Pointless Meetings

A school I once worked at liked to begin each week with a teachers’ meeting. Nothing unusual about that. It happens in a lot of places. But I became the head teacher at the school and one of my extra responsibilities was to lead this meeting. The meeting lasted two hours despite the fact that we rarely had more than half an hour’s worth of useful stuff to discuss. Nobody wanted a two-hour meeting except for the school’s owner. And even he didn’t really seem to know why he wanted it. I suggested a few times that we could perhaps cut it to an hour, but was told that it would be impossible because what if we needed more than an hour?

‘Well, then we could extend the meeting on those days.’

My boss wasn’t having any of it. ‘Two hours is best,’ he said.

‘Okay,’ I said, ‘but if we don’t have things to discuss for two hours can I finish the meeting early?’

My boss thought for a moment and said that finishing early would be difficult.

‘I know, but we don’t always need two hours, so if we finish early then teachers can get on with other things like preparing lessons.’

‘But maybe we will need two hours so we must schedule two hours.’

‘Yes, I know,’ I said, trying to resist the urge to administer a swift punch to the nose, ‘we can still schedule two hours, but if we don’t need two hours we can just finish the meeting early that week.’

‘It is very difficult,’ said my boss.

‘Is it?’ I asked.

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘If we don’t have two hours, maybe the teachers think the meeting is not for two hours.’

I realized if this went on much longer I might just sit down and start to cry. Instead. I left the discussions muttering unhealthy things.

My boss had at least been listening. Rather than shorten the meeting, however, he came up with things that would fill the time. One of these was the weekly round-up. Each meeting was to begin with a quick hello from all the staff followed by an account of what they had got up to at the weekend. I think it was supposed to be a group bonding sort of thing. It did unite the teachers in the opinion that the meeting was a complete waste of time but did little else for group harmony. The only person that seemed to like it was the Christian teacher as it offered him an opportunity to spread the word about his faith.

Donald was his name and he was as God-fearing, a pray-for-your-heathen-soul Christian as you could ever meet. He used the meeting to tell us about what a great lesson he had heard at church. As a non-church goer I didn’t really get this. I assume he’d read the Bible. Didn’t he already know all the lessons? Perhaps church services were like rock concerts where it doesn’t matter that you’ve already heard the songs; you want to hear them again, performed by the masters! Perhaps Donald would nudge his little Christian friend when the minister started speaking and whisper, ‘Yes! Deuteronomy 6! I love this one!’ Anyway, the long and short of it was that we were subjected to a brief bit of unrequested preaching each Monday morning.

The rest of us basically thought that the weekly round-up amounted to having to confess what we’d got up to at the weekend, and as nobody was likely to say in front of our boss, ‘I got absolutely rat-arsed and tried to shag some bird in a karaoke box’ we just made up pathetic titbits of information. ‘I cooked a nice meal’ one would say. ‘Great,’ the next would reply with a conspiratorial, sarcastic smirk, ‘I got a pleasant e-mail from an old friend.’ When Yuki the office assistant was reduced to saying that buying a new toothbrush was the highlight of her weekend, I looked at my boss, hoping to see some recognition that this was utterly, utterly pointless. He was smiling. Less so, when the next teacher announced with great cheerfulness that she had found a new job.


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14 Responses to Pointless Meetings

  1. oh my god – you made me burst out in laughter, during, well… you already know what.

  2. Chris B says:

    Just reading that exchange made me want to punch my computer monitor…..I knew that pain. 😦

  3. Mr. S. says:

    “The next teacher announced with great cheerfulness that she had found a new job”: now that is how to quit!

    Reminds me of the board of education meetings I had to sit through all summer when on JET many years past. Each division had to stand up and state their objective that day: “Arimasen!”, “Arimasen!”, “Arimasen!”, “Arimasen!”, “Arimasen!”, “Arimasen!”, “Arimasen!”. Only once followed by a group fit of giggles. I swear it was not one of we Gaijin who started it!

    • Jeffrey says:

      At our morning meeting, when I was pushing building materials, the response was naisen (if I remember correctly). It was the equivalent of stating that you had no schedule outside the office that day. For me it translated “I’ll be hiding in the warehouse the better part of the day.”

  4. noonasays says:

    Haha this had me cracking up.

    I’m not sure I would’ve been able to deal with your boss as well as you did, though haha. How infuriating.

  5. Thanks to all for comments. It’s funny to me now but some of those meetings were excruciating!

  6. Blue Shoe says:

    Nice recounting. Man, I’ve sat in on some departmental meetings at my schools and once an entire faculty meeting…that was only an hour along and I wanted to stick something sharp in my eye. I’m just glad most of the time no one cares if the ALT sits in or not.

  7. Rose says:

    Reminds me of a billboard I saw one time:
    “Jesus is coming! Look busy!”

    Best to appear as if you’re doing something important in those interminable meetings…

  8. judi(togainunochi) says:

    LOL, Oh, THANK YOU, for this piece. I just got home from a ball busting day, and this was there for me to read. My sister is a school teacher in Missouri, and must endure these kind of meetings. So, it’s not just Japan.

  9. David says:

    Hilarious as usual.
    We have a word in French for that kind of behavior. It translates -poorly- as “meetingitis”. It’s the disease that affects you when you do meetings for the sake of doing meetings.

    That post also makes me miss my old boss with whom we’d never have a meeting that lasts more than 10 minutes if there was no wine or champagne in the room, or we’d just go and have the meeting in the café/bar next door.

    Finally, I love your description of christians in church, this is how I imagine them too (although I never thought of the rock concert analogy, great one)

    • Thanks! Those 10-minute meetings or meetings with wine must have been in France, right? Sounds a very civilized way of doing things!

      • David says:

        Yes it was in France, but my boss was American (although, not your typical American, and definitely the best boss on Earth).
        French bosses on the other hand love pointless and boring meetings that you can’t escape, it makes them feel powerful or something.

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