CPD Schadenfreude

Are teachers behaving professionally?

Of course, the vast majority do but there will always be a lump that don’t.

At an inset session once we had an external speaker attend to share various bits and pieces relating to Assessment for Learning.

A long time before the day was announced there had been grumbles and rumbles from a few staff about the value of wasting a whole day on a subject they felt they knew inside out.

I was aware of one or two colleagues who took things a bit further and bad-mouthed the speaker as “someone who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

This isn’t unusual. Staff rebel. They’d rather inset be something more bespoke and if the speaker isn’t their cup of tea then news soon gets round.

The day arrived and the arms folded brigade couldn’t have made it anymore obvious to the speaker that they weren’t in the mood. They were going to make life awkward for him and put up a fight.

As the day unfolded it was obvious that the speaker was actually very clued up and knew his onions. Most people were learning lots and enjoying it.

Then the speaker made a mistake. The clanger dropped wasn’t a huge one but he got a bit muddled with a calculation that meant he had to back-track and start again. He was clearly embarrassed and I felt for him.

But what I observed from three toxic colleagues on a neighbouring table were shared glances of disdain and some superior smirking – they were actually taking great delight in his error. Not everyone saw their reaction but they enjoyed him getting into a pickle.

Most colleagues are supportive. They are allies and know how difficult it is to present but then there are the gossip buddies who were genuinely excited in seeing someone else falter. It was malicious and unprofessional and there is a German word for this – Schadenfreude – Schaden meaning damage or harm, and freude meaning joy or pleasure.

Schadenfreude is all around us and I think we are all guilty of having taken delight in another’s misfortune. But there is no place for Schadenfreude in a professional space where we expect colleagues to uphold the Nolan principles and conduct themselves to the highest standards.

Taking pleasure in other people’s professional disasters is not big and it’s not clever and some colleagues might need a reminder how to behave.

There is a twist in the tale…..

About two months after this inset, one of the toxic trio was asked to do some CPD after school and guess what? You guessed right – they messed up part of their presentation and there were a fair few of us who experienced Schadenfreude. The difference was, we didn’t show it but we all knew what the other was thinking. There was definitely a collective guilty spasm of “serves you right”.

For a brilliant discussion of Schadenfreude, I recommend reading cultural historian Tiffany Watt Smith’s excellent book below. It will make you realise that we live in an age of Schadenfreude and that deep down, we are all smiling.

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