When Bad Apples Ruin Teaching for the Rest of Us

How to deal with the Negative Nancies of the teaching world.

Bad Apples

There’s at least one that spoils every bunch. You know who they are. Lazy Susan, the teacher who shows more movies than Cinemark. Or maybe Throwback Bob, who thrives on his own authority, because he’s still in high school—in more ways than one. Negative Nancy, too. Even her students call her that.

Maybe you know Flirty Frannie or Chris Complainer, who’s probably in the principal’s office right now, chewing on her ear about his worst students ever. Bad apple teachers. While they’re few and far between, they can certainly frustrate those of us who are compassionate, genuine, and actively engaged.

Chances are, you don’t have to look too far to find a bad apple.

If there’s not one in your school parking lot, faculty restroom, or weekly department meeting, just turn on the news. That’s where bad teachers always seem to get the focus, putting us all in a negative light, which isn’t fair.

Bad apples also want to poison the whole barrel.

They are intent on spreading their contagion—laziness, corruption, negativity—and circulating among the good, seeking out potential fellow wallowers. Their misery not only loves company, it thrives on it, so well that all who are exposed feel worse about their jobs.

But. There is hope.

Sure, over the years, I’ve worked with plenty of bad apples, but they have been few and far between. Almost every teacher I know builds relationships with their students. And almost every teacher I know loves coming to school on a daily basis. Almost every teacher I know still can’t believe they get paid to do what they do. And I’m sure most teachers would agree with me. Because most teachers are the good ones.

Nevertheless, here are a few tips for deflection and protection. You can:

1. Ignore them.


No, that’s not being rude; it’s called self-preservation. Pretend to be too involved in something else to listen to them: Take a call, dive into your Facebook feed, or lose yourself in a daydream. Just. Do. Not. Engage.

2. Avoid them.

Don’t go where you think they may pop up. And if they find you in the teachers’ lounge, feign a trip to the restroom. If they find you in the restroom, say you’re not feeling well. If you see them headed down the hall toward you, duck into the janitor’s closet, or someone’s room, or an office and work your best acting skills. It’s worth it.

3. Never agree to do an outside-of-school hobby with them, no matter how seemingly benign.

Think walking for exercise, having a drink, or back-to-school shopping. Those are the prime bad apple poisoning times, and wow, can they do damage, even with other good apples present.

4. Don’t engage in discussing or criticizing bad apples with others, especially students.

They are your colleagues, after all, and that reflects more on your professionalism than theirs. Besides, then you’d just be obsessing, and that causes undue stress.

5. Finally, if all else fails and you just can’t beat ’em, whatever you do, don’t join ’em.

Instead, try a different approach: Offer your most positive, optimistic, and sunny reply, letting your goodness shine through brightly. Maybe you’ll rub off on them. How ’bout them apples?

We’d love to hear how you handle the “bad apples” in teaching. Come and share in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.

Plus, how to handle common coworker conflicts.

When Bad Apples Ruin Teaching for the Rest of Us