Dealing with Difficult Staff
No matter what profession you are in, you will work with others that you may not particularly get along with. This is just a normal part of life. You can not control how others treat you… however, you can control how you handle your side of the interaction.
Before I got my teaching job, I was an Educational Assistant (EA) to two different students in Special Needs. The teacher that I worked for was not a kind person. She decided early on that she did not like me. Luckily, I worked in many other teachers’ classrooms during the day that could vouch for my professionalism and how I was helping my student become successful in a general education setting. I attended Science and Math with a student that had a behavioral IEP and spent the rest of the day with the teacher mentioned above. No other teachers had any complaints about me. I didn’t realize the teacher above had complained about me to the administration team. She created false claims against me, saying I was not helpful to her or the students. She had not discussed her “issues” with me and I was completely blindsided when I was pulled into the principal’s office to discuss the issue. This was my first interaction with a “difficult staff” member. We finished the year working together and everyone survived and that teacher no longer decided to be in education.
Fast forward to when I had my first official teaching job. To my surprise, there was another teacher that was difficult to work with. I was hired in her desired position, as a reading teacher and she was moved to writing, which she did not want to teach. She took her frustration out on me, making it very difficult to enjoy my first year. She added extra stress by stopping in my classroom, critiquing my teaching and berating me in front of my students.
Why am I mentioning these two situations? I know every educator out there has had a less than pleasant situation with a co-worker. How do you handle working with these difficult educators?
Focus on Your Students, Your Team, and Your Personal Goals
The main reason you started working in the education career field was probably not to focus on the drama created by your toxic co-workers. Taking the focus off your toxic colleagues and focusing on your students can help you shift attention to what’s really important. In an article for the “Harvard Business Review,” executive coaches Amy Jen Su and Muriel Maignan Wilkins point out that focusing on your work — not the habits or actions of your peers — can be a helpful way to reduce the negative impact of your difficult co-workers. If you allow your co-workers to take center stage, your attention will be compromised and your ability to be aneffective educator may suffer.
I know this may seem so simple and ineffective, but trust me, when you are consistently dealing with difficult teacher coworkers, it can zap every ounce of peace you have! Staying calm allows you to clearly think through your next steps in handling struggles with this person. One way to remain calm is not to take things personally. I hear your frustrated sigh. Isee your eyes rolling at that statement. This road is one that I’ve walked. So I am advising this out of my own experience. By allowing my co-workers’ actions and cold comments to become personal, I left work day after day stressed. That led to dread about going to work the next day, even though I loved being a teacher. It is usually impossible to completely avoid these difficult teachers. If that is your situation, repeat to yourself daily, “I may be forced to work with you, but I am not required to like you. I will work with you for the benefit of our students, but you are getting none of the personal real estate I have in my head. I have more positive things to think about.” Most difficult people and situations don’t crop up overnight; more than likely,this person has exhibited signs of being this way to someone else before.
Confront your Co-worker
If your co-worker’s behavior continues to bother you and disrupts your work, it may be helpful to have an honest, respectful discussion with them. Although it might seem unlikely, it is possible that your co-worker is unaware of the effects of their actions. In an article for the Wall Street Journal’s “Speakeasy” section, psychologist Meredith Fuller advises being direct and using specific examples to help your co-worker see the consequences of their actions. Next, ask them what they will do to rectify the situation. If things do not improve, you might need to speak to your principal, union representative or another school official to see what furthersteps can be taken to address the behavior.
Difficult co-workers can increase your chances of developing the feeling of burnout. When all of your energy is devoted to fending off attacks from negative colleagues, you have little left to give to yourself and your students. According to a study published in 2003 in the “International Education Journal,” teachers who had support from their principals and co- workers had a decreased chance of developing burnout. Whenever possible, increase the time you spend with more uplifting colleagues and cultivate positive relationships with others. This can help lessen the negative impact of these difficult co-workers.
Every interaction with difficult staff members will mold you into a better human being, as well as, educator. You will feel tested daily and you will make it through. Above all else, my advice to a newcomer in education and to experienced teachers, alike, is to try to resolve professional and personal differences in a respectful, appropriate manner. Sometimes adversaries can learn to “agree to disagree” on certain matters, while still maintaining a civil work relationship.
For more resources on dealing with difficult people, check out the links below: