what the complaint is before meeting with you about it — and I am especially entitled to know how this complaint is substantiated.


I assume it must be a very substantial complaint indeed, if you think I must answer for it in person, without explanation, without delay, and at your exclusive convenience.


I may be an adjunct instructor who is accustomed to losing his job every four months, but I will not be addressed in this undignified way, nor will I be ambushed or blindsided by God-knows-what. I demand to know what this meeting is about, and I want it in writing.


Thank you,


Nikolas Jintri


-----------------------


Hi Nick


We understand that your time is valuable, but a sensitive issue has come to our attention regarding an alleged conversation you had with a student about their preferred pronoun. It is essential that we discuss this as soon as possible preferably in person. Our time is equally valuable and we will not be able to stay until 5:10 on MWF. Therefore, if an in-person meeting is not possible, we can discuss this matter over the phone. Let me know when you wish to call me about this.


The intent was not to be cryptic, but the nature of the matter being sensitive, I did not want to explain over an email. Now that you have some idea of what this is, let me know how you wish to go about discussing this matter.


Gina


---------------------------


Hi Gina


Thank you for getting back to me.


Allow me to make a clear, written record of exactly what transpired during the class in question:

  1. I showed up for the noon meeting you scheduled for us on Monday, as promised. You were not there, and Sarah was tied up with another meeting.

  2. Sarah gave me an attendance sheet and some other materials fewer than ten minutes before my 12:40pm class.

  3. At the start of class, I called students by their first names, one after another, in order to take attendance.

  4. When I reached the name "Mary," I called it as I would any other name. After all, there were no other instructions given. The first name "Mary" was simply on the list, along with all of the others.

  5. A student answered to the name Mary, but with immediate and audible anger. S/he said, "It's GARY!!!" There was no build up to this, nor was there any warning.

  6. I was utterly confused and blindsided. I had no idea what was happening. I thought the student who was speaking must be speaking on behalf of another student named Gary, who was (to my mind) apparently absent.

  7. I asked for "Mary" again, totally uncomprehending.

  8. Gary (i.e. formerly Mary) snapped at me, "It's Gary," then said, with wide eyes and even more anger, "It should have been CHANGED on the roster!"

  9. I calmly explained that I was only reading the names as given on the roster before me, that I had no way of knowing that this person preferred a different name, and that the anger Gary displayed was due to no fault of my own.

  10. From that moment until the end of class, I made a point of addressing this person as "Gary" by name a number of times. I did so casually, but I did it a few times in order to make sure it was clear that no disrespect was ever intended.

  11. At one point, I may have mistakenly miscalled Gary as a "she," but I quickly corrected myself. It was along the lines of, "So supposing she, errr.... GARY, wanted to...." This only happened once.

  12. I made a note of this misunderstanding on the attendance sheet before I handed it in. You can see for yourself.


I should point out that I had no way of knowing what Gary's preferred pronoun was. Gary never told me, so when I called Gary "she" and immediately corrected myself by going back to simply "Gary," I was only taking my best guess.


Had I called Gary a "he," I still could have been wrong — and I was none the wiser about it either way until this very hour.


There's a name for this game. It's called "You Can't Win."



I vote Democrat, I march for gay rights, and I consider a person's gender to be none of my business — but I also don't take any shit.


I assure you that I have done nothing wrong here. It was merely a human mistake — the kind of human mistake that is all but guaranteed to occur in circumstances like these.



And I'll go even further:


I think Gary owes all three of us an apology for causing so much unnecessary heartache, and for taking these trumped-up charges to you instead of addressing them to me directly, as per protocol.


And I'll go even further than that:


I also think you owe me an apology for ruining my sleep last night, and for ruining half of my day today over this nonsense.


Not only should I not be called to the carpet over my job performance from last Monday; I should be complimented for showing up at the last minute, receiving no instructions whatsoever, and still delivering a great lesson, which I did against all odds.


Gary's pride isn't the only pride that counts here — and besides, Gary's pride was never in jeopardy at anyone's hands other than (presumably) his own.


How about my pride? And yours? How about the obvious pride that I take in my work as an educator? How about the pride administrators need to show by sticking up for their teachers and not kowtowing to every ludicrous complaint that comes along — even to the point of dragging teachers into the office on their days off over mere allegations?


Dammit, Gina, we are professional educators with a sacred calling. When we do our jobs right, the nation succeeds. When we act like we are afraid of our own shadows, a few decades is all it takes to end up with precisely what we have right now — paranoia, cowardice, and anti-intellectualism.


Can somebody please recognize and show a little deference for that?


I will be happy to discuss this over phone, right now if you like, but I am definitely not going to board a train, walk to CCP, and kill an otherwise productive four hours (or more) of my life over the petulant whims of a person who simply needs to grow up.


Nikolas Jinri


----------------------


Hi Nick


Thanks for your detailed explanation about the conversation with the student, and this would suffice as far as I am concerned. We don't have to discuss this any further in person or over the phone.


Gina


-----------------------------


Hello Gina


And thank you for having my back.


I know it's not easy to stick up for instructors. Someone should have restored respect and dignity to our profession a long time ago, but I guess they hoped we would do it instead.


I regret that I had any connection to your stress today.


Nick



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