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.