Help! My Co-Worker is a Total Narcissist

It’s about insecurity.

Teacher in front of white board with text "Today's Topic: ME!"

This week, WeAreTeachers takes on a narcissist co-worker, wearing a BLM shirt as a white teacher, and more.

My co-worker is a narcissist, and I can’t get away from her.

As an elementary specialist, on days I’m not teaching content, I work with a staff member that is driving me crazy. I’ve taught in the same building as her for a long time and know that her classroom is all about her. The constant oversharing with her students is the biggest issue. I am never to  disagree with her in class. I’ve tried pointing out things in private, but she is so egocentric she doesn’t pick up on it. She showed a video about a long-ago weather disaster that affected her. Instead of focusing on what has changed with weather forecasting, building standards, and storm preparedness, she said there was nothing we could do. She has many good qualities and ends up being many students’ favorite teacher, but she misses so many educational opportunities! It looks like I’ll be assigned to her next year. What should I do? —Biting My Tongue

Dear B.M.T.,

Ah, the narcissist at work. They make it really hard to work as a team, amirite? Since it sounds like her attention-seeking behavior isn’t directed toward you, and you’re not her direct supervisor, my advice is to ignore her, so long as her “all about me” approach isn’t interfering with the curriculum goals.

It may help you to know that the behavior likely comes from a place of insecurity. She’s likely just trying to feel better about herself. That doesn’t make it less annoying, but it can help you have more empathy. The good news is that narcissists often have a lot of positive traits, some of which you mentioned.


Unfortunately, it’s not likely that your co-worker is going to change unless she seeks professional help. If it’s derailing you from your goals and sense of purpose, you probably need to have a talk with your principal about making a change.

A mom said I humiliated her son for making him pull up his mask.

The elementary school where I teach has been face-to-face since March, and we are 100% wearing masks. I have about five repeat offenders who I tell every three to four minutes to put their masks over their nose. They complain that they can’t breathe in it or respond by pulling it up so it’s covering their nose and eyes but not their mouth and saying, “What? It’s covering my nose.” These are not kids with asthma or anything that they can’t wear a mask correctly. I’m SO sick of it. I’ve started telling them I’m tired of telling them, or saying, “This is the fourth time…” The last time I did that, I had a mom call me out. She sent me a long email  saying that I handled the situation inappropriately and had “humiliated” her son. I’m so mad and beyond frustrated. How would you respond? —Mask Up

Dear M.U.,

Educators across the country who have returned to in-person education feel your pain. Having to remind students to pull their masks up isn’t just an annoyance—it’s a health hazard. And now you have this parent complaint.

Whenever I got criticism from a parent, I was immediately defensive. Eventually, I learned to reflect and try to see what part, if any, was true. So think about it. Did you raise your voice? Snap? It’s understandable but maybe think about some different ways you could handle it. Teacher Vito S. says, “I just give a hand signal to the student with my finger over my nose, indicating they should pull it up. It’s all in how you ask them.”

If you do feel like you were in the wrong, go ahead and admit it and apologize to the mom and student. We all make mistakes. But either way, going forward, I would also fall back on any protocols your school has in place for discipline regarding mask-wearing. That way, it’s not personal.

I caught my colleagues kissing, and I don’t know who’s more embarrassed.

I’ve been teaching at the same high school for 20 years. Over the past few years, we’ve hired a lot of new staff—many of them young teachers. Last week, I walked into the teachers’ lounge and caught two of them—our new French teacher and the history teacher/football coach—kissing. They pulled away as soon as they realized I’d walked in, but I was so horrified, I just left. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but this kind of behavior just seems totally inappropriate in the workplace. I can’t even look them in the eye when I see them, and one of them is in my department! Now I really want to get this off my chest, and I’m considering going to my principal to let him know. I don’t want them to get fired or anything, but this has to stop. Am I in the right here? —Get a Room

Dear G.A.R.,

Honestly? No. This is a situation you need to stay out of. I just don’t think it’s a big deal. Sounds like two consenting adults to me. Was it a lapse of professionalism? Perhaps. But it didn’t happen in front of students.

At the most, I would say you could talk to the teacher you have a relationship with (the one in your department) and gently suggest they be a little more discreet. And that’s only because there could be disciplinary action if the kissing occurred in front of students, but that depends on your contract. And, in that case, the union would be involved.

You’re not going to get them fired for this. You’re just going to look bad. No one likes a snitch.

I’m a white teacher, and my principal said I can’t wear a Black Lives Matter shirt.

I am a white teacher, and I support the Black Lives Matter movement. I consider myself an ally to my BIPOC students. Last week, I wore a BLM shirt with a fist. I just wanted my students to know where I stand and to help them feel safer. My principal called me into her office to talk about it. She is also white and has asked me not to wear the shirt again. Her concern is not so much that it’s a distraction or political as that it’s cultural appropriation for me to wear it. I don’t feel like I’m  taking something away from a culture and trying to make it my own, but maybe I’m wrong. Either way, I’m pretty sure she can’t tell me what I can and can’t wear. What do you think? —Allyship in Action

Dear A.I.A.,

I think it’s important to center Black voices here while understanding that these are also individual opinions. Teacher Jessica B. says, “Not appropriation at all! BLM isn’t a culture. It’s a movement to create social change. Of course, wear it; you are an ally, support.”

In terms of whether or not she can tell you that you can’t wear it, it depends. Tinker v. Des Moines found that neither students nor teachers “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” So she would have to say it constituted a “substantial disruption.” Your local education association can weigh in here, and you’ll want to follow this case in Florida.

I would gently nudge you to reflect on your ally behavior overall. Sometimes as allies, we slip into the performative. Teacher Miriam P. reminds us, “Being an ally is more than a t-shirt. As teachers, we have a voice and power others do not. I would recommend working with your community and your students to lift up voices within the community and to help our schools do the hard work.”

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My wife and I teach at the same school, and we’re getting divorced, and it’s so much drama.

My wife and I have been married for about five years now, and we’ve just hit that point where it’s not getting better, and it’s not going to. We’re ready to go our separate ways, and she’s filed for divorce. It’s hard enough being drained by the process and feeling behind at work because I just can’t focus on it. On top of that, my wife and I teach at the same high school. I’m in the math department, and she teaches Spanish. It’s a small school, and we share students, so everyone knows about it. There’s no keeping it private. How do I get through this?

Help! My Co-Worker is a Total Narcissist