Dealing With Difficult Colleagues (And Making Sure You Aren’t One of Them)

While the majority of your fellow teachers are outstanding citizens, most schools contain a few reminders that carrying a “#1 Teacher!!!” mug doesn’t make it true. Here are descriptions of some of the difficult colleagues who might be roaming your hallway, advice on how to handle them, and a few tips to ensure that you aren’t the difficult one.

Negative teachers.

These can be struggling rookies who want to know they’re not alone or disillusioned veterans who think they’re letting you in on the real deal. Sometimes their complaints feel refreshingly honest. If you want to know your school’s dirty secrets, this may be your best source. At the same time, you may notwant to know so much about your school’s dirty secrets, and excess time in the company of complainers can leave you feeling hopeless. It’s up to you to decide whether to stick around and listen or find an excuse to leave the room, but do think twice before jumping in with your own stories. You don’t want this person using them as examples when complaining to others.

Other new teachers who won’t stop bragging.

While being a rookie teacher is hard for most of us, these superstars have everything together from the first day, and they can’t wait to tell you about it. They’re sure they’ve solved every problem, even those that still plague experienced teachers. It goes without saying they have already thought of yourbest ideas. If you think a self-promoting colleague has some good ideas, go ahead and listen, but it’s usually best to avoid turning to self-promoters for advice. They are likely to repeat your problems to make themselves look better. Instead, look for teachers who show evidence of quality teaching but are less vocal about how great they are. There is very little correlation between bragging and great teaching.In many cases, rookies who claim to have it all under control are secretly reassuring themselves.

Co-workers who don’t do their jobs and make yours harder.

Part of our job as teachers is to set an example for students, so it’s frustrating when incompetent, lazy, or dishonest people infiltrate the school system. It can be tempting to take on the case of underperforming co-workers, but pick your battles carefully, especially if you don’t know the background. Your principal may already be trying to get rid of this person. Or, your principal may be related to this person. With that being said, always refuse if you are asked to cover for someone else’s irresponsibility in a way that weighs on your conscience or gets you in trouble.

Workplace bullies.

In a few unfortunate cases, you may run into colleagues who are rude, mean-spirited, nasty, horrendous people who don’t make the Earth a better place. Here, consider your own personality and your relationship with the person in question. In some cases, standing up for yourself prevents people from bullying you in the future. Other times, it’s better to let an incident slide than to take on a new enemy. In either case, don’t let the actions of a few rude people keep you from getting to know your other co-workers. The more friends you have, the less one person’s attitude will matter.

How to make sure you aren’t the difficult co-worker.

Even if your co-workers are (mostly) the problem, there are things you can do to help make things go more smoothly with your colleagues. Here are a few pieces of workplace etiquette that apply to all teachers but are especially good tips for rookies:

When things are going badly…

Choose your confidantes carefully, and be especially careful whom you talk to after a bad day. Find mentors who you trust to help you get better and feel better without repeating your concerns. This may mean finding a teacher who doesn’t work with you.

When things are going well…

Remember to be humble. If another teacher offers you well-meaning advice, say “Thank you,” even if you already knew it. As a beginner, you don’t need to prove you know too much to hear advice. You need to prove you know enough to listen.

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