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Uncategorized   |   May 8, 2009

From the mailbag: obnoxious co-workers

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

From the mailbag: obnoxious co-workers

By Angela Watson


I once had 52 third graders in my class. It was a “temporary” team-teaching situation (hah! good one) due to overcrowding, and an absolute recipe for disaster. I was new to the district, the rooms were small, and I accepted the position without having met my co-teacher. By the grace of God, she was the most accommodating and downright entertaining partner I could have imagined. That year was the most fun I’d ever had in the classroom, and I was actually sad to have my own room the following year. (That’s pretty incredible for someone who likes to control the learning environment as much as I do.)

Even more miraculous is the fact that I’ve never had serious issues with ANY co-workers in the eight schools I’ve worked in: there have been difficult teachers in every school, for sure, but my grade level team has always been pretty cohesive and drama-free. Maybe my standards are low, but as long as my teammates are respectful of one another, I consider the partnership a success. I’ve never had to collaborate with anyone who made my life miserable due to a poor attitude and unprofessionalism.

I am aware that this is not the norm.

There’s definitely been a common theme of late in both the email and blog post comments I’ve received: some of you are stuck with annoying, know-it-all, snobby, snitchy, lazy, and downright incompetent colleagues:

Exhibit A:

“I’m on a team with a dominant teacher. I’ve stood up to her on behalf of my partner who was being bullied. My partner was able to get moved to another grade level, but I’m stuck next year. Any advice on dealing with an antagonistic alpha?”

Exhibit B:

“Does anyone have any advice about dealing with a teammate that you feel this way about [that s/he is extremely annoying]? I tried unsuccessfully to get the principal to move me to another grade level. Arggh!”

Exhibit C:

“I agree with what has been said and it’s nice to know that we’re not alone. I agree about the co-worker too. What can you do about that especially when you work in close proximity to them. Help!!!”

And that’s the question: what CAN you do? Any suggestions for these folks who are forced to co-teach or collaborate with difficult colleagues?

Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela created the first version of this site in 2003, when she was a classroom teacher herself. With 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach, Angela oversees and contributes regularly to...
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  1. I guess it depends on the level of the problem. If they’re simply irritating, if it gets bad enough, maybe try for some sort of mediation?

    If this is someone, though, who’s actually incompetent or whom you believe is a danger (whether intellectual, physical, or emotional) to students, I think you have a responsibility (probably legal but certainly moral) to document your concerns and report them. I had a colleague last year with whom I was deeply uncomfortable – the way he interacted with his female students was just not okay with me. No hard evidence, but a bad feeling. I documented and reported, because how could I not?

  2. I definitely depends. I’ve developed a hard skin. I try not to let them bother me, personally. My team doesn’t collaborate, sad, but true. So its only when one (me) wants to collaborate that it becomes a problem. I try to keep business and business…coworkers don’t have to be friends, but its nice if they are!

  3. I agree with SmWonderoo – At the end of the day, they are your co-workers, and they don’t necessarily have to be your buddies. I think that if they are just annoying, you have to just try to find a way to deal with it. I’ve had my fair share of meetings with colleagues who would rather chit chat than get anything accomplished. We all deal with it by trying to focus the conversation back on whatever goal we have, even if that means being a little rude and interrupting.
    I don’t know if going to the principal is the answer, unless it is something serious. You don’t want to be known as the teacher who doesn’t work well with others.

  4. Thanks for your suggestions. I think part of the problem is that there is a power vacuum. Since the principal doesn’t want to make decisions, the alpha teammate has become an opportunistic bully. She wants the best for herself: the easiest subjects to teach, the highest students, the best seat on the bus, etc. She’s willing to badmouth others to get what she wants. Right now, she has 2 other allies on her/our team. It’s 3 against 2. She and her teammates have been to the principal to express their “concern” about me. In otherwords, I wasn’t getting with her program and told her so. Those 3 have had their heads together so much, that they have talked each other in to thinking that their behavior is okay. I only want what’s fair, but I’m really bad at playing this power game. I’ve been teaching for awhile, and I’ve never complained about a co-worker to administration. My plan at this point is stand my ground, but not to let them provoke me into getting angry. I know now that we are not friends (my partner was good friends with them for years) and that I can never trust them again. I’m afraid that they will set me up, though. I’m good with the children and I need this job, but I feed like Daniel in the lions’ den.

    Exhibit A

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