Handling In-House School Conflict

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by Jennifer Cheifetz

Nobody likes conflict in the workplace, especially when it impacts the way you do your job. But that’s exactly when you know you have to do something about it. A teacher gets evaluated by administrators, colleagues, parents, and oftentimes students.

Occasionally when those evaluations are uncomplimentary, they can lead to conflicts. The teacher becomes defensive and perhaps avoids those people, and maybe even becomes negative about the job. So what is a teacher to do?

It’s always good to be open and willing to hear the other side. If you approach the person with whom you disagree with respect and openmindedness, you can turn the conflict into more of a misunderstanding, and a misunderstanding can be cleared up with a mere conversation.

Teaching is a service profession (perhaps the term “public servant” goes a little too far?), therefore you need to exercise a little customer service. If you called the phone company to discuss an error on a bill and were only met with negativity and insensitivity, you’d be horrified and dismayed. So when someone comes to you to express disappointment, be willing to work with them to improve. Provide them with the good service they expect (and dare I say deserve).

I supervised a student teacher who was constantly told what a wonderful job she was doing. At one point, however, her cooperating teacher confronted her with harsh criticism from the principal. Now, the principal, herself, never expressed any of it to the student teacher, so the situation got tricky. But I advised her to approach the principal and invite her in to observe a lesson which she anticipated would be fun and enjoyable for the class. Even though the student teacher couldn’t openly address the conflict, she could improve the principal’s opinion of her if she “killed (her) with kindness.”

One time, in my own teaching experience, I had a reading buddy class and we met once a week for the students to pair up and read together. Everything was going fine for the first few months; the other teacher and I would chit-chat while the students read. Then one day the other teacher started to give me the cold shoulder. Instead of our usual conversations, she started bringing in work to correct and would head to a desk and put her face in a stack of papers, not even saying hello to me. I put up with it for a couple months, and then I had to say something.

So, very meekly one day, I approached her and asked if there was something I had done to upset her. She told me that she found out I was friends with a married male teacher who was known to be having an affair with another teacher, and she just couldn’t approve of my friendship with him. While it didn’t totally resolve our conflict, my addressing her at least made me aware of her problem with me and we were able to agree to disagree.

There is always going to be conflict, even if it’s just a disagreement with how another teacher disciplines (or maybe doesn’t discipline). You can’t control what other people will get worked up about, but you can control your side of it. Pick your battles wisely. You have to see these people everyday, and it can be very lonely when your only conversations during the day are with children.

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