You are here


 

The New Teacher Advisor

Working With
Difficult People


This particular topic is not easy to address because of the variety of problems and people found within a school community. You might be a student teacher working with a cooperating teacher who isnt verywellcooperative. You might be a new teacher working with a student and/or parent who seems to delight in causing you trouble. Perhaps youre having difficulties working with a particular colleague or your administrator. A myriad of situations that will cause you difficulty can arise within the workplace. I cant provide specific answers for each and every one. Instead, below are a few thoughts on ways to help you get through those times with your dignity intact.

First, have you identified the actual problem? So often, our problems become intensified in our minds when we continually revisit them. What is your problem with that person? Clearly list out each of the issues youre facing on a sheet of paper. Dont try to list it in your head. Writing out the problem(s) will help clarify the situation. Is it a personality conflict or are the attitudes and actions of a particular person causing you hardship? What hardships are you facing because of those actions and/or attitudes?

With personality conflicts, it can be that the person in question is not purposefully trying to give you a hard time. When we come in contact with someone who immediately puts our teeth on edge for no apparent reason, everything they do, innocent or otherwise, can be an irritant. If thats the case, you need to take some time to reflect on your own attitude toward that person. Is there really an issue or are you just perceiving an issue because of how you instinctively feel toward the person? Take some time to think about what you can do to avoid the issue.

If someones actions and attitudes are causing you hardship within the workplace, you need to identify each one. Once you have the list, read through it, and determine whether each hardship/problem is something you can resolve or not. Is there anything you can do to work out the issue? Will the issue resolve itself in time? By identifying the problem, you can grasp it more clearly and might be better able to work toward a solution.

Second, how is your attitude and behavior affecting the problem? Are you intensifying the issue through your reactions and counteractions? How is your attitude affecting the other person? You might be tempted to continue your actions to make a point, but how will that affect your relations with the person?

For example, is an administrator hassling you about arriving to work at 7:50 instead of 7:45? (Lets say classes begin at 8:10 and teachers must be at school no later than 8:00.), Are you arriving at 7:50 or later just to prove a point? What would happen to your relationship with that administrator if you tried to arrive at or before 7:45? Most likely, he or she would stop harassing you. Is five minutes worth a year-long hassle with the administrator?

Once youve identified the problem and how your attitude and actions are affecting it, you have a prime opportunity to look within yourself for the solution. What can you change in your attitude to help solve the issue? Would a more positive attitude toward the person eventually resolve the problem? Is there anything you can do that would decrease the pressure in the situation so that it can be resolved? A small problem can escalate into a huge issue simply because each person is doing his or her best to irritate the other.

Third, follow the golden rule: Love thy neighbor as thyself. Treat each person the way you want to be treated. That attitude can go a long way toward resolving problems and issues. Even if someone else is treating you badly, take the opposite stance and be pleasant to that person. Thats a bit of advice my mother gave me long ago when I was embroiled in a conflict with a fellow classmate (at the ripe age of 10). She said if I continued to be nice to that person, it would drive her crazy and eventually-- not immediately, but eventually -- she would stop being so mean. After a couple of months, thats exactly what happened. I guess it stopped being fun for her to harass me when I continued to smile, say hello, and be pleasant toward her. While we never became friends, at least her negative treatment of me stopped.

Now, you might be saying to yourself, that is all well and good, but she doesnt know MY situation. That is correct. I dont know what you might be going through right now. Your circumstance might be such that there is little or nothing you can do to change the current state of affairs. That being the case, the most you can do is to maintain a positive attitude. Im not saying thats an easy thing to do, but it might be all you have left. While other people can try to hurt us with their attitude and actions, they cannot affect our own attitude unless we allow them to. A difficult situation can be made worse by allowing our own attitude to become negative.

Fourth, when you begin feeling down in the dumps about a difficult situation, make a list of all the good you are accomplishing as a teacher. Make a list of the people who care about you and love you. Make a list of your friends and your colleagues and students with whom you have a positive relationship. Focus on the positive in your life rather than on the negative. Vent your feelings to friends and family and ask them to just listen without trying to solve the problem. Find a shoulder you can cry on. Watch a movie about a teacher who overcame challenges and difficult situations, and be inspired to do the same.

Fifth, if you can, talk with either the school counselor or administrator (or a district administrator) about your problem. You need to speak with someone who has the power and authority to help you resolve the problem when you cannot do it on your own. If the problem is with an administrator or your district, you might have to talk with someone from your teacher association.

Bring in a third party so you can get an outside viewpoint. That person might be able to see a solution that currently eludes you. If youre having a problem with a colleague, an administrator might be able to help you resolve the situation. Dont try to go it alone. Many support resources are available to help. Take advantage of them, especially if the problem escalates, or might escalate, into a huge issue.

Eventually, every situation will work itself out. The problem is solved; the issue is resolved through negotiation and discussion. Perhaps there has been a change of heart. The resolution might be taken out of your hands because you move to another school, the problem student moves on to the next grade level, the troublesome colleague transfers out of your school, or you finish student teaching.

Can you then look back on the situation and say to yourself, I did my very best during that time. I continued to treat that person with respect and in a positive manner. I continued to do what was right. If you can, then you have made it through a difficult situation with flying colors. Youve shown that you can brave the worst storms and keep yourself intact rather than being affected by someone with a negative attitude. We all face difficult situations in work and in life. The key -- and the challenge -- is how we handle ourselves while in those situations so we emerge stronger and more resilient.

 

[content block]

 

Education World®             
Copyright © 2011 Education World

Comments