Help! I Have a Coworker Who Constantly Tattles to Our Principal

Do I tell her I caught her, or just warn my team?

Illustration of coworker who tattles

Dear We Are Teachers,

Last year, my team realized we had a tattletale. Our administrators seemed to magically know when we printed out a single concert ticket using our school printer or when we wore jeans on a non-jeans day. I figured out who it was after I planted a fake story with this teacher and, within the hour, an administrator came to ask me about it. Do I call out the tattle-teacher on what I know now, or just warn my team?

—just add ‘snitch-catcher’ to my certifications

Dear J.A.S.C.T.M.C.,

There’s one at every school, and I am endlessly fascinated by them. I have so many questions. Mostly this one: When they get back to their classroom after tattling, do they sit down at their desk, drum their fingertips together and smile menacingly?

First, I would wait on any kind of confrontation based on this last situation. I wouldn’t be surprised if your principal circled back to your coworker to tell her she had the wrong info—and now she knows you’re onto her. Plus, it is also a little sneaky (but brilliant) of you to manufacture a situation to trap her. Maybe once she knows that you know, she’ll lay low. That rhymed.

But if she keeps up her tattling, find a time to talk to your coworker privately. Make sure you’re unshakably calm and ready to assume positive intent. If she’s already in administrators’ ears, you need to be sure she can’t misrepresent your conversation as an attack.    


“Hey, I wanted to talk to you about something. [Administrator] approached me about a situation I thought I told you in confidence. I don’t think you’re a malicious person, or that you did this to get me in trouble. I’m just wondering why you didn’t feel like you could tell me if you disapproved of me breaking a rule.”  

This is a very generous response, but it preserves your work relationship while subtly communicating the professional version of this acronym I learned about from a teenager. Giving her a mouthful would feel great in the moment, but we all know she’s got admin on speed dial.

Dear We Are Teachers,

I have a child this year with truly awful breath. She seems to be in good shape with all other forms of hygiene—she comes to school showered, her clothes are clean, etc. But her breath smells like a dingy turtle tank, so much that I have a hard time working closely with her. I’ve obviously noticed, but now kids are talking about it, too. I talked to my AP about it and she said I need to call the parents, but how do I talk about the impact her breath is having without insulting their parenting?

—go on, leave me breath-less

Dear G.O.L.M.B.,

First, talk to the student privately about whether she remembered to brush her teeth. If she says no, have a little mini-chat about why it’s important and challenge her to remember tomorrow. If she says she does brush her teeth or doesn’t think it’s a problem, send an email to parents framing it as concern for her, not an inconvenience for you.  

I wanted to let you know about a classroom issue concerning Avery. Her peers have been commenting on her breath. A few have privately requested to be distanced from her after working in small groups. I will, of course, continue to manage responses from other students, but I just wanted to keep you notified. I’m happy to discuss some classroom solutions and other ways I can help support her if you’d like.

It’s important not to ask whether she has a medical issue (if it’s not illegal, it’s unethical), ask parents to provide a school toothbrush/toothpaste set, or make assumptions about hygiene. Let the parents’ response to this email inform where to go next.  

Dear We Are Teachers,

I’m a first-year teacher at the elementary level. A few weeks into the school year, I had my first observation from my principal. Her feedback was mostly positive, but her biggest feedback for me was on “improving” my energy level. She said kids need a teacher who is bubbly, energetic, and makes things “exciting.” She observed me again yesterday—I was trying so hard to be energetic, upbeat, and loud that I felt ridiculous—and she still said I need to work on “meeting first graders at their enthusiasm/energy level.” I feel like I’m being punished by my notably peppy principal for being an introvert. What should I do?

—I’m an ann perkins, not a leslie knope

Dear I.A.A.P.N.A.L.K.,

Tricky, indeed!

A certain level of interest and enthusiasm is necessary for good teaching, but that looks different from teacher to teacher. It could look like a big, booming circus with noisy games and shrieking. It could also look like hushed voices, one-on-one conferences, and an expertly-curated nature sounds playlist. Principals should know we’re not all Leslie Knopes. I’m inclined to think your principal is just not being specific enough about what she needs to see from you.

Ask to talk to your principal. Say, “I’ve been thinking a lot about your feedback and how to improve. It would help a lot if I could see a master teacher with a more introverted personality like mine and watch how they operate. Is there someone you’d recommend I could set up time to observe?”

This will show your principal you want to improve and give you an opportunity for what I think is the best PD (observing teachers at the top of their game) but without conceding that strong teaching requires a personality change.  

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Dear We Are Teachers,

As 6th grade math teachers, my team and I decide whether to accelerate incoming 6th graders. We learned over the summer that a parent of an incoming 6th grader was very upset with our decision to not accelerate her daughter. I have her in my class, and the parent will not drop the issue. She emails me multiple times a week about this “academic injustice,” and has now moved to calling my sister at work! They have a mutual acquaintance who apparently gave her my sister’s number. This feels like such a huge overstep to me. My principal thinks she’ll lose steam, but I worry she won’t! What should I do?

This week on Ask We Are Teachers, we cover a coworker who tattles, a child with dragon breath, and a principal with tunnel-vision.