Blog confidential: The corporate evangelist

Each week, Dr Margot Feelbetter poses a dilemma and offers advice for readers to respond to online

June 10, 2010

This week: The corporate evangelist

I recently had my staff appraisal from my line manager, with whom I do not have a particularly brilliant relationship. She is very, very corporate and far too enthusiastic for my liking.

The meeting got off to a difficult start: "Tell me about some inspirational teaching you recently undertook ..." I think this was a deliberate ploy to shock me into her way of thinking.

But her way of thinking is not the only way of thinking. My teaching is acceptable, I am never behind with my marking and I am considered competent. I have managed to get some research money for a three-year project (which I mainly do outside work hours) and have little time to contemplate a more "inspiring" way of teaching.

She wants to arrange another meeting to explore the "dynamics of becoming an extraordinary teacher" and has invited someone from the education department to mentor me.

Can she do this? Quite frankly, I am not interested and have several personal and family commitments that preoccupy my life outside work. There have never been any complaints about my teaching; indeed, she has never even observed me teach.

I consider my line manager to be a rather deluded woman who is evangelistic and overexcited about her work. What should I do?

I have had several emails from teaching staff about over-enthusiastic line managers wanting to convert staff to their way of thinking. I also had a colleague who experienced a similar appraisal and was asked to "think outside the box" with regard to her teaching.

Honestly, some of these phrases are so anachronistic. I suggest you tackle this one head-on. Go to your manager's office and try to have a more informal conversation. Ask what aspects of your teaching she is concerned about. Show her that you are upset and concerned about what she has suggested.

My understanding is that she cannot force you to do anything you do not want to do in terms of activities outside your contractual obligations. The staff appraisal is as much about your needs and requests as her making suggestions (which you can reject). You say there are never any complaints about your work, so if she is concerned about anything, ask her for evidence. You state she has never seen you teach, so it is difficult to take her seriously.

This said, she sounds harmless and you are perhaps lucky not to have a more manic or controlling individual as your boss. Indeed, if you read this column next week, you may consider yourself fortunate indeed.

I wonder whether other readers have advice for you in dealing with what is, I think, a rather subtle form of humiliation. Most academics approach work not to experience some sort of spiritual conversion in their teaching methods, but to do, at the very least, a "good enough" job. Anything more is up to the individual concerned.

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