How Teachers Can Deal With Negative Colleagues

Dear Kid Whisperer,

I am a fourth-grade teacher who is worried about a situation that I foresee happening this year with adults. Last year was my first year in my building. I quickly found that lunch and recess times were stressful times for both staff and students, as these areas were loud and unruly, and staff spent a lot of time yelling at kids. I decided to try and help out in these areas as much as possible. I use your blog and podcast to help me help my school, and we have changed the way we do some things. I have had colleagues tell me to stop helping because they say that if I help during these times, our administration will demand that everyone help too. I am not going to stop helping my school, but I am dreading the conversations with other teachers about this. Any advice? -Kim, Oakland, California



While a vast, vast majority of teachers I have come across have been incredibly wonderful people, there are the very rare exceptions of people in schools who not only want to do the bare minimum, but also want everyone else to do only the least amount of work possible.

The truth, as you know, is that when everyone in a building goes above and beyond for kids, everyone’s jobs become easier. This is not just true in schools, it’s true for any organization.

One of the great joys of my life is that, by choosing to be an educator, I have been able to surround myself with people who have chosen a lifetime of service to others (it also helps that I married a teacher). Still, once in a while, as you are finding, you can find the aforementioned kind of person in a school, and they will often cause problems for you. Here’s how I have dealt with these rare people in the past:

Teacher Bully: Hey! Why are you helping in the lunchroom?

Kid Whisperer: I don’t understand the question.

Teacher Bully: I mean that if you start helping in the lunchroom, they will expect all of us to help in the lunchroom! I saw you on the playground too. What are you doing out there?

Kid Whisperer: I will just say that I will be helping to make the school better in any and all ways that I feel like making the school better. Feel free to do your job however you would like. I’ll make sure I don’t critique how you choose to serve kids.

Teacher Bully: Helping children is bad!

Kid Whisperer: Oh, boy. This sounds like an argument. I don’t argue with my colleagues. (Kid Whisperer starts walking away*) I’m going outside to play kickball now.

*This is not designed to make these people happy. In fact, it will make them mad.

Keep in mind I’m not saying that others should spend their limited planning and lunch time helping with lunch and recess with kids–educators certainly need breaks. In fact, a teacher could use these same strategies to deal with a staff member who tried bullying them into taking their break to work lunches or recesses. Sometimes educators feel like they desperately need that break time to remain sane so that they can best serve their kids! All I am showing you here is how to respond to a staff member who wants to bully you into changing how you do your job.

Good luck, have a great year, and thank you for doing your best to help kids!