This is really hitting me hard.
So, as many of you know, we TLG teachers went on break for a period of two to five weeks, depending on our personal circumstances and preferences. My break was fairly short, so I’ve been chillaxing here in Gldani for the last two weeks waiting for my peeps to get back. I do have a number of friends still here, including Georgian friends, and I had work, and I met some of the new people from the January 15th group (9? 10? I’m losing count), so it’s not like I’ve been lonely or bored… And yet I’ve been eagerly awaiting the return of certain people to Georgia.
Over the last week, I’ve learned that at least three of these people won’t be coming back at all.
And I don’t know what’s going on with me, because it’s really shaken me up. Maybe it’s because I expected to see these people again, and didn’t get to really say goodbye, and now may never ever see them again. Disappointment, or the failure of reality to match expectations, is always harder than planned loss. Maybe it’s because my community of friends here is still so small and fragile, and anything that upsets the delicate balance or diminishes my support network here is intensely threatening. Maybe it’s because we went through the insanity of TLG orientation and of experiencing Georgian culture together and that created a bond whose strength was disproportional to the short amount of time we knew each other.
So now I just keep repeating Desmond Hume’s catchphrase – “see you in another life, brotha” – and surprisingly it brings me some comfort. Desmond was a character on Lost whose story arc involves losing and finding the love of his life several times and meeting certain people (like Jack) over and over again under strange and interesting circumstances. In a lot of ways, being here feels like Lost – I’m away from my friends and family, in a place where a lot of things are completely inexplicable, with a small community of people who may get along or not get along but who are basically stuck together by circumstance for a certain period of time. And when someone gets off the Island, you miss them. When you get off the Island, you’re torn, because you’re home, but there’s something missing, something that might even make you want to go back.
Being in Georgia really is like living a different life. There’s not a complete break – I still communicate (mostly passively, through facebook) with the people back home – but in many ways, I just have a totally different and separate existence here, and if I were to meet any of the people I’ve befriended here under different circumstances, it would feel totally different. Some of the people who aren’t coming back were talking about applying to teach in Korea – something that I’ve already mentioned, on this blog, that I was considering doing. If I happen to end up in Korea at the same time as one or two other TLGers, I’m sure I’d be in touch with them, but life in Korea wouldn’t be life in Georgia – there’s a much bigger expat community, for instance – so how would that impact our friendships?
I guess what I’m saying is that there’s something that’s been lost irretrievably here, and I’m feeling a sense of grief and mourning over that loss, which is honestly sort of rare for me. I usually roll with the punches and take loss astonishingly well, to the point where people start to wonder whether I have any feelings at all. I grieve differently – usually – but not in this case. Odd.
Then there are the circumstances. One friend has quit TLG, unexpectedly – she left Georgia with the plan to come back, and then decided not to when she got home because of a number of personal and career-related reasons. I’m disappointed that I won’t be seeing her again but I understand and respect her decision.
Two other friends – at least two, that is; the news is rolling in and I’ll keep you all posted as I know more – were basically fired. They were told by TLG, in emails – in some cases, just hours before their flights back to Georgia were to leave – that TLG was going to be terminating their employment.
Imagine being at home, your bags packed, your goodbyes said, your seat reserved on an airplane, your plans for the next five months made, and getting an email saying that you were no longer welcome in the program, saying that you should just stay home. That’s gotta be a fucked up thing to experience.
Now, I know I should be careful about questioning my employers’ staffing decisions openly on the internet, but I am having real trouble understanding the logic of these firings. TLG made us all sign a letter promising to come back to Georgia and, if we didn’t, to reimburse TLG for the cost of the flights they bought us. Transatlantic flights are expensive, and due to the peculiarities of TLG’s booking practices, when we were home on break TLG already had both our return to Georgia and our subsequent return back home in June booked. This means that everyone who doesn’t return to Georgia as per their contract effectively costs TLG the price of an entire transatlantic round-trip – a cost that TLG apparently cannot recover in any way.
So of course, TLG would want to minimize the amount of money wasted on flights that no one flies on. That is not best accomplished by just telling a bunch of people (and if it’s two in my close friend circle alone, you can bet there’s more) not to come home. TLG basically wastes a few thousand dollars for every person they fire this way. In most cases the cost of the airfare is more than the five months’ salary that TLG would be paying us if we did return. I mean, I understand that the airfare is a sunk cost and the excess salary is not, but still… you would think that this would be a decision that they would not enter into lightly.
And so I have to imagine that there is some kind of political process going on here that exists outside of any rational, results-based process for making staffing decisions. I was once fired from a job because my boss didn’t like the radio station that I played at work. I was once fired from a job because my boss saw me cover my face with my shirt when a woman wearing too much perfume walked by. So I am no stranger to the idea that people regularly lose jobs over stupid, arbitrary, or senseless things completely unrelated to their overall contribution to the functioning of the endeavor that they were hired for. I have also gotten away with, and seen others getting away with, some things that I would fire someone for without even a second thought. Some industries – particularly those associated with labor unions or excessive litigation – have certain protections against arbitrary and unwarranted firings, but many do not, and I have tended to work in the ones that do not.
I’ve been speculating on what’s going on with TLG. Are they firing people to make an example to the new recruits? Are they firing people because of pressure from unhappy school administrators? Are they firing people because of political pressure from opposition parties? I have been told that there were a number of people who would regularly miss school or cause problems, but the thing is (and I know I only have one side of the story) it seems like the two people who I know that got fired were actually much more responsible and diligent teachers than a lot of the people I know who did not get fired. I know that in both cases the person who got fired suggested that a particular person at their school had it in for them, but again, I have a large number of friends who have specific conflicts with school administrators, and so I have to wonder what was special about *these* school administrators that they were able to have enough clout to get teachers fired.
And I’m not discounting the idea that there was some kind of valid and rational process that these administrators went through to get the teachers fired – I’m just wondering why there was no effort to get the teachers’ sides of the story, no effort to resolve the problem through mediation, no effort to even warn the teachers that their administrators were unhappy with their performance.
Basically, these firings were sudden, unexpected, expensive, and seemingly arbitrary. Which, given the way that politics and employment work here in Georgia, isn’t actually surprising, but which I still find disappointing.
I have high hopes for TLG. I don’t want TLG to face the recruitment problems that will come from gaining a reputation for doing things like this. I have personally done my best to reduce TLG’s attrition rate, both by providing accurate information about TLG and Georgia to prospective teachers, and by providing support here in Georgia to TLGers in need. I’ve opened up my house to teachers who were having host family problems repeatedly (in fact, just last night I let a friend who had a fight with his host family stay over here). I’ve offered to volunteer my time to TLG several times.
But I feel like all of my efforts, and all of the efforts of the other TLG staff and volunteers to make this program successful, are being undermined by these policy decisions that make this program a hostile environment. We shouldn’t all be wondering who’s going to be fired next, completely without warning or indication. At the very least TLG could have told these people what was up before they left Georgia, so that they could make sure to bring all their stuff back home, and so that they could say their goodbyes, and so that they could spend that month at home looking for a new job or otherwise moving on with their lives. We need to be able to trust our employers to bring a certain amount of basic decency to the relationship, otherwise none of us are going to be able to reasonably recommend the program to others.
Right now I feel betrayed. I wonder who is going to be next. I wonder if I am going to be next. I recently got in trouble at work for giving the students their quizzes back after I graded them. Yeah, take a minute to read that sentence again, because I was at least as shocked as you are. My boss treated me like a complete fucking moron – including asking me if I had ever had a job before – over these quizzes.
See, I have a collection of every test that I ever took in school, starting from first grade and running all the way through my senior year of college. I keep them, generally, as a matter of pride, even though it is vaguely ridiculous that I still have all my notes and tests and random doodles from grade school taking up space in my closet.
So I was surprised to learn that the policy of the Police Academy is to keep all quizzes and tests on file at the Police Academy for record-keeping purposes. I was especially surprised because I’ve been teaching there since September and only heard about it in January. But I got in trouble, because I had given the quizzes back to the students, who had mostly lost or destroyed them, and so the students ended up having to retake all their quizzes and I got lectured for an hour about how I need to “focus” on work a little bit more.
And yeah, now I’m seriously wondering if I’m going to get fired over this. I’m wondering how many firings were caused by the Georgian cultural inclination against timely and meaningful communication and the numerous resultant misunderstandings that arise among those of us Westerners who are not psychics or mind-readers.
And from TLG’s perspective, this should be a big problem. I’m a guy who was very gung-ho about staying with TLG for a second year right up until I got back from vacation to discover that two of my favorite people were fired and my boss thinks that I have the intelligence of a ripe banana. Now everything is up in the air, and my ability to recommend the TLG program in good conscience is diminishing rapidly.
Like I said, it’s just very disappointing.
As I was selecting the videos for this entry, I was informed that a fourth friend will not be returning to Georgia – she’s also breaking contract and quitting – due, I believe, to instances of racism and racial profiling while she was here. We all knew the attrition rate would be high, but it’s still no fun getting this news from friends.
This song is dedicated to the people who won’t be coming back to Georgia this week: