Welcome to our advice column! Today we're helping a teacher who's fed up with a district policy and a substitute teacher who's feeling lonely. See what our writers have to say, then share your own advice in the comments! You can read a couple of our previous editions of Ask The Educator's Room here and here.
Dear The Educator’s Room,
For those of you in leadership positions, how do you deal with difficult staff members? I took on a dept chair position this year (my first leadership role), and a fellow teacher who was up for the position but didn’t get it has been making my job difficult all year and undermining me with the other staff members. I’ve talked to her, but she denies it. I’ve talked to admin about it, but I’m told she’s a good teacher, and that’s just how she is. I agree that she’s a good teacher for her students, but she’s creating a negative work environment for the rest of us. Any tips for dealing with this in a professional manner? (Source)
Leadership WoesAsk The Educator's Room: Leadership Battles and Anxious Mornings Click To Tweet
Dear Leadership Woes,
I’ve been in a very similar situation with different coworkers. Are you the one expected to manage all the various tasks, or are you able to delegate some responsibility? I ask this because when I faced pushback from a colleague, I decided to start delegating tasks to my colleagues based on their strengths and interests. I gave this particular coworker the task of generating ideas for tutorials in our required RTI periods. It seemed to appease her because this was what she wanted to control. Everyone on our team had a specific job. Since they took ownership of it, we worked well and became healthier as a result. I played to their strengths.
As far as this woman undermining your role, is it possible to ask her to assume a specific job within the department where she can shine or assign everyone specific goals or tasks centered around their strengths? Have a conversation with her where you share what you appreciate about her and share how she contributes. She just may need to feel appreciated and feels like her not being chosen reflects the opposite.
Dear Leadership Woes,
You are not alone. I had a similar situation for a few years and the anxiety and self-doubt that it produced was a lot to process. My situation resolved itself when the teacher took another position at a different school, but it is safe to say that the situation certainly made my job difficult and hurt our ability to fully care for our students.
Unfortunately, we’re not all going to get along, even when we all have the same end goals that we are working toward. The reality is that conflict in a department will eventually trickle to the students. If you are determined to make the department work smoothly but you have to do it with the problem teacher, I would start by extending an olive branch and asking your colleague their vision for the department. Share with them your vision for the department and ask how you can work together to achieve that vision. This might also help you discover the roots of the tension.
You can also build community by having each member of the department take turns sharing teaching methods that have worked for them in the classroom. This would give them a chance to teach their colleagues while building general collaboration in the department.
As hard as it is, just remember that you can’t make everyone like you, but you can insist that everyone act professionally by working together.
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Dear Educator’s Room,
I’m having trouble sleeping. I wake up before my alarm, and I’m so anxious about the school day ahead. What do you do to mentally prepare for teaching every morning?
There are lots of things that cause anxiety for teachers, especially after the hellacious couple of years we’ve all experienced. For me, I really try not to worry about the things I cannot control and focus on what I am in control of.
For example, last week every phone in class came to life with an Amber Alert in the middle of instruction. Obviously not planned for, but since I meticulously plan lessons a few weeks out, I picked up where we left off after shutting the phones off. A few years ago, I had an epiphany to relieve my anxiety. I plan lessons a few weeks out - or the big ideas. Then, I try to spend only two days a week late to either prepare specifics for the upcoming week or get a jump on grading. The rest of the time, I leave at a reasonable time to take care of myself or my family. Routines give me that control which gives me peace. I know things can and will go awry - but the plan helps me stay on track. Just find a routine or rhythm that works best for you.
The beginning of a new school year often finds teachers a bit sleepless - no matter how long they have taught. I have my routines here as well. Guess it’s part of being a creature of habit. To help with nighttime, a cup of Sleepytime tea or a dose of Melatonin helps me when I cannot turn my brain off. I try to hit the gym or pickleball court 3-4 times a week. Walking outside and enjoying the outdoors always elevates my mood and eases anxiety. In the morning, I have my little routines there as well. It all gives me a sense of peace. Finding someone trusted to talk with helps as well. Again, you need to find what brings you joy inside and outside of the classroom and guard those moments. I do hope you find your peace and bliss.
While it is completely normal to have anxiety before the start of a new school year, if you have a healthy work environment, that should go away within the first weeks of school.
Start making a list of all of the little details that you are worried about. Have a non-teacher friend or your therapist help you evaluate the items on the list to determine the root causes of those worries and the amount of control that you have over them. Then give yourself space between school and home. If you can, take your school email off of your phone and make sure parents and students know you will only respond to them during your contract hours. Stay late or go in early, but do what you can to leave work at school so that you can focus on recharging when you are at home.
If things don’t improve, the unfortunate reality is that you may need to consider a new teaching position that doesn’t trigger your anxieties. I had a similar situation last school year. Sunday nights I spent a lot of time yelling at my family and finally figured out that it was related to my concerns about the next week. I found a new teaching position that was much better suited to my temperament and that anxiety went away. Your students need a healthy teacher, too, and it is ok to admit that a specific teaching position isn’t right for you.
about the advisors
Suzy Winter is a middle school Language Arts teacher in the private school sector and loves every moment of it. After 17 years of public school life, it is a welcome change, but she will always advocate and lift up my fellow educators. She believes our profession, no matter where the classroom, is not for the faint of heart, but for those who teach with all their heart.
Sarah Styf is a 19-year high school English teacher. She lives in the Indianapolis area with her husband and two children. She is passionate about education reform and civic engagement. She can be found on Instagram @sarah.styf and Twitter @sarahstyf.
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