Pessimistic. Obstinate. These are just two of the many adjectives one might use to characterize a difficult colleague. And we all have at least one. No building is immune to such a person. So how do we collaborate with these individuals without allowing them to compromise our beliefs about our own professional work? Below are a few tips I’ve gathered over the years about different types of difficult colleagues.
- The Negative Neighbor: As painful as this may seem, pause and listen to this person. Whether or not you feel her complaints warrant any legitimacy, I generally find that people just want to be heard. Perhaps suggest to this person that she should bring her concerns to the building rep. Or, if you disagree with her point of view, then take courage- honestly and politely disagree. At the end of the day, transparency is always best, and if your view differs from hers, she’ll be less likely to share her negative thoughts with you in the future.
- The Stubborn Department Member: It’s common planning time (wait, is there such a thing?) and you have this awesome idea! Everyone is on board except this person. Like your neighbor above, he is negative and resistant to try anything new because 182 days of textbook work hasn’t failed him yet. Consider for a moment that perhaps this colleague is afraid of failure. I know, I know. We’re educators! We tell our students all the time that they shouldn’t fear failure, because their failures turn out to be their most valuable learning experiences. But realize, too, your co-worker is human. If everyone else is on board, then don’t worry about your inflexible outlier. Hopefully, he’ll see and hear about the success your idea has brought to your fellow teammates, and will, on his own, gradually come around.
- The Staffer with No Regard for School Rules: At last week’s staff meeting, the principal requested that there be more adult presence in the halls during transition times. It’s been a week since this meeting, and this person has yet to share in the responsibility. However, this isn’t the only time he’s “forgotten” to pitch in. Oh! And that time in your class when you told Elijah to put away his chips and his ear buds, his response was, “Why? Mr. So-and-so let’s me!” I get it. It’s enough to make you want to march down the hall and yell at Mr. So-and-so for undermining your authority and for not being a team player! But you shouldn’t do that, at least not the yelling at him in front of his students part, and neither should you gripe about him behind his back, because then you’d be no better than your negative neighbor. Rather, have a private conversation with him. Confrontation tends to have a negative connotation, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Again, transparency is always best. Try phrasing your complaints as concerns. Tell him you need his help in the hallway. As for Elijah’s food and music, let your colleague know what your classroom rules are, and ask him to please remind his students that his rules apply to his classroom, and not every teacher’s classroom.
While I could go on in identifying difficult colleague archetypes, it’s not really necessary. If your teach-mates have gotten under your skin, then it’s because you’ve allowed them to. Remember that your colleagues are worthy of respectful and honest conversations, and if they are resistant to your feedback, then don’t waste your time on them. Chances are they are in the minority and not worth the energy you could be spending on important things, like standardized testing (wink, wink).
Post written by New Member Committee Member Miriam Kranz, Middle School Drama Teacher in Southbridge, MA
You can follow Miriam on Twitter @mimik82
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