My last post apparently generated a lot of heat for TLG. That was not my intention.
I spoke with a TLG official recently. She told me at that time that TLG was undertaking performance reviews and that firings would occur because a number of people had not been taking their jobs seriously. So in a way, I should have been prepared for the news that people would be getting fired, and shouldn’t get bent out of shape just because two of them happen to be my friends.
After my last entry TLG contacted me again because they felt that I had not presented a fair and balanced story in my last entry, which was motivated in large part by my feelings about who was fired and how they were fired. I offered to clarify TLG’s official position and distinguish it from my speculations.
First, I was told that these firings are in no way political or connected to any political issues. According to TLG the firings were entirely based on the teachers’ performance, as measured by reports from school administrators and the teachers themselves. Additionally, I was told that these volunteers were not filling out their mandatory weekly and monthly reports. These reports are one way that TLG tracks the teachers’ performance and progress with their students. They’re a sign that the teachers are taking the job seriously.
I was also told that the party atmosphere of Tbilisi TLGers has been detrimental to the program because people are too focused on their social lives and not enough on school. I was also told that a number of TLGers have been embarrassing to the program due in part to their behavior and in part to cultural clashes. Finally, I was told that there may be factors at play that were not up for public debate or discussion – in other words, TLG had good reasons for firing these people, but will not disclose them to the public (which is, of course, reasonable).
Therefore, TLG says these firings are taking place because teachers need to be held accountable for their results and responsible for their behavior. They will help to serve as an example to prevent problems from future teachers. I was also told that this is a very important project and that since government money was at stake, TLG needs to demonstrate that it is taking corrective action when it encounters problems.
As to the timing, it seems like it’s an unfortunate coincidence – the teachers were fired now because now is when the results from last semester were all in and have been checked over. It would of course be better if TLG could have kept up to date on these reports and didn’t lag a month behind, and didn’t fire teachers just as they were about to get on planes, but TLG is (in my opinion) understaffed and overworked, and things take time. TLG also made it clear that staffing changes would continue to be made as new information comes in and existing information is assessed. In other words, it seems likely that some more teachers may be getting fired, perhaps even after they come back. (Again, I’m hoping that I’m not one of the people who gets to go home, but I suspect I’ll know that soon enough).
I asked TLG whether those who were fired were given any warnings or given a chance to rectify any problems. It still seems to me that they were not given adequate warnings, but I am of course not aware of exactly what communications took place between TLG and these volunteers prior to their being fired. Generally speaking, I would consider “adequate warnings” something like, for example, an email saying “hey, we haven’t been getting weekly reports from you. You need to send those to us because if you don’t you could get fired.” But, again, here I am editorializing. The fact is, I don’t know what warnings were given or what constitutes adequate warning according to TLG standards or how communications were received or understood by the teachers in question. So again, I still think this is disturbing, because it still seems like any of us could be fired without warning or without being given a chance to fix whatever problems TLG or our individual schools have with us.
So again, to be totally clear: officially, these teachers were not fulfilling their obligations to TLG, and were let go as a result. In my opinion, the way the firings were handled was bad, for the reasons I laid out before – it erodes our trust in TLG if teachers are fired while they are out of the country and possibly without having been given a chance to address the issues that led to their firing.
I guess that the situation is totally what you would expect: those who were fired, and their friends, feel wronged. The employer stands behind the story that the firings were justified. There are at least two sides to every story.
And I have to say that I am glad that TLG contacted me to provide their side of the story. I don’t consider this blog to be a journalistic project, and I don’t call people for quotes or official statements – and let’s face it, I work for TLG so “reporting” on them as a journalist would be a fantastically obvious conflict of interest – but I do strive, nevertheless, to provide the most complete picture of my experience here that I can, and I feel that that picture is made more complete by hearing from TLG about these issues.
I also want to make clear that I am not the only person speculating about why the firings occurred when and how they did and wondering why one person got fired while another did not. These discussions have been ranging all over facebook, and I imagine they could hit the footprints forums and other internet venues any time, and of course email and phone and personal conversations abound. Anytime someone gets fired, there’s always speculation, and the official story never really satisfies anyone. And since we in TLG all work in different schools, none of us can really know what goes on when we’re not around, how another teacher actually teaches, and that information gap is always going to leave room for doubt and speculation. You know, it’s like I always say – don’t believe everything you read on the internet. Everyone is biased, every story has two or more sides, and we all have to form opinions based on imperfect information. I’m just blogging about what I experience and how it feels. If today I feel like my job is in jeopardy and my friends have been unfairly taken from me, that’s what I write about, but the truth is always going to be somewhere between what I say and what everyone else says. That’s the wonder of human subjective experience.