The Office Manager

by Timothy Ang

Let me tell you one of the secret yearnings among English university teachers in Japan. It is not a small class size, motivated students, or a generous research budget. Neither is it publication at a top tiered journal nor a cushy tenured position.  No, this is a position that is neither advertised, paid, or constant. In fact, the desire of some teachers is that for once in their arduous academic careers is to have the chance to become an office manager (OM).

Most teachers I’ve met, including myself, are disorganized and disheveled. This is not to say that we are bad educators. We are a mess because we are in a constant state of movement, too busy grading and planning our next classes. You would think that successfully managing a class of double-digit lively teens would translate into a well-kept office space…it does not. Although we may be adults in a classroom, in the office we are kids in a sandlot. Therefore, when the expectation of self-policing does and order does not materialize, a savior emerges from this chaos. 

The officer manager is a teacher tasked with making sure everything around the office and classrooms run smoothly. Do you know why the copy machine never runs out of paper? The OM fastidiously checks and makes sure that each rim of A4 paper fills into the trays. Flickering lights or a broken air conditioner? There is no magical superintendent fairy at night fixing the issues, that’s the OM calling the right people to get it fixed. Who do we call to tell us we are taking a sick day? The OM has memorized the number. How do we get reimbursed for this one-time expense? “It’s page 149 of the manual” says the OM. Do you want to experiment and play ESL musical chairs? “That’s fine but return the table and seating arrangements where they were since they have been standardized”. These are all the benefits of having an OM around. 

The office manager has a unique but endearing hallmark personality. A Kondo Mari for the academic populace, willing to take on responsibilities that no mere teacher would dare burden themselves with. He/she is a sheriff of stationary, purveyor of pedagogy, connector of cables, and master of meeting minutes. His/her desk is immaculate, and his schedule is precise. He/she is firm and unwavering. He/she has no time for small talk but all the time for checklists. Nothing is too trivial for the office manager if it is about annual office budget breakdowns or next year’s teacher classroom assignments. 

Sadly, the office manager is often misunderstood and may seem to be power tripping or distant. But know this, the somewhat obsessive compulsiveness behavior comes out of a need for some sense of control. However, the irony is that in the search for a solution for office and classroom related problems, order has consumed the OM and created an atmosphere of dread and anxiety. Fortunately, that is a rare case and most people around him/her appreciate the hard work and benevolence. The OM will take all the criticism but none of the recognition for a clean, orderly, and harmonious office environment. 

If I have convinced you to pursue or not pursue this job, I unfortunately have some bad news, you don’t actively apply to become an office manager, the position chooses you. Some have visions of a golden paperclip suddenly bursting from the ceiling and as it descends it says, “you are the chosen one”. If this happens, do not get an MRI, you are quite sane and have merely been chosen to undertake this Sisyphean task.

So, to all the office managers out there, I appreciate and salute you. University life without an OM is like a boat without a captain. Your thankless position may not have a place on the resume or CV, but it doesn’t matter, you have a place in all our collective hearts and university work life has become brighter and better because of you. To the all-dedicated office manager, take the helm!

 

  1. Where do these oversized boxes go?