Scenario #2 - Hungover Teacher Wearing Sunglasses in Classroom

"Could you please pick up my students from the gym?" asked Martina.
"Sure! You stuck in traffic?" countered Virginia
"Oh, I'm so blasted from last night. My boyfriend and I went out dancing at B-Bar's after Happy Hour!"
"You do remember we're doing benchmark assessments today, right?"
"Yes, I'll be fine once I get there."
At about 8:15 am (reporting time was 7:45am), Martina slips in the back door, the custodian letting her in. Her dark sunglasses don't come off until lunch.

Have you had a situation like this before as a principal? Did you choose to deal with it, or did you let it slide? For those that choose to let it slide, you're setting up the students in that classroom for failure. I had one nephew that found himself in a kindergarten classroom that the co-teachers were party-hearty drinking buddies. Although my nephew graduated kindergarten, his reading skills left much to be desired, so much so that the "crop of children" from that year had trouble until they received special tutoring. Those that didn't, well, they are undoubtedly having academic problems.

So how do you deal with this? Let's apply the confrontation protocol to scenario #2 (you can read Scenario #1); of course, I encourage you to read this summary of Crucial Confrontations. I'll try to keep it brief.

1) Get Your Motives right. It's easy to walk into this situation with a bit of anger and frustration. How can any teacher think they can get away with doing this? They're essentially teaching under the influence of alcohol, and hoping no one will notice enough--or be afraid to speak up--to say anything. It's not like you're going to give her a breath-a-lyzer test, right?

What do you really want out of this situation? If I were in the shoes of the principal, I'd want to document this person out of a job. Really, should we have drunks standing in front of students? That said, you don't get to this stage too quickly. You would practically need a confession from the teacher. Wait, that's not the right motive. The right motive is, What do I really want out of this situation? What I really want is to see this teacher do her job at the level expected, that will help her class of children learn and move on. I don't want the organization put in an embarrassing situation ("drunk teacher topples local school's assessment"), or having to deal with angry parents who want to escalate the issue to the superintendent of schools.

2) Use CPR to handle the situation.
Invite the teacher to your office, close the door, hold all calls and ask,
"This morning, I noticed from the teacher log that you signed in at 8:15am, that Virginia Bostwick picked up your students from the gym to take them to her classroom. Juan, the custodian on duty, mentioned that when he let you in, you were wearing dark sunglasses, glasses that you were still wearing at 10:00am when I did a walkthrough the 5th grade wing. What happened this morning?"
Depending on the response, you may have to dig a little deeper. In this case, the behaviors that are not permitted and you have proof to address are as follows:

  • Teacher is tardy,late to duty.
  • Teacher left her children in the hands of another teacher because she was tardy, disrupting TWO classrooms of students.
  • Although you and I know that our drunk teacher, Martina, admitted her crime to Virginia, the principal does not unless Virginia says something (not likely).

For me, these are the actionable items at this time. In this first instance, you have to deal with the content of what happened--the cause of the tardiness. I would make a note of the dark glasses for the future.

Should this happen again--tardiness, etc.--you can choose to handle it as a separate issue and take corrective action in the form of a written warning. If it re-occurs, you can administer a written reprimand and share your documentation with Human Resources. You CAN terminate someone because they are tardy/late to their job over a period of time because repetitive behavior causes the organization issues over time.

The more serious issue of being drunk while on duty is difficult to prove, but you can try to get at it. If Martina arrives with dark sunglasses AGAIN after a long weekend, you can go after it, describing the pattern of behavior:
"Last time we spoke about you being on time to work, you were wearing dark sunglasses for half the day. Today, when you arrived, you also wore the dark sunglasses. What's going on?"
On this one, you'll want to catch Martina as early as possible. She may be hungover and asking questions may yield some insights. Again, the goal is simply to get at the truth, not to be vicious or to gather documentation to terminate someone, although that may happen. Most people who throw away their job like this are aware that what they are doing is wrong, and will accept responsibility for it.

To review, you can take these broad steps:

  1. Oral warning - Have your first crucial confrontation with the person, sharing what you have observed and asking for what has happened. If you determine wrong-doing, reference agreed-upon expectations, policy or rules. Revisit those clearly, emphatically so that no one is in doubt. Document that you have done so. Ensure that you are vigilant about future infractions.
  2. Written warning - Your second crucial confrontation involves a written warning, a description of what has gone before, what action was taken to HELP the employee do better, and a specific directive about what to do from this point forward and the consequences of NOT following the directive. Have the employee sign acknowledgement of receipt, not agreement of description (they almost never agree). Note that depending on the event, you may have two-four situations arise, depending on what the issues are. You are interested in documenting a pattern of behavior that hurts the organization.
  3. Written reprimand - In consultation with Human Resources, write a written reprimand that details all actions taken prior to help the employee adhere to organizational principles, and then detail the consequences that are now in effect. Any future violations will have dire consequences including termination. In this step, you are documenting that the relationship between the organization and the employee is DAMAGED, perhaps beyond repair and is better ended.

One thing is for sure--if you never have a conversation with Martina, then the issue at your campus will go unresolved.

3) Follow-through. If you believe that Martina is hungover most Mondays or other days of the week, teaching while suffering the effects of intoxication, then take the issue to your Human Resources office and get their guidance. They will undoubtedly have other protocols, wisdom, to guide you in the right direction. If you collect documentation of 3+ incidents and you reference the steps you have taken, you will have done the work needed for them to take appropriate action.

As always, there are different ways of handling issues. Since I like consistency, the approach outlined in this blog entry is the approach I have found to get the job done. I sure wish I'd learned this 20 years ago.

Updated: I updated this blog entry to reflect this disclaimer. Any resemblance to real people is unintentional, or coincidental. Pseudonyms are used to protect the guilty or innocent. And, of course, this is unrelated to my current workplace.

Image Source(s)
breath-a-lyzer and iPod. http://www.sofakingdrunk.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/iBreath_iPod_Breathalyzer.jpg



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