When You Accidentally Tell Your Coworker He Sucks & is Bad at His Job
Because You Don't Know How to Gossip Properly
There are embarrassing moments, and then there are embarrassing moments. You spill all your tea on the carpet at work. You forget the name of someone you've worked with for years and call them by the wrong name. You flush half your scarf down the toilet at the mall. These moments are mildly embarrassing. Okay, for me, they are mild, and also things I have experienced. But, I have a high tolerance for embarrassment, as I embarrass myself a whole lot.
Have you ever had a moment so embarrassing you wanted to change your identity and run far, far away and never look back? I have, and that really is saying something! I'm going to tell you about that moment here.
A few years ago, I taught at a private school, back when I was still a teacher. I taught small groups of students with learning disabilities. One year I was also assigned to teach a regular fifth-grade math class. When the school administrators didn't have anyone else to do whatever needed doing, they gave it to me. I was the educational equivalent of Mikey from those Life Cereal commercials.
There were two fifth grade math teachers, "Jason," and me. As you may know, in my stories I use fake names to protect the other parties' identities. Today we are going with Jason.
Jason was certified to teach high school math, and that's what he wanted to teach since he also wanted to coach. I think it was track, and I'm sure it wasn't the chess team. Anyway, it was some sport.
But Jason couldn't find a high school position, so he ended up teaching in our private, K-8 school. Sometimes, private schools hire you for jobs in areas or at levels in which you do not have the proper certification if they think you're qualified for the job.
Jason was kind of a slacker, probably because he didn't really want to teach math to a bunch of elementary school students, which I totally get. His wife was also pregnant, and he had a lot of stuff to do before the baby was born, so he was somewhat distracted, which I also get. Jason was a nice, laidback guy, but frustrating to collaborate with as a teacher. Still, at least he was very, very nice and gracious, as you will see later in this story.
Jason had a mentor teacher, "Veronica." She can be Veronica because I was talking to someone a few days ago about the Archie comics. I was friends with Veronica, and we gossiped and told each other what we really thought about all the crap going on in the school. If you don't know much about schools besides what your kids do there, there are always a whole lot of crazy and often ridiculous things going on behind-the-scenes.
One day, for reasons I can't recall, I got both Jason's and Veronica's cell phone numbers at the same time. The three of us were standing together in a hallway when they gave me their numbers. I entered each number into my phone with the proper name and went on my way.
A week or two later, Jason and I each gave a math test. The test was over the same topic, and I wrote all the problems. Jason didn't use my word problems, though, because he liked to write his own. And they were not the height of word problem achievement.
Just before winter break, Jason was overwhelmed with grading, so I offered to help him grade his tests. I was sitting at home on my bed one evening, working on his tests, when I read some of his word problems and noticed they didn't make sense. He would begin with one kind of word problem, and the problem would morph into something else right in the middle. Every word problem was written in this way. It was hilarious to me, but to a fifth-grader, it probably made no sense. And, maybe it made them think they were batshit crazy because at that age, many kids still believe adults actually know what we're doing.
So, I texted Veronica and said, "You have to see Jason's word problems. They're ridiculous but also funny. Here's one: Mrs. Winters needs to buy party favors for her son's birthday party. The party favors come in packs of three. Who drove longer?"
As you can see, this problem was a bit confusing. I assumed Jason had gone crazy with the cutting and pasting and had not proofread his test.
I continued my texts to Veronica, who I assumed was busy, as she hadn't answered.
"Maybe we should ask him if a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear it if it still makes noise. Or maybe we should ask him what the sound of one hand clapping is. Those sound like his kind of word problems."
Then, Veronica replied.
"They aren't that weird. The kids seemed to understand them."
"Oh, are you grading some of Jason's tests from one of his other classes? That's nice of you," I texted.
"No, it just doesn't sound that weird to me."
"Well," I typed, all the ones I've graded have weird answers. Because all the kids can do is guess. I don't even know how to grade them, and I bet the kids were like, "What the actual hell is this shit?""
"I think they're fine. The kids are doing well on the tests."
"But how do you know? You're not even grading them."
At this point, I started to think Veronica sounded really weird and not like herself, and a quiet warning siren went off in the back of my head.
"I graded a few," Veronica replied.
"But you said you didn't," I typed.
Veronica responded with a shrugging emoji. A MALE shrugging emoji.
It took a couple minutes for the old brain to kick in.
Had I been texting Veronica at all? Oh. My. God. Could I have been texting Jason about how shitty his word problems were? Surely I hadn't been texting Jason! No one is that stupid! Not even me.
I decided to text Jason's number.
"Hey, Veronica, how's it going?" I typed.
If it was really Jason's phone, I'd pretend I'd texted the wrong number.
I got a quick response.
"Going okay, just hanging out with my daughter and my granddaughter."
Veronica had both a daughter and a granddaughter, and she saw them a lot.
"I hope you have fun," I typed. "Have a good night!"
I had been texting Jason, thinking I was texting Veronica, and enumerating how stupid he was as a teacher!
Oh. My. God. I must have typed the numbers in with the wrong names when they gave them to me. Seriously, why?
Are you there, God? It's me, Larkyn. Please invent a teleportation device and take me back in time and make me type those phone numbers correctly and with the right names. I have to work with this man for six more months!
It was the Thursday night before the last day of school before winter break. I legit got in my bed after realizing I was a giant asshole. I pulled the covers over my head, hiding in my shame as I thought about how I could handle the, uh, snafu?
"I can apologize to Jason," I thought. "No, I can't. I'm a brave person, but I'm not doing that. I can't."
"I know! I will hide from Jason tomorrow! I will sneak about the school like a cat burglar, holding a hand mirror inside classrooms before I enter to make sure he's not there. Then, we will have two weeks off, and he will forget, and I can pretend it never happened!"
If you know me, you know I never handle conflict this way. I am not a "sweep it under the rug" kind of person. I address issues directly with the person I'm having the problem with, and I do so as soon as possible. When I act like an asshole I also apologize as soon as possible.
Except in this one instance. It wasn't brave, and it wasn't right, but it would have to do. Jason was nice. He seemed oblivious to what went on around him, and I don't think he gave many fucks, but in the way a really nice person gives zero fucks. Clearly, ignoring what I'd done and hiding from him was the best solution.
I got to school extra early the next day to stow my lunch in the refrigerator without running into Jason. I stayed in my classroom with the door closed throughout the day and taught my students humbly and quietly. I'm not quiet, and a lot of kids asked me if I was okay. Since I couldn't tell them I had sent multiple texts to one of their other teachers telling him how stupid he was, I simply said I was tired and ready for a break.
When I wasn't teaching, I sat at a table that kept me out of view of the window in the door. I didn't sit at my desk ALL DAY; my desire not to run into Jason was that great.
At noon I tried to retrieve my lunch, but Jason was in the teacher's lounge, so I didn't eat lunch that day.
At the end of the day, I pretended I didn't feel well to get out of carpool duty, where Jason was the person I always stood right next to. When I left school that afternoon, I snuck out of the gym. I walked all the way around the building and behind another building to get to my car, instead of walking the straight path, which took two minutes, because Jason took the straight path to his car.
That night I applauded myself for being such an upright citizen and taking responsibility for my faux pax. Okay, I'm totally lying.
I knew how I handled it was wrong, but I didn't care because some embarrassment is too great to face, even for me. If it happened today, which is still very possible, I would suck it up and apologize, as I've evolved some in six years.
But, the evening of the day I hid from Jason, I was just grateful I'd avoided him! When I consider the lengths I went to not to run into him, I realize I was ridiculous. But I've always known I'm ridiculous, so it's okay!
After the break, I talked to Jason like nothing had ever happened, and Jason was kind enough and gracious enough to do the same and let me "save face." I hope he is doing well, wherever he is today, teaching high school and coaching whatever it is he wanted to coach.
I also hope he has stopped cutting and pasting with wild abandon when he writes word problems. And that no one ever accidentally texts him again and tells him he writes shitty word problems, even though he does.
It's a matter of simple math.