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New Teacher Hired, Pissing Off Veteran Staff, Help?
April 15, 2014 2:35 PM   Subscribe

I'm in my first year as a principal at a special needs high school and recently, the school director (above me organizationally) hired a new teacher who isn't quite fitting in. Far too many staff members have approached me and basically, this new teacher is pissing a lot of people off. It's not worthwhile to get into specifics, but it is fair to say that their issues are valid and this new teacher acts like a know-it-all, she's fairly abrasive and dismissive to seasoned staff. These teachers are well-respected in our field and great at their jobs.

She's not doing anything for which we can dismiss her, she's just kind of a know-it-all pain in the ass.

The easiest way to describe it is that she thinks she's a maverick with all sorts of innovative ideas, but if she stopped yakking all the time and just observed and listened a bit, she'd see that a lot of her ideas are just kind of silly and unworkable. Or some have been tried and didn't work.

I've worked with her type before as a coworker, and I know how to deal with someone in that regard, but as a new administrator, I'm struggling.

I don't want to invalidate my incredibly talented, hard-working and amazing staff in any way. I don't want them to think they can't express concerns to me, and this woman is kind of a jerk. But I also don't want to create a culture where we all hate the new girl.

I've spoken with the new teacher, suggesting she get to learn the ropes and routine a bit before she tells other teachers how they should be running their classes, and she was not receptive to that message. I've suggested to the veteran staff to keep doing their wonderful work and give her some time to get settled.

Right now, the culture at the school is definitely shifting because there used to be a great sense of camaraderie in working together. Now people are angry.

So, managers and administrators, knowing that I can't get this new teacher on board, how can I best support my amazing staff?
posted by kinetic to Human Relations (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
It should never be a surprise to anyone who works for you that they are not meeting your standards. The only way to ensure that is to communicate clearly and often what those are and where someone is falling short. Stop 'suggesting'. Tell. Sit her down in a formal meeting, with the appropriate HR resources present, to discuss her performance and let her know where she's currently failing at her job and what she needs to do to correct it. Document the conversation, give her a copy, file a copy. Continue to review with her at appropriate intervals and make sure she's getting it. If she does, great. If not and you have to get rid of her, you'll have documentation that you continually tried to course correct and set expectations she couldn't or wouldn't meet.
posted by IanMorr at 2:59 PM on April 15 [23 favorites]


I would humbly submit to you that someone telling other people who are not her subordinates how to do their jobs is a) failing to respect her place in the org chart; and b) an insufferable busybody. This may not arise to summary dismissal but whether you are a union school or not there must be a counseling process for problem workers in place.
The best way to support your 'good' employees is to enforce standards of behavior for those who don't behave on their own. Aggressively pursuing the bad-performance documentation-and-warning process you must have in place is the only tool available to you.
You have tried to keep things casual and give her fair warning, which obviously did not take. She needs to be more intimately acquainted with how big a problem her behavior is: take the obvious next step (consistent with written discipline policies) and call her into a meeting with yourself and whomever is in charge of HR/employee relations and formally write her up for her bad attitude towards her colleagues. You have specific examples of what she should avoid doing - make sure you present her with those so she's clear on what's wrong. If she fails to change in a reasonable timeline, escalate until she does change or until policy/contracts/whatever allows for her removal from the classroom.
Not being a dick to your co-workers is totally part of the job description of anyone working almost anywhere.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 3:01 PM on April 15 [3 favorites]


Are you actually her boss? Do you have hiring and firing ability? Are your teachers unionized? Because if the answers are yes, yes, and no, in that order, you need to stop suggesting things to her and sit down and describe your expectations unambiguously:

"You are doing X, Y, and Z. Those things are not appropriate actions or behaviors for this workplace. You need to do A, B, and C instead. Can you do that? The consequences for continuing to do X, Y, and Z will be putting you on a Performance Improvement Plan."

If your teachers are unionized, talk to the rep. They've seen it all before. They'll have a suggestion or twelve.
posted by juniperesque at 3:01 PM on April 15 [4 favorites]


Well you want to be careful not to reward her bad behavior, and not to make this about her and the other teachers.

It sounds like she didn't get the message when you were nice about it/making a suggestion. I think it would be best to convey to her that you (and make it you, not the other teachers) don't like how she has been expressing herself, and it needs to stop.

Definitely do a compliment sandwich... she sounds enthusiastic: say you appreciate that. She sounds like she wants to do stuff to help her kids, acknowledge her desire to help. She sounds like she wants to help her fellow teachers, say that that is a good impulse to have, if handled correctly.

She also sounds insecure. If there is any way you can pair her with a mentor, that might be a good way to go.

But you are in charge, and you need to be firm and make things clear to her. If you are in charge, don't suggest she do something, tell her to do something. I'm not sure how workable it is, but I might have her write down how things normally work and why she believes her idea is better... make sure she knows how things are currently done first, before she even talks about changing them.

She needs to learn that there is more to pedagogy then whatever her past experience is. In fact, if you can ask her about her past experience, and explain to her the experiences of others. Maybe get her to think about how different she was after a year of school, or a year of teaching, and then point to the years of experience that other teachers have. Make her understand that it's a resource.
posted by gryftir at 3:03 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]


No union, I'm her direct supervisor. I don't having firing authority.
posted by kinetic at 3:07 PM on April 15


Is she a young, new new teacher or an experienced teacher who is just new at your school?

It may seem counterintuitive, but compassion may be the key to helping her let go of her self righteous protective behavior in favor of something more productive and sustainable. If you punish her, which is the reaction I will fully admit I would have initially, she will view herself forevermore as a victim and everyone else at the school as the enemy. Instead, why not sit down with her, tell her your experience and observations, and ask her to talk to you about what's motivating her to tell others how to do their jobs despite her being new and not an integrated member of the staff yet? Does she perhaps notice something systemic about your school that you are too enmeshed in to see? Does she feel out of place with her colleagues due to ideological differences? Has anyone helped her set up her classroom so she TRULY feels supported and heard and needed? You can hold her accountable for unsporting behavior for sure, but listening to her sincerely may be the key to helping her settle in successfully to your school's staff and culture.
posted by Hermione Granger at 3:27 PM on April 15 [14 favorites]


If there is any way you can pair her with a mentor, that might be a good way to go.

I think that's a really good idea. Advice about how to better fit in might be easier to take coming from that person.

Is she really good with the students? If she is young and inexperienced, it's hard to imagine that she is perfect except for being a jerk.
posted by BibiRose at 3:32 PM on April 15


before she tells other teachers how they should be running their classes

Is there any point at which she should be telling others how to run their classes?

If she has a lot of ideas, it seems worth finding a way to give her room to try to implement some kind of project that does not get in other people's way or create problems, but will just allow her to see for herself what may or may not go anywhere. But if she's undermining the authority of other teachers by trying to direct their classroom strategies, that's worth cutting off more directly. Unless there is a shared curriculum that is being argued over or something?

If it's more a personality thing, and all she's really doing is recommending books/methods she likes, I'd give her a talk about "show, don't tell" so that she can aim to make her classes outstanding so other teachers will ask for advice, rather than jump the gun by promoting all of it before she's even seen the results... Though also, maybe remind the seasoned teachers not to be too put off by an excited newbie...
posted by mdn at 3:36 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]


Document everything, and pass it on to whoever does have firing authority. And get rid of her.

One arrogant worker can destroy the camaraderie in a great workplace. I've seen it happen a handful of times over the years. Protect your students and experienced teachers.
posted by kanewai at 3:38 PM on April 15 [5 favorites]


I've spoken with the new teacher, suggesting she get to learn the ropes and routine a bit before she tells other teachers how they should be running their classes, and she was not receptive to that message.

Well, IANAT, nor am I an educational administrator. But in many workplaces, such a conversation would be seen as a sort of "corrective freebie." You observed discontent among staff, related to the new hire. You attempted to proactively address this with her, framing the critique -- informally -- as a helpful suggestion. Obviously, this is not a formal rebuke, but it's a first step in that direction. She does not appear to have listened to or respected that "advice."

In most business/service settings, this would be seen as requiring more formal intervention. Theory about the approach varies (some would advocate keeping things motivational, rather than punitive), but the employee would understand that their behavior needed to change. If it didn't, increasingly serious warnings/write-ups would occur, ending in termination.

Reading between the lines, I suspect that you are 1) not terribly sure of your relationship to the director who hired this person (i.e. perhaps worried that you'll anger them by highlighting their mistake in hiring her), and 2) not terribly comfortable with direct confrontation. If that's the case, I've certainly been there. it's embarrassing -- and sometimes dangerous -- to make a disciplinary call without firm knowledge of support from superiors, only to have it reversed. And it takes time to feel fully comfortable telling people -- who formerly would have been your peers -- that something they are doing is unacceptable and needs to change. If you are feeling that tug between I'm-just-a-coworker and wtf-I'm-the-boss-allofasudden, don't dismiss it; that empathy will come in handy.

I'd suggest talking to other people on the "management" level within the school system (or neighboring school systems). How have they dealt with something like this? How well did Mr./Ms. Director back them up (or not)? If you don't feel comfortable talking to this superior in a peer or almost-peer sense, work on trying to build rapport. Meanwhile, start impassively documenting reports of poor behavior in some way. Note when her coworkers complain, and why (being sure to distinguish between legitimate incidents and vague, frustrated venting). Be sure to notice positive actions too, as they may offer insight into ways to encourage more good behavior. Make sure you understand the details and goals of the disciplinary process, and start using it if necessary.
posted by credible hulk at 3:43 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]


I would NOT pair her with a mentor yet. If she is as self righteous as she sounds, that would be the ultimate insult to her. Tread carefully there lest you and your staff act self righteously yourselves.
posted by Hermione Granger at 3:45 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]


I agree with the mentor idea. You could also initiate regular peer review and feedback.
posted by biffa at 3:46 PM on April 15


Make sure the school director knows. Even if it's an informal coffee meeting. Ask him/her if they will back you up if you need to reprimand the teacher. Emphasis how it's affecting the staff, and therefore, the students. You don't want to get into a situation where you're creating a hostile work environment for everyone else. Which is sounds like it's becoming.

Then sit down with her and draw the line: "I appreciate your new ideas and enthusiasm, New Teacher, but in the future, put those ideas to me in writing for my approval. I can't have you disrupting our teachers and their classes and working environment with by rough-riding over everyone. It's not fair to the staff and it's not fair to the students." Then make her agree to that in writing. And if she oversteps again, you have documentation.

Part of the terms of employment is agreeing to do what your job description says, and doing it within appropriate boundaries. Lots of people come into a place and want to change it. But if she is not receptive to you, her supervisor, then that is bordering on insubordination. At which point, you follow the chain of command and say, "Director, New Teacher is not responding to my correction. Ball's in your court."
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 3:51 PM on April 15 [2 favorites]


A new person hired by a director, and who is abrasive, arrogant and has a bunch of new ideas, tells her peers they're doing it wrong, and is very resistant to suggestions from her immediate superior could well be being groomed to replace that immediate superior.

I think you should tread carefully here, get your ducks in a row, and prepare for a potential power struggle with you and the other teachers on one side, and her and the director on the other.
posted by jamjam at 4:03 PM on April 15 [19 favorites]


Yeah, I was going to say what Marie Mon Dieu said. I would tell her directly, "Teacher, do not correct or make suggestions about classroom management [or whatever term of art means how to do their jobs at your school] to other teachers any more. If you have an idea or suggestion, put it in writing to me and me only. If it warrants further action, I will address it." Of course, you're probably not going to address 96% of the things she sends you beyond an "I will take it under advisement" reply email, but that's not the point.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 4:04 PM on April 15


How do you support your amazing staff - by supporting your amazing staff. And say, she's the new girl, she's getting settled in, smile and nod, and ignore her.

I don't kind of get why this is a question unless as an organization you collectively feel threatened in some way, because the simplest thing is to tell everyone else to ignore her until she gets settled.

And, yeah, on preview, maybe you're personally feeling threatened here. I would not be going after new girl, I'd be telling everyone else to let this crap slide.
posted by heyjude at 4:06 PM on April 15


Is she a young, new new teacher or an experienced teacher who is just new at your school?

She's an experienced teacher, actually older than I am, but she has no background in working with teenagers with extreme emotional and behavioral disabilities. It's a highly specialized skill set and it's a huge learning curve.

She has a mentor as do all new teachers. Her mentor came to me first with his concerns, he had spoken to her about relaxing and learning how to work with these types of kids and within our culture, and apparently she got fairly nasty with him, digging in her heels that she was a professional and knew what she was doing.

That's when I stepped in and spoke with her. And she got very defensive and nasty with me as well.

Is there any point at which she should be telling others how to run their classes? Every day we have recap meetings where we discuss kids and whatever issues everyone needs to know about, and without fail she ALWAYS has suggestions which are often ridiculous ("It's stupid that this school doesn't have a dog!" or admonishing teachers to lighten up) but more to the main point, make it clear that she is just ignoring that her coworkers are very good at what they do.

The Director who hired her is new here, this is her first hire, and she has a zillion other things to do and wants me to deal with new teacher. I suspect she also thinks this was a bad hire. I can see that my amazing staff is feeling upset because they're worried this new bad teacher is the tip of the iceberg. New Director, a whole lot of new icky changes. I'm trying to reinforce how great they are.
posted by kinetic at 4:09 PM on April 15


Okay, see her being an older more experienced teacher, but without the experience with disabled students, is different then being the young know it all fresh from college.

I think you need to use her statement that she is a professional to engage her. Professional people don't call administration choices stupid. Professional people understand the scope and purpose of the recap meetings. Professional people know that the work is hard, and act with empathy and support when people are upset.

Professional people, while confident in their abilities, carefully consider criticism of their job performance from colleagues and administrators.

You need to make it clear that her behavior is unprofessional and disappointing, and that you would think someone with her experience would be better at taking feedback seriously. Set your expectations clearly, and include positive as well as negative examples.

Take situations where her reaction has been inappropriate and explain to her how she could have acted better. And make clear to her that those specific situations are examples, but she needs to understand that her attitude needs to be adjusted.

And tell her how you expect her to react to your conversation. If she starts being mouthy, you need to tell her that she is welcome to respond, after you are finished addressing the issue fully with her.
posted by gryftir at 4:33 PM on April 15 [7 favorites]


Having a conversation where acceptable/unacceptable meeting behavior is outlined is key but you can perhaps soften that blow by saying something like, "I heard you suggest X, Y, and Z as solutions to [issue] and I really am interested in them. Is this from your own experience or research?" If she says research, tell her you'd love to read more and ask for some sources. If it's experience, ask her to do some action research in her own classroom on the subject and share the results with you (so there is data, not just anecdotes). If any of this pans out, acknowledge her in front of the staff with, "I asked Ms. Bossy to look more into XYZ suggestion and she came back with these interesting findings. Perhaps pick 1 of the 4 ideas below to explore in your class over the next month and share your own experience."

But truly, there is no reason to not be blunt and point out that the way she is giving advice is abrasive and counter to the culture of the school. If she gets defensive, let her know that giving and taking constructive feedback is important in your school (and as an educator in general!) and if she isn't willing to consider your advice and guidance, that indicates maybe this role isn't the right fit for her. (Basically, how would you address a student who is being repeatedly disrespectful in class? Do that with her.)
posted by adorap0621 at 4:59 PM on April 15 [2 favorites]


The additional detail helped a lot:

Every day we have recap meetings where we discuss kids and whatever issues everyone needs to know about, and without fail she ALWAYS has suggestions which are often ridiculous ("It's stupid that this school doesn't have a dog!" or admonishing teachers to lighten up) but more to the main point, make it clear that she is just ignoring that her coworkers are very good at what they do.
The Director who hired her is new here, this is her first hire, and she has a zillion other things to do and wants me to deal with new teacher. I suspect she also thinks this was a bad hire. I can see that my amazing staff is feeling upset because they're worried this new bad teacher is the tip of the iceberg. New Director, a whole lot of new icky changes. I'm trying to reinforce how great they are.


I would suggest a 4-pronged approach:

1) Create norms for the recap meetings for everyone that emphasize framing things in positive ways (I'm sure she has nasty personal interactions with other teachers too, but the daily recap meetings seem the likeliest to impact the positive culture you have)

2) Engage and redirect her. I'm assuming she doesn't like you very much right now, since your meeting where she didn't take your suggestion. Find one thing that she's passionate about, ask her tons of questions about it, see if she could write up a proposal that you could take the director or some such thing. Ideally it'd be something you actually like...but even if it isn't, just faking the interest in one of her ideas will help get her on your side.*

3) Direct discussion about what she needs to do differently. If your first discussion with her was as amorphous as your initial description here, she may really not grasp what she needs to do differently. People like this generally aren't picking up social cues on the same level as most other people. You need to explicitly define the behaviors you'd like her to change (you may need to narrow it down to those that are poisonous to the environment...things like simply being a bit arrogant aren't likely to change). You may want to do this step-by-step and give her positive feedback when she does anything better.

4) When people complain about her to you, don't let it turn into a bitchfest. Allow people to voice concerns in a professional way, but make sure you respond in a measured, thoughtful tone. The reality is that most people on earth have to work with people who are annoying. That's life. You may need to convey that to some of your staff members.

*I know many people will say that your job as a boss is just to order people to change their behavior, but in my experience that doesn't work well with teachers, who have a tendency to see themselves as the boss. I do think a relationship with her will ultimately help you get what you want.
posted by leitmotif at 6:20 PM on April 15 [3 favorites]


Is there any point at which she should be telling others how to run their classes? Every day we have recap meetings where we discuss kids and whatever issues everyone needs to know about, and without fail she ALWAYS has suggestions which are often ridiculous ("It's stupid that this school doesn't have a dog!" or admonishing teachers to lighten up) but more to the main point, make it clear that she is just ignoring that her coworkers are very good at what they do.

It sounds like, from your update, that she isn't inappropriately telling others to run their classes. She is offering suggestions in the appropriate forum for it which you have provided - these recap meetings. If you want to eliminate these suggestions, you need to restructure these meetings such that the opportunity does not arise. You cannot have an open forum for all teachers but her to express their ideas. Even if you think her ideas are ridiculous.

You have also mentioned how great these other teachers are multiple times - more times than is really needed in the context of the question. It seems really defensive, and I wonder if this is the real heart of the matter. It sounds like you want this teacher to think the other teachers she is working with are as smart and good teachers as you think they are. It seems equally clear that she does not think they are good teachers - that she thinks there are better ways to teach.

You (and they) seem to want her to essentially defer to them. But if these people are supposed to be her peers and not her superiors, that's not a value-neutral request. You say you don't want to gang up on the new girl, but it seems like you want her to be in a subordinate position to the other teachers. It might be worth examining your own motivations in this.
posted by corb at 7:23 AM on April 16


I've been an exec in similar environments, and I think you're framing is a little awry. Your final question (she can't change, how can I support my amazing staff) set off alarm bells for me.

As a boss, you have two main jobs: to create the conditions in which your staff can do their best work, and to create alignment throughout the organization so that everyone is rowing the boat in the same direction. You seem to be seeing yourself here as a bit of a bystander (making suggestions, etc.) rather than having responsibility for a good outcome. As this person's boss and the boss of the people she is annoying, you are responsible here. I know that in environments where you have fuzzy or limited authority it may not feel that way -- but if not you, who?

That means you need to imagine the outcome you want/need, and work towards it. Right now it feels like you're working towards a bad outcome: she doesn't change, and everyone hates her. You are correct that without your intervention that's likely what would happen. But you have agency here and people are dependent on you. That's *everybody*: your ideal outcome is that everyone succeeds, including the new teacher. The outcome you want is that a year from now, people look back and says "yeah, so-and-so was a pain in the beginning. But she settled in fine, in the end." Maybe that won't happen, but it's what you need to be aiming at.

I don't have any concrete suggestions for you. But I think you need to start from a more confident place, and from a place that assumes this is your problem to solve.
posted by Susan PG at 10:03 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


In a strange turn of events (apparently she said some wildly inappropriate things to some teenage students that were confirmed) the Executive Director fired her last night and she is not returning.
posted by kinetic at 12:16 PM on April 16 [8 favorites]


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