Hello and happy Saturday. One cool thing I’ve noticed about having a teaching blog and other teaching social media is the fact that other teachers share their experiences, which are very relatable, even if these experiences aren’t always nice and fun.
That’s how I stumbled upon a blog post by Simply Kinder called Teachers Who Bully Other Teachers. The timing was perfect because I’d been thinking about that issue for a while, and it was great having someone put into words what had been going in my mind, but it also gave me clarity and sort of pushed me into writing my own post on the subject. I think sometimes we ignore some issues because they don’t concern us directly, teaching-wise or not, but we still have to be critical when it comes to certain situations in our surroundings, even if we’re not personally affected.
As I finished my first year teaching a school, I reached the conclusion that I work with a teacher bully. Let’s call them E. Now, E is your typical case of a bad teacher who wants to hide the fact that they’re bad by creating controversy among their peers. We’ve all seen someone like that, and we always wonder why they’ve still got their job until we realize they’re close friends with the boss and are constantly going behind their colleague’s backs, telling on them.
This post, however, is not about bad teachers but teacher bullies, so let me stick to that (though let me know if you want me to write about characteristics of a bad teacher, and I’ll write a post on it). You might know a teacher bully if you have a colleague who’s always talking -gossiping- about everyone. And, trust me, it’s not easy to identify this trait at first because humans talk all the time, that’s how we communicate. But it’s not the fact that a person like E talks, is what they talk about. E, for example, used to tell me about things their colleagues did and said the previous years. I’m sure E did that so that my image of the other teachers was clearly biased, but I decided that I’d better hang out with E instead of the others. As I said, it’s hard to identify that a seemingly nice person is always saying bad things about the people they work with, but when you do, just don’t engage in those conversations.
When I noticed that the stories E was telling me were meant for me to side with them, I avoided situations when it was just me and them, which wasn’t hard given that the other teachers, the ones E wanted to drag, are nice and welcoming and I’ve become genuine friends with them. Obviously, there are moments when I have to interact with E and when doing so, I have to be a decent human being and show politeness. In Colombia there’s a saying that goes “decency doesn’t fight with anyone,” and so that’s what I do, I’m decent, polite, courteous, but I don’t engage in negative conversations.
The way I had E stop talking to me about other teachers, and really other people (they talked this way about kids and their parents sometimes), was actually fun, and if you’re faced with a teacher bully, I suggest you use it. So, basically every time E started talking about someone the way they did, I pulled a confused face, like I didn’t know why what they were telling me was so horrible. It was kind of like when someone tells a racist or sexist joke and you ask them to explain it to you. Sometimes E insisted though, persistent as bullies can be, so they’d go ahead and tell me a story I’d already heard from them. I patiently waited for them to finish and then said “yeah, you’ve already told me that one.”
Two things happened after I started using that strategy: 1) E stopped trying to systematically talk about our colleagues, at least with me; and 2) they no longer seem interested to have me as a sidekick. Bullies have a weak character, which is why they always tend to hate (envy) people who have a strong character, and they want to take advantage of people who seem weaker than them. Bullies often look for a sidekick, someone who agrees with them on everything and follows them around. Sadly, E found a new teacher, one of my friends to be their sidekick for almost the entire year.
A, this new teacher and probably my best friend at school, became E’s sidekick, more because they both had to work together throughout the year than a real affinity towards each other, but still. A is this kind, generous, at times a bit naive person, who we all like, but the other teachers tended to tiptoe around them because they were worried about what E could do or say. Yes, my reader friends, high school never ends.
It wasn’t until the end of the year, when we received some bad news about one of our colleagues, which I felt E was behind (remember I said the told on other teachers behind their backs), that I told A they should be careful what they say around E. I then found out that another teacher had warned A about exactly the same. This might sound super childish, and if you ask me, it is because we’re supposed to be teaching children how to live in a community and all that, but here we are, having to protect ourselves from one of our colleagues. That is, however, how bullies operate. They don’t focus on doing their job as best as they can because they know they’re bad at it, so they bring good teachers down.
Find a teacher or a group of teachers you feel comfortable around. Find that one friend with whom you can laugh and cry. Find that one person you won’t hesitate to tell something to, no matter how personal because you genuinely trust them. Beware of signs of a teacher bully, and stay away from them in the most decent way possible. Stick your relationship with that person to the strictly professional, and if you’re new, try to pick up on how other people interact with them; I’ve never seen a teacher who everyone says is nice hanging out by themselves in a get together.
Have you faced a teacher bully (or any other sort of bully)? How did you deal with them? Let me know in the comments!
Love, Miss Camila
PS: Click here to enter my giveaway and win a signed (used) copy of The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker.