Peace, Detente, and Protection: What to Do When You and Your Administrator Don’t Get Along

 

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You don’t know what happened (or maybe you do), but you and your supervising administrator just didn’t hit it off.  This situation can be really anxiety producing because this person is responsible for evaluating you.  You might even feel like they are outwardly antagonistic towards you.  You want to do well at work and get along with people, and put the focus on your students.  Here’s the good news: it’s probably not something you did.  It’s sometimes shocking for students to students to see their teachers outside of school, because they don’t think of them in the context of being human, merely teacher (it’s like a celebrity expose in People Magazine, “Teachers, they’re people too!”)  In a similar way, teachers (even as adults) can forget that admin are people, and not all people are terrific.  I like to think, as one myself, that most people become an administrator to help support teachers, students, and the school.  Unfortunately, this isn’t the case sometimes.  Some administrators forget the struggles of being a teacher, or have a leadership style that’s quite authoritarian.  

So what’s a teacher to do?  

The three steps below outline a proactive plan to improve your situation at work.

Level Yellow: Lukewarm Relationship- Try to Repair the Warmth

If you feel confident enough, and the relationship has not devolved into outwardly hostile behaviors, try to extend an olive branch (even if you were not the one acting in the wrong).  Invite your admin to join you for a cup of tea and try to connect on a human-to-human level.  Ask them about what they were like as a teacher, ask them about their interests.  Tell them about your life, family, and passions.  By humanizing yourself to them, and showing you are a friendly person, who is also interested in them, you make it more difficult for them to be grumpy to you.  In the same way you wouldn’t give up on a difficult student, be persistent with your admin in improving their level of their comfort with you; it may take a bit- be patient.

Level Orange: Professional Coexistence- Seek a Working Relationship

If you have tried persistently to build a personal rapport with your administrator, and it hasn’t worked, the next step is to set up professional expectations.  Now that you’ve reconciled yourself to the fact that you and your administrator may not be friends or even friendly, it’s important to re-establish communication patterns that make you feel both comfortable.  If they send you an email where the tone makes you feel uncomfortable, reply professionally and courteously in the tone you’d like used towards you (model proper communication for them!).  Make a point to let them know that they are always welcome in your classroom, but keep a low profile about contacting them for anything else (the squeaky wheel gets the grease).  Be sure that you are on-top of any paperwork they expect you to have.  Essentially, keep doing everything you are supposed to, but don’t draw attention to yourself.  Keep your focus on your classroom and your students.

Level Red: Protect Yourself

Now let’s say you’ve tried being friendly, and tried being professional, but things have escalated, and now your administrator has made full-on aggressive moves towards you (ie publicly rebuked you, filed a complaint against you, or asked for an unwarranted disciplinary meeting).  Clearly, they have marked you as an enemy or persona non-grata at the school.  The most important thing is to continue to teach and do your job to the best of your ability.  Do not give this person any ammunition or reason to find fault with you.  Keep rigorous copies of emails so you can advocate for yourself if the need arises.  If you are required to meet with them, bring a third party as mediator and objective witness (union reps can fulfill this duty).  Be sure to be compliant with reasonable requests that they make, and don’t do them grudgingly.  Most importantly, do not complain about them to anyone at work (things have a way of getting around at schools, even from people you trust).  Leave the cathartic complaining for people outside of your work environment.  Rise above the emotional tone they have created, and take the moral high ground.  After all, you aren’t there to make them happy, you are there to teach and be there for your students!
Teachers, what other tips do you have for dealing with unprofessional administrators?

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