Is it possible for a bad person to be a good teacher?
The Husband and I have been on an adventure. We have been looking for a condo for the last couple of months – mortgage pre-approvals! Real estate agents! Notaries and house inspectors! We feel like grownups – and two weeks ago, we found what we were looking for. It was the upper half of a duplex, small but well divided, so The Husband and I could each have an office. It had a nice roomy kitchen, and a pantry! It was half a block from the metro, a five-minute bike ride from Jean-Talon Market, and in a new neighbourhood that was still very close to our old neighbourhood. It was in our price range.
We asked the vendor’s agent about our indoor/outdoor cats. No problem, he said. Cats are explicitly allowed in the co-ownership agreement. On the balconies? we asked. In the yard, even though the yard will not be ours? No problem, he said. It’s in the agreement.
We made an offer. It was accepted. We were over the moon. We scheduled an inspection for the following weekend. No can do, said the agent. The downstairs co-owner, Mme X Y, is out of town, and so we can’t get access to the basement. We’ll have to do it the following weekend, when she gets back from her spring break holiday.
Ah, we thought. A teacher on spring break. Well, ok. Less than convenient that she’s away, but it gives us time to confirm our financing and look over the co-ownership agreement.
“Didn’t the agent say that our hot water tank is in the basement?” I asked The Husband.
“Why yes, I believe he did,” The Husband replied.
“And while Mme X Y is away, no one has access to the basement? What happens if the hot water tank breaks while she’s away?”
“Good question. Maybe we just need her permission to go into the basement, and she’s not reachable.”
“So the agent didn’t ask, before she left, that she give permission to go into the basement in the case of a sale and inspection?”
“I guess not. Let’s look over the co-ownership agreement, shall we?”
The co-ownership agreement was all in French (not to mention legalese), so the reading of it was time-consuming. Our agent assured us that it looked pretty standard, so we should just make a note if anything jumped out at us. Two things did: the description of the downstairs co-owner on the first page as “Mme X Y, enseignante [teacher]” – surely a kindred spirit! – and the clauses saying that cats were permitted in the building but that animals were “not to be kept or left in common areas.” Common areas included balconies and fire escapes, and no mention was made of animals making their way into the yard.
We called our agent. This is a routine clause in co-ownership agreements, she assured us, and can usually be worked out between the co-owners; let’s get on it right away. We emailed our questions to the vendor’s agent. “Questions about the co-ownership agreement will need to be addressed with the downstairs co-owner when she returns,” he replied. “We can discuss them with her the morning of the inspection.”
The morning of the inspection? The Husband and I stared at one another. The inspection was going to cost us $600. If Mme X Y refused to allow our cats to pass through her yard, we wouldn’t need to do an inspection. We wrote him back. Is there any way at all to contact the co-owner and straighten this out before then? Not likely, he said, but I’ll see what I can do. I’ll leave her a message, but I can’t guarantee that she’ll get it.
We re-scheduled the inspection again, for a couple of days after Mme X Y’s projected return. This would allow us to meet her on the morning we had originally allotted for the inspection, so we could discuss the co-ownership documents and iron out any problems. Re-scheduling the inspection involved not just the inspection agency, but yet another amendment to our promise to purchase, requiring signatures from us, our agent, the other agent, and the vendor. Calls were made. Papers were delivered back and forth. We sat on our hands waiting to see if Mme X Y would get back to us.
Several days before Mme X Y’s return, we got an email from the vendor’s agent saying that he had heard from Mme X Y and that she “seemed open,” but that she would not amend the co-ownership agreement (as this would involve notary fees). We would have to discuss it all in person, but that “as long as the cats don’t make damage to her garden, she cannot be against cat.”
Fine, we thought. There was no need to change the co-ownership document – we’d already spoken to a notary, who said that we simply needed an entente in writing. It would not be legally binding, but would signal an understanding. We wrote up a brief entente stating that Mme X Y would not object to cats in the common areas and in her yard, and that if the cats did damage to the garden, we would repair and/or compensate for it. We sent it to the vendor’s agent and asked him to forward it to Mme X Y if he could.
The night before our scheduled meeting, we received a message from the vendor’s agent. Mme X Y did not wish to meet with us the following morning if the inspection was not taking place. She did not wish to discuss our cats: she did not want our cats coming into her yard. What was more, she was not available at the time of our (twice re-scheduled) inspection, so the inspection could not take place at that time.
Our agent came by the next morning and we declared the promise to purchase null and void.
Now, here’s the thing. Obviously, the vendor’s agent bears some responsibility for all these events – for misinforming us in the beginning, and for not taking steps to ensure that things could unfold in Mme X Y’s absence. And obviously, Mme X Y is not the sort of person one wants to live above. But what interests me most in all these circumstances is that Mme X Y is a teacher.
What kind of a teacher is she? Perhaps she conducts herself entirely differently in the classroom than she does in the rest of the world, but let us assume some consistency of character. Without having once met Mme X Y, here is what we learned about her:
- She is not available to others even when her availability is crucial (we, and the vendor, delayed everything for two weeks because she did not leave any way to contact her directly, even though she must have been aware that her co-owner might need her.)
- She does not trust others (no one was given permission to enter her basement while she was not present, regardless of the impact it might have in these or other circumstances.)
- She is willing to cause enormous difficulties to others on specious grounds (the vendor lost a sale, and we lost a condo, because she wants to protect herself from cats. Is she under the impression that no cats will come into her yard if the upstairs neighbours don’t let their cats out? Cats get into yards!),
- She is defensive and afraid of others (she refused to walk upstairs and meet us to discuss these issues; she has no interest in being introduced to the people who could very well end up living above her for the next thirty years.)
All of these qualities make me think of some of the worst teachers I’ve ever had, people who were inflexible, defensive, terrified of their students, unreasonable, and controlling even when the benefits for them were not clear. And it makes me interested in hearing your stories about bad teachers.
What do you remember about the worst teachers you’ve had? What made them bad teachers? Were they also bad people? Is it possible for a person like Mme X Y, who seems to the sort of person you would never want as a neighbour, to be a good teacher? I am furious about how this all went down, but at the same time, I am feeling a clinically detached interest in the questions it raises about the teaching profession, human nature, and society. I look forward to your observations.
Image by Kriss Szkurlatowski