All character names in this article are fictional
Now I’m going to tell you the mother of all staff party disaster stories, and unfortunately I happened to witness the carnage first-hand. I still shudder when I look back and remember the actions of the young man who brought so much agony upon himself. Thankfully, he is okay now and has a good job and two young, healthy children to delight in. Things could have ended up quite differently for him though, and his story offers lots of lessons for us to learn from.
Barry had just been appointed as an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher at a mixed comprehensive school in the North of England. He was well-qualified, having gained a first class honours degree and a PGCE, and was fresh out of college. Management were excited about having him on board as their first ever ESL specialist, and he was invited to come along to the welcome meal for new staff so that he could meet the new colleagues that he would be working with.
The evening started really well with nice conversation followed by speeches from senior management. Barry and the rest of the ‘newbies’ were introduced formally, and the party atmosphere kicked in soon afterwards. The school had provided quite a large budget for the event, since they wanted their new staff to really feel valued and welcome. The drink started flowing, with free ale on tap, and the disco lights started to dance around the dimly lit function room. Everyone started to let their hair down, and Barry wasted no time in ‘getting into the swing of things’.
Barry had one problem; an issue that had haunted him on many an occasion in his life (and had caused him some problems at university too). He was never able to handle alcohol really well. It made him boisterous, flirtatious, loud and outright aggressive. Tonight was no exception.
He started of pretty normally, enjoying pleasant conversation with his new ‘friends’. However, after only one or two drinks, his voice became louder, and he started to get more pushy. He didn’t realize how loud he was, but people’s heads were starting to turn at every one-liner he shouted, every swear word he spluttered and every laugh he made. If that wasn’t enough, he had his eye on a pretty petite blonde-haired lady named Karen, also a new teacher, who was sat a few spaces away from him. When the person who was sat next to her got up to go to the washroom, Barry saw this as his golden opportunity to sit next to Karen and begin ‘working his magic’.
Barry was a sophisticated, well-dressed, articulate and handsome young man. He had a series of girlfriends both at high school and at university, and he knew he was attractive. However, he made the almost fatal mistake of thinking that he could treat Karen just like any other girl he’d hooked up with in the past. He was wrong – Karen was his colleague, and that means a whole new set of rules needs to be followed in, what was to Barry, a very new type of social arena.
Barry slurred his words as he asked Karen her name. He’d read a few dating advice books, and he knew how to get a woman talking. At first he came across as being rather charming, but after a short time the textbook-style, classic flirtations started to roll of his tongue like Thai red curry when you initially thought it wasn’t ‘that spicy’. “I can tell you are a really sophisticated woman, especially since you dress so well”, “What do you look for in a man – I bet you have really high standards, so I guess I must off your list” and on and on it went, with lots of subtle hints that he was ‘interested’ in her. A short time later, after enough ale had entered his bloodstream, he felt bold enough to make a pass at her, moving his lips abruptly towards hers. Well that was the guillotine that almost decapitated his career, and what followed next was a chain of events that I’ll probably never forget as long as I draw breath.
What Barry didn’t know was that Karen had a boyfriend, and he was at this party, sat just opposite from him. Karen and her partner, Adam, had been hired as a ‘teaching couple’ (a practice that’s becoming more and more common in secondary schools). Adam had already spotted Barry’s obvious advances towards his girlfriend, and after seeing him make this pass, and hearing his girlfriend shout “No” and slap Barry chiefly around the face, Adam flipped out. He got out of his chair and squared up to Barry, and a rather mad brawl ensued between the two men, with all the shouting and kicked over chairs and broken bottles that came with it. The headmaster and the senior managers were dumbstruck, and everyone piled in to split the two men up. The bar manager asked both men to leave, and the whole affair was very embarrassing and cringe-worthy, even for those who were just innocent onlookers like myself.
Had this have been a normal brawl away from the prying eyes of workmates on a Saturday night, then Barry may (and I do mean may) have gotten away with this. However, Barry’s problems had only just begun, and he had to go to school the following week and start teaching and working with his new colleagues productively. What kind of foundation stones of trust and mutual companionship did Barry lay at that staff party? I think we all know the answer to that – very, very shaky ones!
Immediately after this incident, management had already decided to get rid of Barry as quickly as possible, and that was before he had even met his first students! How could they allow him to spend any great length of time at their school after this outrageous incident? He had planted some rather poisonous seeds of distrust in the minds of his colleagues, and they quickly started to talk about him behind his back. Barry knew what he had done was wrong, and he dreaded going into school for his first day of teaching.
Barry decided to try to make amends as soon as possible, and the first thing he did on his first Monday morning at school (which was an INSET/teacher training day) was to go straight to Karen and Adam and apologise sincerely. They both accepted his apology, but it wasn’t enough. His behavior that evening was so bad that all of his colleagues were talking about him behind his back. The headmaster called him into his office for a meeting, and Barry was mortified at the thought of even looking him in the face again. In that meeting, Barry was basically told that his behaviour at the staff party was absolutely atrocious, and that it would take him a long time to gain the trust of his coworkers after this. What Barry didn’t know was that, secretly, he had already been set aside for dismissal; management just had to decide which method to use to get rid of him, and how quickly to do it. They decided in not renewing his contract and the end of the two years he had signed up for, which, for Barry, was the nicest way that they could let him go.
Surely this is every teacher’s worst nightmare, right? You would be surprised at how many teachers, both new and old, let their inhibitions go to ruins when they are socializing with colleagues from school. Barry was lucky this time; the management of his school consisted of sweet ‘old-timers’ who sympathized with Barry as he was a very young man. They provided him with good references, and he secured a job at new school before his contract was over. Things could quite easily have gone the other way though – the SLT at Barry’s school were very generous and understanding in this case, but this is certainly not the status quo for most schools. Tough regulations from local government and accrediting bodies, along with the usual professional ethics requirements that teachers are constantly held subject too, place a lot of pressure on school managers to make sure that they recruit well, and that they root out ‘bad apples’, quickly.
Make sure that you don’t turn into a bad apple through inappropriate behaviour at staff gatherings.