5 Ways not to be Short-changed by Shortlisting.

5 Strategies for hiring the right employees

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People make an institution. No matter what your institution is, in the modern world, it’s a no-brainer that you need to hire the right people. In my experience the key to all of this is the shortlist.

Here are 5 tips to help you obtain the right staff members for your organisation:

  • Find people smarter than you
  • Search for service-orientated staff
  • Beat your bias
  • Look within your organisation
  • Take a chance on someone

1. FIND people smarter than you

Well qualified people lend gravitas to an institution and those who question and challenge the status quo are an asset to growth if properly managed. (I’m not talking about toxic nay-sayers and negative obstructionists. They are poison and should leave.) But innovators will often see what can work better and these creatives should have a place in your team. (Note I equated ‘smart’ with creative.

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I have witnessed bosses systematically clear their staff of people who are better educated, and those who challenge them. This is a sign of an insecure leader. Don’t be one.

More than anything, look for what your team lacks and in senior staff be sure to know your own gaps and bring on board experts to drive those areas.

And when they have been employed, they will make YOU look good too.

2. SEarch for service-orientated staff

Look for extra-milers. How do you tell this from a CV though?

Look at their after-hours involvement and then build into every interview what call the ‘heart question.’

For example, look for the ones who link their sport to charity works. Search for applicants who are busy and seem to lead full lives – they will make the time. Shortlist those who identify people skills or the poorly named ‘soft’ skills as their strengths.

But don’t take their word for this self-sacrificing way of life. In the interview ask searching questions about their understanding of generosity of spirit or how they manage relationships at work and how these apply in the workplace (plus how they have implemented such a philosophy). Ask them how they have fun at work. And then check these when you do a reference check!

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Then when you have employed them, (and this is key) look after these gems because they may well burn out if not protected from themselves. However they will build the character of your school or company. Richard Branson was right when he spoke about staff wellness and customer satisfaction.

3. Beat your bias/es

Now before you deny that you have such skewed judgement, take any online test and you will see that we all have blind spots. Accept this imperfection in yourself as fact and then make sure that your innate prejudices do not make you overlook quality staff.

I knew a head of a school once who asked his PA to tippex out any reference to gender on applications because he knew that as a product of a boys-only environment, he tended to favour male applicants. (Mind you, good luck to any school principal who can find good men who apply for a teaching post these days – in South Africa, male educators are a rare bird indeed – pardon the sexist pun). But I digress: Whatever you need to do to avoid bias, try very hard to deliberately shortlist someone in that category – they may surprise you. Inevitably when I have done that, that person has proved to be the best candidate.

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4. LOOK WITHIN YOUR ORGANISATION

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Always interview someone from your institution who applies for a job. (Yes, even if they are not suitable.) If they are entirely unqualified for the position, call them in and explain what they need to do to be considered for an interview.

Every interview provides growth opportunities for your employees and a chance for you to give meaningful guidance and direction. Also, it forces you to re-look at people’s CV’s and to see them with fresh eyes. It is absolutely vital however to give them good feedback afterwards so they know how to improve if they did not get the job.

Transformation starts from within. It is incredibly gratifying to promote or develop staff from the ranks and then watch those people flourish. Remember to support them and train them as they move up, and back them against doubts from colleagues.

The other benefit from this approach is that you end up with loyal staff who know that you have their best interests at heart.. And you are making a difference.

5. TAKE A CHANCE ON SOMEONE

Shortlist an outlier.

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I will always be grateful for the heads who interviewed me despite my erratic early professional work record. I look horrible on paper because my ex-husband worked for a large company that transferred us all over the country at short notice. However I have learnt to turn that into a strength in the sense that I have worked in so many different types of schools and systems so that I have a strong sense of what works and what doesn’t work. And I am more flexible as a consequence too. Furthermore the reason for my multiple moves is no more because I am no longer married to that person.

We interviewed someone once who was given a terrible reference from her ex-boss, but we had inside knowledge about him, as well as a gut feel for her. So we sought out another reference. The teacher turned out to be an excellent choice.

In another case, the choice was between two candidates: one with years of experience in the company and expert knowledge and one man with less experience but loads of energy. He has proved to be a major asset to the school.

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In the end, all hiring is a risk, so consider these wise words:

“Hire character. Train skill.”

Peter Schutz, former President and CEO of Porsche

One Word which Kills Transformative Dialogue

The moment you use the word ‘surely’ in conversation or debate, you have closed yourself off from hearing the other person’s view and lost an opportunity to be changed by diverse viewpoints. It is the conversational version of crossed arms.

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I love being around young people because I learn so much from them. The negative view of the word ‘surely’ comes from my daughter who has been lecturing at the University of Cape Town for the past year. Challenging the use of the word comes out of conversations specifically around transformation and diversity, but has much wider implications for all relationships.

Think about it: Every sentence that begins or ends with ‘surely’ immediately suggests that whatever the other speaker is about to say cannot contradict your opinion, because your ten cents worth is assuredly correct.. ‘Surely’ is a verbal roadblock to being open to another theory and it kills collaborative activity.

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And then we combine it with the ubiquitous ‘but’ which automatically translates as ‘No, you are wrong’ and so doing, we show ourselves to be arrogant and patronising. This is how we communicate our prejudices, patriarchy, misogyny and colonial attitudes, in fact our bias. ‘Surely’ almost inevitably introduces gaslighting of some kind.

But surely, you can see… (your ideas are rubbish)
But surely the government/taxis/women/other races should… (I know what is best for everyone)
But surely you must… (I am going to make you do it my way)

Translation: You/they are wrong. I want you to think, speak and do what I want you to.
I am in charge.

And out the window go empathy and compassion. Harper Lee in the famous To Kill a Mocking Bird speaks about walking in another man’s shoes and even goes so far as to say we should climb into someone else’s skin:

“First of all,” he said, “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”


Chapter 3, To Kill a Mocking Bird

We don’t have to physically climb into someone’s shoes or skin (that’s a bit creepy anyway) but listening without judging requires us to suspend our ‘but surely’ retorts so that we open ourselves to innovative ideas and truths and see the world through another’s eyes.

If we are going to have any meaningful transformational dialogues we have to find ways in which we can ensure individuals are heard.

So drop this one word from your vocabulary. Try saying ‘I think’ when stating your vision. Better still, ask what someone else thinks.

And then shut up and listen.

Five simple things I want to tell girls about speaking in public

It is a truth universally accepted that women have to contend with prejudice both overt and subtle when standing up to speak. When the audience ((no matter its size or gender make-up) has completed its superficial scrutiny of what fashion statements our clothing and body shape are making (inexpensive elegance from Les Chinese and sponsored by Cadbury in my case,) the group will eventually engage with our message.

The challenge is to ensure that our messages are not lost in poor presentation skills. Here are a few pointers I have found useful in my own delivery as well as in coaching young people in the classroom.

  • Own your space.
  • Don’t giggle.
  • Lower your pitch.
  • Slow down.
  • Stay away from insipid expressions and apologies.

Own your space:

Any good communication depends on what I call ‘crossing the gap’ from speaker to listener. If you are called to share an opinion or give a talk, your primary task is to carry your message from your own genius to the hearers.’ Don’t shrink from traversing that space with your body language. An audience will applaud anything if it’s said with enough panache. A bombastic oration which is flimsy on content is always better received than timid eloquence (which may explain the popularity of certain politicians and churches – despite the patent lack of spiritual or bodily gain from Doom, snakes or loud praying – ask Brighton and Pastor Lukau of the the coffin fame.)

Don’t get me wrong I am not advocating vacuous braggadocio performances, but a confident pose is a sure way to have your audience sit up and take notice (and I don’t mean like Mr Moyo’s fake rising from the coffin!) I am assuming you have profound wisdom to share – so stand and deliver it with aplomb. Much has been said about the Wonder Woman stance being an effective warm up before an important speech and I must attest to its efficacy. Also, studies have proved it, so you don’t have to just take my word for it: Amy Cuddy’s TED talk on body language is brilliant:

https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are?language=en

Something else women are not taught is the authority which is communicated through a firm handshake. We don’t need to get into the relative power plays engaged in by persons of Mr Trump and Mr Macron’s ilk. Men may well use the strength of a person’s handshake as a measure of their personal value, and no matter how much we dislike that, if you’re going to allow your hand to flounder limply in someone’s grip like a pap snoek, you may not be taken seriously. I also find that men will hug a female colleague, before they shake her hand, and although one may well hug them because they are close friends, it isn’t professional. Be the first to stick out your hand and initiate the gesture.

Don’t giggle:

Nothing says “I am inadequate and insecure’ like a giggling Gertie. Every description of giggling fits includes two interesting words: ‘silly’ and ‘girls.’ While this may have your inner feminist fuming, we cannot argue with the fact that self-conscious tittering (no matter your gender) makes your audience see how uncomfortable you are in a situation and definitely has no business gurgling out on a podium.

The problem of course is that oftentimes our unconscious Piglet or Nervous Nellie bubbles forth uncontrollably at inopportune moments, especially when we are anxious. We know instinctively we shouldn’t be letting that flutter of foolishness loose, which is why if you google images of giggling most pictures depict a person with a hand covering the twittering. It must be so because even the giggling emoji says so.

So explore techniques to calm yourself before your big moment. Avoid big sighs or obvious palm pinching though. Try placing your tongue on the roof of your mouth and breathing deeply. Plan and practise your opening.

Lower your pitch:

Back in the Dark Ages when I was a student teacher, I eagerly asked for feedback from my charges. ‘You have a squeaky voice’ was not quite what I was expecting, but in hindsight marked a singularly significant shift in the gravitas with which I was perceived.

Anxiety can alter our pitch so cultivating relaxation habits before a presentation and consciously lowering your voice will help you come across as more authoritative. Lions are taken more seriously than hyenas. It is horribly unfair that men automatically command attention simply by having deeper voices, but women can consciously lower the pitch – you don’t need to be Batman gravelly or Louis Armstrong deep – just avoid the trill and shrill.

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“Monica:
[complaining about her Thanksgiving] Did anyone ever give a hoot about what I wanted? NO, NO, NO, NO! And I’m just… [her voice gets very squeaky and high-pitched]
Chandler:
Okay, Monica, only dogs can hear you now. “

Friends, Season 1

Slow down:

If you ignore the horrible grammar (sorry my American friends) in the graphic below, you will see just why you should reduce your pace. Coupled with a high pitch you can end up sounding like Minnie Mouse, according to Speech Coach Patricia Fripp, if you speak too fast for your audience and they definitely will not get the gist of your message.

https://www.fripp.com/are-you-speaking-too-quickly/

Remember the first point in this article: own your space – that means YOU regulate the pace. Your audience is not going anywhere. They are yours to entertain.

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Avoid insipid expressions and don’t apologize:

  • ‘Hi’ and/or ‘guys’ (too casual seems sloppy)
  • ‘I just want to say’ (Just say it!’)
  • I’m sorry I’m a bit nervous’ (We immediately do not trust you or your message and can’t wait for you to leave the stage, because your nervousness makes us anxious)
  • ‘Um,”ok’, ‘like’ repeated use of ‘so’ (Filler words show us you are nervous and they are downright annoying, which means we listen for them instead of your message.)
  • ‘Oops I’m not very good with these electronic devices’ (See above)
  • Adverbs like ‘literally,’ ‘actually,’and ‘really.’ (They (in fact) add (very) little to your argument and (actually) become like filler words – irritating)
  • ‘Stuff,’ ‘things’ (Name them)

Be powerful:

“I raise up my voice—not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard.” – Malala Yousafzai

To Believe or Belieb? That is the Question

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Image from faithit.com

This may well have been the most unpopular assembly address I made a few years ago when the Biebs was here before, but I have never shied away from speaking my mind on important matters and as a teacher, a principal in charge (now) of  153 staff members, a mother of 5 blood children, 2 step-children and nearly 1700 learners I am responsible for, I am used to being unpopular:

“Contrary to some of your assumptions based on the title of this speech, I bear Justin Bieber no ill will and despite cringing at some of his inane utterances like ‘I want my world to be fun. No parents. No rules.  No nothing. Like no one can stop me. No one can stop me.’

And: ‘Ann Frank was a great girl. I hope she would have been a Belieber.’ Besides the fact that he’s not quite my cup of tea, I think he’s cute. Not sexy cute; sweet cute. Although I must say I dare anyone to say we had big hair in the eighties…

But your parents have entrusted you all to this school and we have promised them that we shall provide you all with a values-based education. The values we teach are based on Jesus’ life and teachings. This week’s Bieber Concert has raised some issues that I cannot remain quiet about and still claim to be the leader of a faith-based school.

So what did I have a problem with? Here are 10 things that worried me:

  1. Why did people feel the need to leave school early? Or bunk a whole day? Fans who queued all night told reporters it was to be the first to see him; to be the closest to the stage; to have what no one else had. Yet Jesus teaches us ’the first shall be last; the last shall be first.’ Our faith teaches us to stand back generously for others; not to be the first through an intersection or at the front of a queue, not to demand the gratification of our own desires.

Contrary to what many of you were grumbling about, we had no desire to deprive you of the joy of the concert – it was only due to start at 8 o’clock however. It worries me that scrambling for places suggests a need to trample on others or need to get there first to get what you want – that is contrary to Christ’s teachings. It was fitting therefore that Ashley gave a Golden Circle ticket to someone who made the effort to be at school. She ended up with a better ticket than many. Good things really do come to those who wait. Patience really is a virtue.

  1. I know some of you planned long in advance for this concert and many took on odd jobs to save up for it. That is good. And I am glad that you have had the opportunity to enjoy the spectacle of someone you admire. It worries me however that often we only work so hard for ourselves. Jesus said: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Will you work so hard to benefit someone else? Do you love other people enough to work for months on end in order that someone else may benefit? Matric students are encouraged to donate evening wear to the poor after their dance so that their fun benefits someone else too – that is this school’s way. Ashley’s devotion on Wednesday also points to this principle – could you have given up your ticket to give joy to someone else? Jesus gave up His life for you. # just saying
  2. Reporters commented on how diehard Bieber fans braved the rain in the morning and John Maythem on Cape Talk commented in Afrikaans that a good caption for his photo would be: Beliebers bibber in die koue. Jesus speaks of giving our life for others. Would we stand in the rain to feed the homeless or protest abortion or speak out against human trafficking or child soldiers. Would we stand in the rain to worship if our churches had no buildings? No one wants to pray at lines when it rains.

# justsaying.

  1. Idolatry is a sin according to the Ten Commandments. Folk are quick to point out to Catholics their distaste for the statues that abound in our schools and churches, suggesting that we worship Mary and idols. We do not of course – statues and pictures of the Sacred Heart or Divine Mercy are mere reminders of Our Lady’s good example and the glory of Christ’s life, much like photos are reminders of those we love. But think about shows such as ‘Idols’ whose very name points to how we treat celebrities like The Biebs who become more than just heroes, but figures of obsession. When our behavior becomes extreme, we should be worried. When we disengage our brains and blindly follow our heroes, we should be worried. ‘Derek Watts’, a satirical journalist interviewed Beliebers outside the stadium: when asked if they thought whether Justin Bieber was a tool for change in society, they squealed, ‘Yes, yes.’ When asked whether they thought he was an ‘absolute tool,’ they again bleated ‘Yes, yes.’

#just saying.

 

Do we hang on every word of the Bible and sing worship hymns with as much gusto as we sing ‘Baby, Baby, Baby,’ or ‘As long as you love me’? Not in this hall we don’t. That worries me.

  1. I worry about the sexism inherent in teenyboppers and groupies. It is a fact that most Bieber fans are girls as have been fans of most popstars over the years. In your grandparents era female fans were throwing their knickers at the stage when Elvis Presley and later on the Beatles took to the stage; in fact they reckon that Frank Sinatra was the first such idol – all these men seem to have the same packaged popularity: safe sexuality; easy songs to sing along to and a dream-like allure. Why do boys not throw themselves at the stage of female stars in the same way too? Perhaps because men do not see themselves as needing to be completed only by a fantasy person? They are happy to be themselves. We women should consider that? All people should crave the love of God alone to complete them.
  2. I was annoyed and it took me a whole Tempo bar to unannoy myself that despite the ruling that no one would be given permission to be off school on Wednesday, given verbally to you in lines and in writing in my newsletter to your parents and you, if you read it on the noticeboard, many of you bunked, ignored my instruction or had your parents send me notes/calls instructing me to release you for the day. Let me make it clear that neither your parents nor even I have the right to give you permission to be off school. Only the Minister of Education may do so by law. And just because you may get away with the law, does not mean it is ok morally to break the law. Laws are there to benefit society. If you miss school for reasons other than illness or a death in the family, you are breaking the law. Schooling is compulsory. The minister’s representatives in the Department of Education made it clear that Wednesday was a school day.  Added to that even though you are students at an independent school, you are required to adhere to the College Code of Conduct. That includes obeying instructions of the principal. Why would you think that you were exempt? We live in a society though that seems to think that the laws apply to everyone else, but not to me. We are angered by taxis which ride on the pavement, but gleefully break the speed limit ourselves when we are late. Dagga is illegal, but if you think it’s not dangerous it should be ok; night clubs and movies have age limits, but ‘really, the bouncers should stop all those other young people.’

There is an inherent self-centredness in this. I wasted over an hour of my professional time dealing with those who believed they were exempt from the rules. I was then faced with trying to deal justly with those who quite correctly felt aggrieved that some simply bunked or came at the last minute with notes from their parents, when they had obeyed the rule. Strictly speaking, all who disobeyed the ruling should spend those hours in detention Will I do that? Not this time, but most definitely in the future. But of course since this ‘once in a lifetime experience’ has happened – there will be no need to do it again. No absentee note will however have resulted in a demerit. That’s the rule. It’s how we keep note of attendance. And if you have missed a test, oral or task deadline, no opportunities will be given to make these up. There are always consequences to one’s choices. Do not even think of asking my teachers to give up their free time to teach you work you missed. When Jesus was asked whether the Jews should pay taxes to an occupying power, he told his disciples to ‘render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar.’ This teaches us that civil laws must be obeyed.  None of us is exempt.

  1. I worry also about the damage we do to young people who give themselves over to the Big Business that is the music industry. One only has to look at damaged child stars like Michael Jackson, Brittney Spears, Drew Barrymore and Macauley Caulkin, and megastars like Jim Morrison, Amy Winehouse, River Phoenix and Whitney Houston to see that the media industries do not care about the person of the star. What damage is done to young people who are treated like gods? It is our adoration that does this to them. Even too much love and attention can be bad. How can a nineteen year old survive intact? Already Justin Bieber is showing signs of the arrogance (look at the time he started – an hour late is rude) and possible substance abuse that comes from the adulation of millions – how would you react if 35 million people wanted to follow you on Twitter, yet it’s not the real you they know? If Justin Bieber caves to a celebrity syndrome of self-destruction, his fans will be partly responsible. Jesus said: ‘I am my brother’s keeper.’ We are required by our faith to look after each other. His mother has tried really hard to keep him real with chores etc, but she is no match for the showbiz machine. Agents, like Scooter Braun who discovered Justin Bieber on Youtube when he was 14, care far more about how much the star is worth to them than about their emotional stability or eternal souls.
  2. It worries me that the wholesale avoidance of school, to be over 12 hours early for a pop concert shows a casual disregard of the value of your education and the teachers and authorities who administer it. It may annoy you to be reminded of the relative suffering of others, but I wonder if you would be so careless about school if you understood how truly privileged you are to attend a school like this. No under-qualified teachers who take off when they feel like it, no over-crowded classrooms or violence in the playground. Just last week in Heideveld a Grade 9 student was stabbed by a group of other girls with a pair of scissors.

Your parents would definitely have objected if the staff members attending Bon Jovi on Tuesday night had left early to catch a glimpse of Jon Bon Jovi. I would have been inundated with complaints that their children were losing out on their education. Why is it different if you choose to be absent? Saying that you pay school fees, so you can choose to go without a day of school shows an arrogance and foolishness that no student of this school should have. Wisdom is so respected in the Bible that there is an entire book dedicated to it. Why would you waste the time of those dedicated to impart wisdom to you; why would you disrespect that? In the seventies and eighties students ‘bunked’ school to protest injustice and bring about change in society, not to be early for a concert.

  1. The Bieber Fever reminded me of how superficial some of our heroes really are. Last week there were complaints about celebrating the life of a man like Edmund Rice in a mass; yet we glorify Lady Gagga and Madonna, who dedicate themselves to anti-social and sometimes immoral ways. In the same year that Diana, Princess of Wales died so tragically, Mother Teresa also passed away. Yet the passing of the woman who alleviated so much suffering and made the world a better place paled in comparison to the death of the media idol of a princess. Please do not get me wrong – I am not condemning celebrities, but am saying that we treat them so differently from those whose lives have so much more gravitas. Shouldn’t all people be equally important and shouldn’t we recognize those who make the world a better place. How many of you would have queued for hours to meet Madiba or be in the Dalai Lama’s presence? Do we only want to be around those who entertain us? Our faith should teach us that a meaningful life is more important than the frivolity of fun alone.
  2. Some of you were outraged that you were not given permission to have the day off before the concert; yet fail to be outraged at moral injustices in our country. This was brought home to me when I heard someone complaining that the MyCiti buses were not running and that this would affect transport to the concert. The bus strike meant nothing until we were affected. Did you know that hundreds of domestic workers in this area alone travel from Khayalitsha daily to clean our houses. They now have to spend nearly half of their income or more paying for taxis (R20 each way) Did you know that the bus drivers on strike are complaining that their take-home pay is less than R2000 per month? What did you spend on your ticket to the concert? A girl I heard being interviewed on the news spent R4500 on a room at the ‘One and Only’ Hotel to be close to ‘The Biebs’ and then R6000 to meet him. Whew! How many bus drivers’ families could have eaten off that? What about protesting conditions in Cape Flats schools for a day? Or is that not important enough to risk the consequences of bunking?

# justsaying.

 

No one is saying that we should not enjoy ourselves, but we should be aware of the relative value we place on things in life. And that there are really important issues that face society. For example did you know that the amount of money needed to feed everyone on Earth for a year is spent every 8 days on the world’s military. Would you buy food for the poor with the cost of your ticket, or donate it to the class charity?

# justsaying.

We criticize the Guptas and deplore the R40 million spent on a recent wedding in Sun City, but are we thinking carefully about the morality of how we spend our money?

Remember the story of the widow’s mite in the gospels? That woman gave all she had to the temple collection.  Do we give even some of what we have?

So I must disagree with Justin in this: Life should not be about fun alone; parents and those in authority like your parents here at school are important; rules do exist – for a reason, even if you do not agree with them, you are obliged to obey them. ‘No nothing’ actually suggests that there should be matters of substance upon which we place importance. Wanting to have no boundaries is not true freedom. In fact true love requires that we prevent those we care about from losing themselves in limitless abandon.

If you are sitting here rolling your eyes and thinking how lame your principal is, you have missed the point of this address.

If you think I hate Justin Bieber and want to criticize him, you have missed the point.

If you think I am trying to guilt-trip you, (ok I’m a Catholic mother so perhaps there is a slight element of truth in that), but if you think that’s all it’s about, you have missed the point.

If you think I am still angry with you or condemning you, you have missed the point.

If you think I don’t understand what it is like to be young and crazy about someone, you have missed the point (To be honest I confess I gave John Travolta’s poster a kiss every night when I was 14. Another teacher who ‘cannot be named’ admits to going gagga over Cliff Richard).

If you think I am just an old killjoy trying to put a dampener on what was for many of you a fabulous evening, you have missed the point.

If you are sitting there complacently thinking this does not apply to you because you’re not a Bieber fan or didn’t attend the concert, you have really missed the point.

My point is we must think carefully about what our choices say about us. There is a saying which states that we should choose wisely because our choices become our actions; our actions become our habits and our habits become our character.

I would be a very poor mother of this school if I did not speak out about character. Because it is people of character and principles who make a difference in this world. I want you to be people of such character. And true happiness comes from God. I want you to have that real, deep, soul happiness.

I shall risk unpopularity to guide you to God.”

Personal Assistants

So I have graduated to being managed by a personal assistant. Her name is Gizelle and, like the ballet character after whom she is named, she glides through my life, effortlessly and gracefully fielding calls, managing staff appointments; gently correcting my mistakes (and they are many); protecting me from cute Grade 4 groupies whom I simply don’t have the heart to turn away, but who were becoming accustomed to spending every break with me, not to mention running the administrative nightmare that goes with managing a large school.  And she makes me tea, leaving it steaming on my desk like the lingering whisper of an elfin gift.

Ariel Dorfman refers to the life of a secretary as ‘responsibility without power, the fate of the secretary throughout the ages.’ Now far be it from me to question Dorfman’s experience of personal aides, but Gizelle’s petite, ballerina-like personage may look fragile, but she is a tower of strength and surprising talents, despite her youth. No one argues with her – especially not me.

Wikipedia has this cute explanation of what a personal assistant does: ‘The personal assistant is required to do any task that the manager requires whether personal or professional.’ Seriously? Truth be told I feel guilty every time Gizelle brings me tea, because that is personal and I believe that her duties should be professional only. I wonder how many managers cross the line by exploiting their assistants to do more ‘personal’ work than ‘professional’ work. The Marius Fransman situation is a case in point of how patriarchal managers view those who work for them, especially when they are young, naïve and vulnerable women.

http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2016-08-08-band-of-brothers-anc-integrity-commissions-fransman-report-contains-some-disturbing-nuggets/#.V6o-D_l97rc

The expression ‘my PA’ has a certain feudal ring to it and carries overtones of possession which are worrying. I certainly hope no James Bond wannabees on our staff have tried to flirt with the Meridian Miss Moneypenny. (I don’t think they’d dare.) But on a feminist aside, just google ‘secretary – images’ and see how many pictures of male secretaries with woman bosses come up…yeah…none. The job is almost exclusively considered ‘women’s work’ especially when the boss is a man. And I think as a result  is often considered to be a servile position.

Now I would be hypocritical to say that Gizelle does not field calls from Caitlin (‘Please buy electricity’ – now there is a scary assistant!) or remind me to respond to my sister’s message (an even scarier personage to ignore), but I wouldn’t dream of requiring her to fetch my dry-cleaning (if I had any) or buy my husband flowers/ whisky/ cigars. The school does not pay her to serve me, but to support me.

And thank goodness it does. Her prowess on the computer is lightning fast. She can take complex, scattered data and make graphed sense out of it and her attention to detail has saved me several times already this year from embarrassment and error. She works long hours and frequently takes work home. I am filled with mild panic at the very thought of her being absent. She has seen me at my weakest, but I live in fear of her seeing the mess in my stationery drawer.

Now here is the thing: she does all of this uncomplainingly (well she did once moan at me for signing a document in the wrong place), while running a family of two young children plus three older step-children and a husband who works shifts. Why am I mentioning this? Well because she may be employed as a ‘personal’ assistant, but it is important for me to remember that she has a personal life. She has hopes and dreams and ambitions.

Once a year, we celebrate our secretarial and administrative staff with a hallmark moment, but truth be told, it is impossible to truly give pen to the contribution of such an éminence grise. All I can say is that I am immensely grateful for the person that is Mrs Gizelle Marais, a woman of courage and one to be respected.

A to Z of Pedagogues

A quick guide for new teachers, or students on practical training attachment, for navigating the perilous staff room waters, with an indication of the type of wild animals that lurk there. Genders are inter-changeable.

(Note that these are not based on anyone currently on my staff, just mosaics and amalgamated parodies of some of the weird and wonderful educators I have encountered over the 30 (gulp) years since I graduated )

A
Ambitious Anthony Has his sights set on the top job. Meticulous and diligent, he has no time for fun, or people.  Connected to the union and knows the law.
Amiable Annette Sweet and caring. Notices when someone is struggling. When she retires there is a hole of generosity in the staffroom. Brings flowers.
Artful Arnold Always MIA when chairs are to be stacked; dodges break duty and cluster meetings. Often a good teacher, but is not a team player.
B
Backstabbing Barend Has one special focus – himself. Don’t tell him your secrets and watch out if you apply for the same promotion post. Boring teacher.
Bitter Betty Been passed over for promotion twice, but can’t see it’s her. Don’t speak to her before she’s had coffee or get sucked into her negativity
Brenda Brittle Cries easily; probably in the wrong profession. Can’t cope with ‘those difficult Grade 9s’/any class with learners.
C
Compassionate Connie Knows the back story to each person on campus; looks for excuses even for Granny Grumble; passes the tissues in the staffroom;
Cool Calvin Streetwise and dapper, speaks the students’ lingo; has their respect and his classes are fun  #goals
Cynical Cynthia Well-read and politically aware. Very bright. Enjoys philosophical discussions. Often teaches English or History.
D
Dodgy Duncan Always has a shady side business. Don’t ask where he got that cheap perlemoen he’s selling in the staffroom.
Dramatic Daisy Makes large gestures, loud entrances and powerful exits. Stay away from her around deadline times. Children love her or hate her.
Diehard Dieter Taught staff members and their parents. Remembers when the foundation stone was laid and ‘things were better run.’
E
Eager Edgar Volunteers for everything especially when management is around. Can be annoying, but generally a good egg.
Earthchild Imogen Gets to school early because she travels from Noordhoek; eats lentils and couscous from well packed lunchbox. Has numerous degrees
Equity Esther Takes men to task for patriarchy and challenges school traditions. Feisty and smart. Removes Jo’s sexist cartoons from noticeboard.
Extra mile Emily She’s a gem – nothing is too much trouble. Can be relied on to help out without fuss. Sometimes takes on too much
F
First Year Fiona Has many faces; can be talented, almost always unprepared for the ignorance of learners; overwhelmed. Needs a mentor and/or a drink.
Fitness Fazeka Dresses in tracksuits and eats rice cakes. Disapproves of your chocolate cake and sedentary lifestyle. Runs outdoors club. Scary.
G
Granny Grumble Old before her time; fault finding and negative. Dislikes people. Do not sit on her chair or leave your Tupperware in the wrong place.
H
Hipster Hannah Spends her salary on clothes. Drives a yellow Mini Cooper; Instagrams her clubbing exploits. Too friendly with learners.
I
Iceberg Irene Watch out for this sociopath whose glacial manoevering will undermine your most innocent intentions. Resign if she is promoted.
Ignorant Ilsa Has ‘been teaching for 30 years’ and has nothing left to learn. Says she has no favourites in class. Has favourites. Never notices irony.
Incompetent Irvin Went into teaching because he couldn’t think of anything else. Makes the post office seem efficient. Complains a lot.
Inspirational Iris Is able to draw talent even they were unaware of from her students. Celebrates her charges. Humble.   Learn from her.
J
Jocular Jo The staff room clown. His jokes can be off colour, but he keeps the room from being dull; students love him because he knows his stuff.
K
Kick-ass Kallie Loud and enthusiastic. Always raring to go. Will jumpstart your car when you leave the lights on all day.
Knowledgeable Nicki Has read every book on every subject ever written and has multiple degrees. Can make you feel inadequate if you are insecure. Has cats.
L
Laidback Lwazi Nothing phases him; reads the newspaper in admin periods. Re-uses old exam papers each year if he can get away with it.
Last Minute Larry Unprepared for class. Mostly to be found at the computer when the bell rings. Panics when Photostat machine is broken. His learners engage in deep learning because he gives them space.
Lecherous Lenny Can’t keep his hands to himself; laughs heartily at sexist jokes. Makes a beeline for new staff.
Loskop Lottie Loses classroom keys/ textbooks/piles of scripts all the time. Better hope she is not your exam relief when you need the loo.
M
Maestro Max The Music or Art Teacher: defies description. Brilliant and popular, the kind of inspiration you’ll remember forever. Not always patient.
Moody Maureen Well-intentioned but inconsistent with her learners. Her bipolar swings are confusing. You may need help if she is your mentor.
N
Neutral Nigel No personality. Goes through motions, but doesn’t make waves. You find yourself imagining what secret life he may have. He doesn’t.
O
Old school Oliver Good teacher with great track record of results. Can be reluctant to try new technology.
P
Poisonous Pam Pammy sits with Backstabbing Barend; is no one’s friend. Knows the dirt on everyone and whispers it behind their backs. Avoid her.
Professor Pauline Very bright and an excellent staff resource. Pupils will complain she can’t explain properly. Probably should be lecturing at university.
Q
Quixotic Quintin Always driving a new cause. Can upset management and sometimes does counselling when he shouldn’t.
R
Religious Rita Devout and prayerful. Is shocked by Jo’s antics, but loves him anyway. Has the respect of everyone.
Rightwing Rene Rita’s twin sister who wields her faith like a club. Joins GG in reporting Arnold and Jo to  management and patronises the maintenance staff.
Rugged Ryan Runs up the mountain before or in between classes. Cycles to school. Hope for a view of his abs.
S
Seen-it-all Sal Jaded and uncreative. Needs a sabbatical or career-change. Can’t afford to retire.
Sissy Spoilsport Reminds staff the bell has rung. Takes the ball away from kids in the quad; warns you not to eat in workroom.Reports others for swearing.
Simon the Sociopath Outwardly charming. Tells colleagues, learners and parents what they want to hear. They wrote ‘Snakes in Suits’ about him. Not your friend.
T
Trendy Tendai Hails from Zimbabwe. Viewed with suspicion by locals and frustrates management because no EE points are possible. Knows his oats because Zimbabwean educations is still good. Fabulous clothes. You will learn much from him.
Trevor the Tyrant Instils fear in his students; is unreasonable and inflexible. Sadly all too frequently to be found in management offices.
Thor Has the loudest voice on campus, but secretly a pushover. Girls run rings around him because he doesn’t ‘get’ them.
U
Ubuntu Una Social conscience of staffroom; champions students’ right and supports important causes. Friends with Connie.
Unctuous Albert Hand-wringing, arse creeping, yay-saying suck-up
V
Vocational Vuyo A natural: instinctive and born nurturer. Creative and reflective. Sometimes falls foul of Barend and Pamela. Shares his lessons.
W
When-we Winston Misses the ‘old days’ when caning was possible. Only knows middle part of anthem. Decries government. Waiting for passport for Perth.
Welcoming Winifred The first person to greet you. Ask her where it is safe to sit and how the photocopier works.
X
Xbox Exton The techno kid. This is the one to ask if your laptop is on the blink; just don’t ask about FPS or how FIFA cheats unless you have time.
Y
Yardarm Jan Hang ‘em high approach to teaching. Not interested in positive discipline. No one speaks in his class.
Z
Zany Zoliswa Free spirited; Attends all cultural festivals; Thinks outside the box; sometimes forgets there’s a marking box.

What type of student are you harbouring?

The Student Species: subgroups at examination time

As our matriculants settle in for the long haul of final NSC examinations, examine this list of student-types and see if you recognize yourself or if you are a parent, ask yourself which one of these incarnations is occupying space at your breakfast table. If you are in the grips of exam fever, remember, it is not a terminal illness, although how you treat the malady may determine your fate:

In a typical classroom, or lurking in his bedroom in your home, one may find the following personas (genders transferable)

  • Last-minute, Lazy Larry: He leaves everything to the last minute because he couldn’t be bothered. Then his work is of course somewhat pedestrian or he cruises to good marks with no effort. He battles to complete his degree in 3 years because his work ethic is so poor. He is a regular at nightclubs and surfspots during exam time. His parents are very busy.
  • Tessa the Terrified is usually friends with Nancy the Nervous. They tend to focus on the fear of academics and appear like bokkies in the headlights when confronted by difficult work and stressful situations. They are the ones seen scurrying around before examinations, or anxiously scanning textbooks minutes before called into the examination room. They live on Rescue Remedy and their mothers have used up the medical savings plan by mid-March of any year on anxiety medication.
  • Terry the Tortoise: We all know who won the race, don’t we? Terry plods along devotedly, trying out all the exemplars on the internet and attending all his extra lessons, checking and rechecking all his examination answers. Slow and sure wins the race. Teachers love Terry and he is inevitably successful in life.
  • Then there is Terry’s rival, Rushing Russell: He is the first one finished in every examination. He sits with his arms folded, assuring his invigilators that he has checked all his answers. He is yet to score 100% for anything. He loves finals because he can leave as soon as he likes. He has been known to miss a few questions because he didn’t turn over the last page of his question paper. Teachers throw their hands in the air in distress when they see him emerge after one hour from a three-hour paper.
  • Angie, the Agile is dating Russell (for now). She’s the smart-alecky kid who spots questions for her History papers, never spending more than an hour or two studying for any test. She will dump Russell after school and marry Terry because he has made more money. He will buy her a Nail Bar to keep her busy, because she can’t finish any course of study.
  • Another popular couple is Avril the Avoider and Peter the Procrastinator. They never get around to studying for any length of time either, because they waste too much time tidying their desks, pouring coffee, adjusting songs on their ipods and ‘just quickly’ going on Whatsapp. When their parents buy them iPhone 6’s (not a smart move).they are doomed to mediocrity. Cassio the Casual often joins them when he is not shooting people on the latest bloodthirsty, Call of Duty-type Xbox game.
  • Then there is David the Dedicated who is diligent and conscientiously prepares ahead of every session. His timetable has been up since June and he has model answers pasted in his bathroom. He is entirely focused on his studies and has a clear goal in mind. He sometimes is considered a bit of loner or is called a killjoy at times because he refuses clubbing invitations now and then to study, but his mansion is often a hub of activity after he qualifies. His parties make the social pages then. His cousin, Richard the Recluse, is a different kettle of fish. He does too much; over tries and sometimes works too hard, second guessing himself all the time.
  • Stephen the Selfish and Brenda with Blinkers are not popular with their classmates. They are too focused on their own goals and refuse to assist their mates in study groups. They achieve straight A’s in the NSC examinations, but fail to be accepted at UCT Medical School because they have no history of outreach work. They join in the complaints of Elvis the Efficient who shouts at Hyperactive Hettie who is all over the place and eager for any conversation not about work. They find the student protests of @Feesmustfall to be an annoying waste of their time. Their parents were furious that they were not made prefects in matric.
  • Hettie did have the prettiest dress at the matric dance though – everyone knew exactly what it would look like because she thought of nothing else.
  • Stephen will marry Helga the Hostile who also hates group work. They will have separate bedrooms and be blissfully happy. Brenda will become a research scientist and is happy living alone in a cottage next to her private laboratory.
  • Sickly Samantha isn’t really. She stays home to avoid dealing with school. The vicious circle eats her in the end.
  • Then there is Mira the Magnificent, who is the envy of the class because she is annoyingly lazy (She’s near genius and a smarter version of Larry), but pulls rabbits out of a hat in every test. Her teachers often wonder just how brilliantly she could perform if she put in the same amount of work as Terry. She battles a bit at university due to her tardy work ethic, but is generally more stimulated there.
  • Rory the Resistant hates school and all his teachers. He is biding his time until he can play professional sport. He has no Plan B after playing for Barcelona and after he injures his knee at Ajax trials he is forced to sell shoes for a living. Spiro the Sports Maniac is his best friend. They do all their orals on sport.
  • Warren the Wallpaper flies beneath the radar. He is not a discipline problem and escapes notice by doing the bare minimum to pass. He will probably have ADD children later in life and wonder if that was his problem.
  • Babsie the Butterfly is friends with Angie, but is too flakey to care at all about school. She ends up working in Angie’s salon, where she loves to gossip with the clients.
  • Cedrick the Pseudo-Clever believes he’s over school and foolish teachers. He underachieves in matric, flunks out of varsity because he has no work ethic and is laughed at by lecturers for his wannabe-intellectual, attention-seeking ploys in lectures. His parents started out thinking he is a genius and realise too late that that they have spoiled him.
  • Thando the Talented grew up with He does it all with ease and is immensely popular too. He plays first team cricket and soccer, as well as moonlighting in the hockey side. He scores straight A’s with ease and can sing and dance too. His parents are humble, but support all his endeavours, although his mother worries he over-commits.
  • Inez the Insecure is afraid to try because she might fail. It’s safer for her to go along with Cassio and pretend school is beneath her. Her twin brother Cassiem the Careful drives his teachers mad by counting every word in his essays more than he edits his work. Both spend a lot of time with therapists.

Of course this is all just fun. They are not based on anyone specific, but on students I have encountered over my 20-odd years in teaching.Chances are that you are a mosaic of all these types.

Happy studying.