Teachers are perfect paragons of awesomeness who get along perfectly with their colleagues and invariably behave like responsible adults.
Um … just kidding.
Adulting with others can be difficult, especially when you have a group of teacher colleagues with vastly different personalities, styles, and approaches. Even if you’re the type that gets along with everyone, there always seems to be that one colleague who is, well, challenging.
Maybe he mansplains during faculty meetings. Maybe she constantly undermines you with the students. Maybe they are the know-it-all or my-way-is-best types who constantly clash with others. These colleagues can sometimes make school difficult or even unpleasant, so it’s good to have strategies for dealing with them. Here are some of the ways that have worked for me, as told through Chris Pratt GIFs.
Figure out why you don’t like them.
This determines your next course of action. If it’s something about their personality or mannerisms, proceed to step two. If, however, it’s something more sinister, you might need to talk to your administration.
In other words, if the problem is that he constantly tells you the plot of the Saw movies during lunch duty, you can ignore that. But if you find her off-putting because she’s verbally abusive to the students, that’s probably something you should tell an administrator about.
Assuming it’s not something that will make the news or damage a student for life, you have to carry on dealing with this colleague’s … idiosyncrasies. For me, the first step is to limit how often I have to deal with them. Ever noticed how some people never seem to have work to do during their planning? Those people tend to bother me. So I usually close my door during my planning period to keep from implictly inviting others in for interruptions. Then I can spend that time getting work done.
Sometimes teachers need to vent with each other, and I get that. But the last thing I want is a coworker, whose company I don’t particularly enjoy, coming in to complain about what Mario did in fourth period. Now this person may or may not get the hint. If it’s the latter, you might have to actually say, “Hey, I’m really slammed at the moment. Do you mind if we talk about this another time?”
Fake it ’til you make it.
There are times when you can’t avoid them. Maybe you have the same duty station during dismissal, or you supervise recess together. Maybe the problem is with your department head. In this case, a different approach is necessary. Ready? Pretend you like them. Pretend they are your favorite person. Listen to them the way you would listen to your best friend. Ask them for advice. The first two days, you will actively want to die during every interaction. But somehow, faking it tends to help over time.
Be honest (maybe).
It seems like this one should work in every situation, but it won’t. Halitosis? There’s no good way to tell someone that, other than the tried-and-true breath-mints-in-the-mailbox act, which seems a tad passive-aggressive. Seriously, if a coworker’s entire personality makes you want to gouge out their eyes with a rusty spoon, honesty is probably not the best policy. But if it’s a habit that bothers you, it might be worth mentioning it—in a constructive way.
For instance, it might be asking them to, say, not spend all of lunch duty complaining about the kids, because it brings you down before your afternoon classes. Or not talk politics every morning while you supervise lockers. Or stop interrupting your copy machine job by making their own copies while you go to the bathroom. Or whatever. If you can see some future with a positive working relationship with this person, honesty might be the way to get there.
Keep it away from the kids.
This should go without saying, but I’ve seen people struggle with it. Students don’t need to know how you feel about a colleague. They don’t need to see you argue, they don’t need to hear your frustrations, and they don’t need to know that you dislike one of their other teachers.
If you can model respectful disagreement about individual issues for your kids, great. But leave the personal conflicts out of it. If your coworker is making your conflict the students’ business, it’s probably time to consider the next option …
This one’s important. If this colleague frustrates you because they’re doing something that negatively impacts the kids, then the problem is bigger than you. Teachers have different styles, and not everybody has to do things exactly the same way you do, but you know when someone is doing wrong by your students.
If the teacher in question regularly fails to do their job, acts in ways that are damaging to the kids, or undermines your ability to do your job in the classroom, it’s time to put the problem in someone else’s hands.
You’re never going to love every single person at your school, but these strategies can make a difficult coworker tolerable, and they won’t get you arrested.
How about you? How do you deal with fellow teachers who get on your last nerve? Have good ideas for working with difficult colleagues? Come and share in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.
Plus how to handle these common school colleague conflicts.